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Bond money funds parks progress
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Forsyth County News

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By: Jim Dean

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Also at the meeting Tuesday, the county's parks and recreation board:
* Considered adopting a cold weather policy for athletics. Staff proposed a certain temperature threshold at which activities would be scrapped. The board plans to revisit the matter at its next meeting.
* Discussed possible projects for the county's next 1-cent sales tax. The current tax ends in 2013.
* Recognized Wayne Maddox, manager of the athletics division, for receiving the Amateur Softball Association James Farrell Award of Excellence for a Labor Day tournament.
* Honored Matt Pate, outdoor programs manager, for receiving the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association professional of the year award.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

Eight parks, a campground and a multi-use trail in Forsyth County received improvements last year.

A recreation center grew and a park popped up, waiting to open.

The county's parks and recreation board took a look back on 2010 during a recent meeting, finding slight gains in attendance and revenue.

The department, however, is still looking for places to trim or delay projects that may not be undertaken for years, if at all.

Parks and recreation uses several different revenue streams to build or improve facilities. Among them are 1-cent sales tax money, impact fees charged to developers and a $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond.

Just one funding source -- the county's general fund -- covers the department's operating costs, salaries and other similar expenses. In 2010, that fund forced many departments to cut those costs.

Special local option sales tax money, commonly known as SPLOST, and impact fee collections have dwindled in recent years, adding little to parks and recreation progress.

The bright spot would seem to be the parks bond, which voters approved in 2008 for a variety of projects.

"If it wasn't for this bond, we'd be pretty much shut down from adding anything," said Jerry Kinsey, the county's director of parks and recreation.

Some big projects benefitting from that money in 2010 included the construction of the Central Park Recreation Center Addition for $2 million and Fowler Park, which will open next month, for $15.4 million.

"Of course, the other challenge is, when you build these things, we've got to raise more revenue to operate these facilities," Kinsey said.

In 2010, the department collected about $1.9 million, or about the same amount as the year before, Kinsey said.

Of that total, the athletic division brought in about $882,000, an increase of more than 9 percent from 2009, said Wayne Maddox, manager of the division.

He also reported that participation in youth sports has increased or leveled out.

"I don't know of any football program in our area that has experienced the kind of growth that we have," Maddox said.

He cited the economy as the reason participation in other youth sports, such as baseball and softball, stopped growing.

Adult participation in athletics fell slightly over the past year, but Maddox attributed that to the department cutting the winter softball season.

Overall, if revenues don't rise enough, then expenditures must go down.

Kinsey said the department has been more conservative in using materials and electricity.

Beginning in April, the Central Park Recreation Center will slash some hours and booster clubs will take on additional duties, such as lining their own playing fields.

Progress will continue for the county's parks since the bond still has about $26 million left to go toward particular projects.

Nearly all of the $36 million set aside to acquire green space has been spent. The county plans to complete the conceptual master plans for those properties this year.

Kinsey said they'll begin gathering input from the public in the spring.

"All the land we've purchased is great," Kinsey said. "I think people are excited about the green space, passive parks and nature trails."

He said the response to the county's recent park offerings, especially the popular Big Creek Greenway, also has been strong.

The department has many plans for the future, Kinsey said. When those projects will get completed, however, depends on money.