Stanly eyes parks and rec budget cuts

Commissioners concerned about the cost of grant program that funded pickleball courts and playground equipment

(Photo courtesy of StanlyTV)

ALBEMARLE — A grant program to help Stanly cities and towns pay for parks and recreation projects faced challenges from Stanly Commissioners at the board’s March 4 meeting.

First launched as a trial in the 2021-2022 budget, and continued on a year-to-year basis, the grant program provides a maximum of $10,000 per cycle to successful applicants on a matching basis, with projects of less than $20,000 funded at a 50% level.

Items funded by the program last year include pickleball courts, new playground equipment, and upgraded park bathrooms.

The board discussed the ongoing funding of the grant program, which amounts to around $55,000 of the $80 million county budget, after it was made into a permanent budget item last year. Grant applications for the 2024-2025 cycle opened on Feb. 15, and budgets for each year must be approved by June 30.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto addressed comments made by fellow Commissioner Brandon King at last week’s budget workshop.

“I was surprised that we have an application process open, and all of a sudden a commissioner wants to stop funding it,” Asciutto said. “I’m concerned that we have all these municipalities filling out and planning, and then not giving them the money. So I just want to get some assurance that we’re going to fund this program from the other commissioners.”

King responded by noting that the county budget is tight and cuts would have to be made somewhere, otherwise taxes would need to be raised.

“That’s just one of the projects that I think that we can afford to cut if necessary to cut something and there’ll be others. It can’t just be one,” King remarked. “It’s going to be a multitude of things. So that was the whole context to the question. It wasn’t ‘let’s stop funding the parks and rec grant because we don’t want to.’”

Looking to get assurances that the program would continue and honor current applicants, Asciutto made a motion to lock in funding of the grant program out of the budget for next year, but it was not seconded. Other commissioners echoed King’s budget concerns.

“I don’t think anybody’s against this program, Peter,” Commissioner Trent Hatley said. “But I just think we want to do the right thing at the right time, and right now is not the right time.”

“Even though we have a grant program, that does not mean that we have a funded grant program each and every year. It’s just like any other program; we have to review our revenues and expenses that determine what we can do,” said board Chairman Bill Lawhon. “I don’t think we can justify putting any money in any buckets until we know what our total budget is going to be.”

The Stanly County Board of Commissioners is set to hold its next meeting on March 18 in the Gene McIntyre Room at Stanly Commons.