Discussion on Stanly County parks and rec grants leads to split votes

Published 9:24 am Thursday, May 18, 2023

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At Monday’s meeting of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners, funding of seven grant requests from local municipal parks and recreation agencies were considered, with commissioners delaying action on one of the requests, and passing the remaining six by a 4-3 vote.

Because Locust was one of the municipalities applying, Commission Chairman Scott Efird, who works for the city, recused himself from voting on the Locust request, turning the chair duties over to vice chairman Mike Barbee.

County Manager Andy Lucas presented the requests from the seven county towns that had applied, adding that Albemarle had also applied, but was ineligible for funding because it still has an open grant from a previous cycle.

“We have communicated that to them,” he said.

The grant program provides a maximum of $10,000 per cycle to successful applicants, with projects of less than $20,000 funded at a 50% level.

Total estimated costs for the seven projects were $182,613, ranging from a low of $1,824 in Norwood to a high of $69,633 in Richfield. Funding of the county’s match of all seven projects would total $55,423.

Three of the seven grant applications (Norwood, Oakboro, and Stanfield) were for transitioning existing tennis or basketball courts to pickleball use. Other requests included installation of large wooden park swings (New London), playground equipment (Richfield), movie night equipment (Locust) and water, sewer and electrical installations for an existing park shelter (Badin).

Commissioner Peter Asciutto asked if one vote should be taken for all projects, or if they should be voted on separately.

“Do we want to split these up, or pull Locust out and vote for everything else?” he asked, adding, “I would like for Chairman Efird to be able to vote on all except Locust, since he doesn’t work for any of the other municipalities.”

“Mr. Efird recused himself, so I don’t see why we can’t vote on all of them at the same time,” replied Barbee, “but I’ll leave it up to you all.”

“If that’s the case, then you would take action on Locust, and then he (Efird) could come back into the meeting and you could take action on all the others,” Lucas said.

Commissioner Bill Lawhon moved that action be taken on the Locust request, whose project cost of $24,235 would call for a $10,000 appropriation from the county. Asciutto seconded the motion.
Commissioner Patty Crump indicated her objection to the motion.

“I don’t feel comfortable voting for these right now,” she said, “because we just got the budget and we need to review that over the next month. When I see in the budget that we are not fully funding the schools, and that there are still public safety needs, I can’t in good conscience vote for this before we’ve had our discussions,” before indicating her intent to move later that the motion be tabled.

“It’s not that I don’t support this,” she added, ”just not now.”

“So this will have to be taken out of the budget and we’ll have to cut some other expenses to meet these?” asked Barbee.

“Yeah, they’re increased revenue; I’ve recommended them, you had the recommended budget this evening which didn’t include these,” replied Lucas. “So if you vote on these and say you want some or all of these in the budget, we would, as staff, have to come back to you with recommendations of where to either cut the budget or increase revenue to offset the $55,000 or some portion if you don’t approve them all.”

A vote ensued on Lawhon’s motion to fund the Locust request, resulting in a 3-3 tie, with Barbee, Crump and commissioner Brandon King in opposition.

“If this doesn’t pass, will we have to wait (a specified time) before we bring it up again?” Asciutto asked, before expressing frustration with those opposing the motion.

“We talked about this, we voted for this proposal and all these municipalities have followed the guidelines and submitted everything on time, and now you’re putting a burden on the municipalities by saying we’re going to wait until whenever to pass it when they are also trying to work on their municipal budgets.”

“Not wait till whenever, just wait a few more weeks so we can discuss the budget process,” interjected Crump.

Lucas noted the public hearing for the budget is scheduled for June 5, with workshops to follow.

“The motion fails,” stated Barbee, in reference to the earlier vote, before returning the gavel to Efird.

Asciutto moved that the remaining six applications be approved for funding, with Lawhon seconding the motion.

“This is a good partnership, and I don’t understand why we have this big fight against it, and I just hope we will approve this and come back and talk about Locust (application) at the next meeting,” Asciutto said.

“I don’t think that it’s so much against the grants as us having to take so much money out of people’s pockets,” said King. “I think parks and rec should fall second to all the other parts.”

“It’s less than a dollar a person for Stanly County,” Asciutto replied.

With Efird voting in favor, the motion passed by a 4-3 vote with Barbee, Crump, and King remaining in opposition.