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Chapel Hill Town Council Ponders Funding For Park Plan

By Elizabeth Friend Posted February 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm
CHAPEL HILL- At Monday’s public hearing, the Chapel Hill Town Council got a look at a draft of the new Parks and Recreation master plan. The plan calls for just under $50 million in capital spending, including $12 million for park renovations, $11 million to develop new parks, $10 million for greenways and $22 million for recreation facilities and a cultural arts center.
But Derek Williams, a consultant hired to help draft the plan, told the council those are long-term goals.

“I don’t think anyone really expects that all of these improvements will be made in ten years,” said Williams. “The most important thing is to have a plan and a map, and then to work your way down that plan and use that map to get where you’re trying to go.”

Town Manager Roger Stancil said it will be several years before the town could issue debt to pay for park improvements without having to raise property taxes.

“Without a tax increase for the debt service fund, the debt capacity is relatively limited,” said Stancil. “The first year would be 2016-17 when we have capacity in the debt service fund to be able to incur debt without some sort of tax increase.”

With that in mind, council members said they want to find innovative ways to fund the plan, perhaps by partnering with the school system, nonprofits and other local governments.

“We need to continue to explore partnering with Carrboro with Parks and Rec facilities,” said Jim Ward. “People in Carrboro use our facilities and vice versa. We need to get through the hurdles that keep us from being more fully integrated with each other.

Donna Bell suggested offering naming opportunities on town facilities as a way to raise money.

“There was discussion if we could use that sort of model for some of the facility-building we want to do around Chapel Hill, especially around sporting events or outdoor facilities,” said Bell.

The council also took public comment on a plan to expand the town’s greenways, with an eye to creating alternate transportation corridors.

Jason Merril, owner of Back Alley Bikes, told the council that great greenways are part of what makes Chapel Hill special.

“One of the things that I love about living in Chapel Hill is that what a lot of people would consider recreation- being active and being outside- is integrated into my daily life, by design,” said Merril.

Both the Parks and Greenway recommendations will return to the council in April once staff has developed long-term funding plans.

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