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Parks bond effort nears an end

Remaining $17M going toward north sites, greenway

POSTED: February 28, 2013 12:29 a.m.

Five years after Forsyth County voters approved a $100 million bond referendum for parks, recreation and green space, the last of that money will be borrowed to complete the project list.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to bond the remaining $17 million that wasn’t yet drawn down.

The referendum received nearly 70 percent of the vote in February 2008. The first $83 million has funded projects such as the Big Creek Greenway, Fowler Park and recreation centers.

Also, $33 million was spent to acquire land for green space or future parks.

Of that $83 million borrowed, about $4.8 million remains unspent, according to information provided by the finance department on Tuesday. Nearly $3 million of that is earmarked for land acquisition.

The remaining $17 million is slated to go toward extending the greenway, two northern active county parks and additional features at Sawnee Mountain Preserve.

Finance director David Gruen said the bonds could go to market and the funding available within two months.

“If we start designing the projects and going out to bid, we’ll have the cash in time to pay the bills,” Gruen said.

He also explained that borrowing the remaining $17 million won’t increase the county’s bond millage rate until at least 2019, assuming the tax digest doesn’t grow at all.

A 3 to 4 percent growth in the digest would allow the bond millage to remain stable, he said.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said the funding will provide for one phase of development in each of two planned parks in the northeast and northwest portions of the county, which are in her district.

“We’re in a horrible shortage of rectangle fields on the north end of the county, and all over the county, but we only have two on the north end,” Mills said.

Rectangle fields are used for football, soccer and lacrosse, among other activities.

Mills said Matt Community Park is about ready to go out for construction bids, but Lanierland needs some design modifications, which should be complete in about three months.

The commission also voted 5-0 to follow the park and recreation board’s recommendation to return the Lanierland Park design to the original plan with more rectangle fields instead of an equestrian center.

“We need to meet the needs of our current programs before we start branching out to others,” said Mills, who explained the crowded conditions at the two fields in north Forsyth’s Bennett Park.

The $7.9 million that will fund development of Lanierland and Matt Community parks was identified in the ballot as site development for a joint venture with the school district.

However, the original plans for athletic fields at northern middle schools couldn’t be executed due to issues with the sites, Mills said. The development at the planned parks will keep the funding in the area and the purpose for which it was intended on the ballot.

Bonding the remaining money will also allow the next phase of the popular greenway, which will extend the trail to Johnson Road, to go out for construction in a few months.


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