Monday, February 26, 2024

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Burlington gives the all-clear to new recreation master plan

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A new master plan for Burlington’s recreation and parks department made it into the end zone this week thanks the unanimous support of the city’s elected officials.

Burlington’s city council ultimately signed off on this 126-page document on Tuesday as part of a so-called consent agenda of presumably routine or non-controversial items, which its members customarily approve en bloc at the start of their regularly-scheduled gatherings.

In accepting this plan, the council effectively gave its provisional nod to a whole host of departmental targets that the city’s parks and rec staff had identified with the assistance of the BerryDunn consulting firm. These goals include the development of new recreation facilities such as a skatepark and an indoor rec center on the city’s west side as well as operational objectives like increased facilities maintenance, additional staff to oversee programs and sites, and more aggressive marketing of the city’s recreational offerings.

Although the council approved this document with nary a word when it rubberstamped Tuesday’s consent agenda, its members had already discussed the particulars of the plan in some depth during the course of two monthly work sessions. The latest of these confabs, which took place on Monday, saw the city’s recreation director Tony Laws review some of the highlights of the plan, which had previously been presented to the council by a BerryDunn representative.

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During Monday’s work session, Laws emphasized that he and his colleagues had drafted the new master plan based on input from more than 3,800 individuals. He also touched on some of potential revenue sources that the city could tap to implement the plan’s recommendations. Laws alluded, for instance, to departmental fees and various grants which could be used to offset these costs.

Laws also went into some detail about a couple of the plan’s recommendations, including a proposed “scholarship” that would put the city’s fee-based rec programs within the reach of less-affluent residents. This particular proposal struck a chord with city council member Dejuana Bigelow, who insisted these stipends could really help poorer families afford some of the programs that she has perused for her own daughter.

“I was on the website today looking for a summer camp for Zoi, and that’s like $700 for 10 weeks,” she recalled, “But [a scholarship] would help a lot of families afford it.”

Another suggestion that resonated with much of the council concerned the city’s efforts to publicize its recreational programs. Mayor Jim Butler insisted that some extra marketing may be in order to inform the community about the various facilities that the council has heavily invested in. Butler’s observation was echoed by Burlington’s mayor pro tem Harold Owen.

“If you’re going to put this money forth,” Owen asserted, “you’ve got to let the citizens know what those facilities are.”

Burlington’s city manager Craig Honeycutt reminded the council that funds will soon be available for this very purpose thanks to a new municipal occupancy tax that the council has agreed to impose on the city’s hotels and motels. Under state law, two thirds of the proceeds from this 3-percent levy must go toward marketing attractions and activities that bring visitors into the area.

Among the few quibbles that the council had with the new master plan was the lack of specific recommendations for how some of its goals should be achieved. This imprecision was troubling enough to warrant a comment from Butler, who opined that while the plan provides a “good 30,000-foot view” of the recreational landscape, “it leaves a lot of questions” unanswered. Yet, there was one thing that the mayor could confidently assert about actions needed to put the new plan into practice.

“We’re going to spend a lot of money,” he said as he shared this realization with the rest of the council.

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