County finance staff recommend funding all but one Park & Recreation project

April 9 BOCC meeting

This week, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners held one of their budget workshops. While there were several items on the agenda, including updates on the Brooklyn Village Redevelopment and Arts and Culture Plan, this blog will focus on the FY2029 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) update portion. Couldn’t make the meeting? Here’s a recap!

Key takeaways

  • The Mecklenburg County finance team recommends reducing spending, which will help avoid future tax increases.
  • Of the 12 Park & Recreation projects proposed for FY2029, county finance staff recommend funding all but one.
  • According to a citizen advisory board, Park & Recreation’s project list appears to have several projects located in or near areas that were originally labeled as Priority Communities, but are quickly gentrifying.
  • We are pleased that county staff are supportive of Park & Recreation. However, we have several follow-up questions for Park & Recreation staff based on the slightly modified project list and concerns raised by the citizen advisory board.

FY2029 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) update

Mecklenburg County Chief Financial Officer David Boyd delivered a presentation to county commissioners and suggested revisions to the project list that was approved last year for the FY2024-2028 CIP. Asset Facility Management had seven revised projects, the library had four, and Park & Recreation had one: McDowell Creek Greenway (Gilead Road to Beatties Ford Road/Pamela Street). The suggested revision was to update the cost estimate from $19M to $18.4M.

Boyd noted that the FY2024-2028 CIP used much of the county’s future debt capacity, which means that the current level of spending is not sustainable in the long term. He suggested that a projected sustainable level of funding starting in FY2029 would be $150M per year for non-CMS projects and $150M for CMS projects, for a total of $300M each year.

With this in mind, Boyd walked county commissioners through the new proposed project list for FY2029. The breakdown by county department is shown in the chart below.

FY2029 Recommendation

Of the Park & Recreation projects proposed, six are greenways, five are park projects, and one is for wayfinding. Two of the projects have funding from outside Mecklenburg County – one through NCDOT and another from the Town of Cornelius. The full list of Park & Recreation budget requests can be found below. The yellow highlight indicates projects that both Park & Recreation staff and county finance staff recommend funding.

2024 Park & Recreation budget requests

Boyd recommended funding all of the projects on Park & Recreation’s list except for the construction of Sugar Creek Greenway from Mounting Rock Road to Arrowood Road. He shared that they had to cut funding somewhere within Park & Recreation’s requested budget, and Park & Recreation staff identified this project as the least impactful to exclude this year. The hope is that this project will be included in next year’s rolling CIP (FY2030).

These recommendations are not final and are subject to change based on what the county commissioners request. County leadership’s final budget recommendation will be given on May 16 when County Manager Dena Diorio delivers her budget presentation.

Commissioner Leigh Altman pointed out that the county needs to fund infrastructure projects while recognizing that more taxes are a burden on our community. She asked if the $300M annual CIP projection is based on current funding levels and Boyd confirmed. These projections do not take any additional taxes into account.

Commissioner Arthur Griffin asked for clarification on parking lots next to Park & Ride stations if the one cent for mobility sales tax eventually goes through. County Manager Dena Diorio shared that if the one cent for mobility sales tax becomes reality, parking lots will be built alongside new transit stations. In other words, the county would not be funding these lots through its existing revenue streams.

After the finance team presentation, the Citizen’s Capital Budget Advisory Committee (CCBAC) gave a brief overview of their recommendations for the CIP. The most notable comment was that Park & Recreation’s project list includes several projects located in or near what were originally labeled as Priority Communities, but are quickly gentrifying. When asked by several commissioners to speak more to this and if Park & Recreation staff have been consulted, the CCBAC representative noted that these recommendations were just compiled last week and further conversations have not taken place yet.

Our take

This was the first solid indication that county staff and possibly the county commissioners are strongly supportive of Park & Recreation in this budget cycle. The fact that staff recommended leaving off only one project and not removing any projects from the FY2024-2028 CIP is a good sign. We are pleased and thankful for this show of support and will watch closely to ensure that this is reflected in the County Manager’s budget recommendations as well.

The southwestern area of Mecklenburg County badly needs greenway connectivity, so we hope to see a solid plan to include funding for construction of the Sugar Creek Greenway segment from Mounting Rock Road to Arrowood Road in the FY2030 year of the rolling CIP.

We will note that the Park & Recreation recommended project list has changed slightly since the beginning of the budget cycle. One of the three Irwin Creek Greenway segments (Ray’s Splash Planet to Hamilton) is no longer included, but Springfield Park and Sugar Creek Greenway (design only) has been added. We will be talking with Park & Recreation staff to understand why the list has changed and what the new timeline looks like for the removed project.

Similarly, we will be asking questions to clarify if these projects are indeed in Priority Communities that are rapidly gentrifying, and if so, what plans and strategies Park & Recreation staff are using to ensure that equity is a key consideration in their project recommendations.

Watch a replay of the meeting.

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