Morrisville council disagrees on how to fund parks

aramos@newsobserver.comAugust 23, 2013 

— What started as a simple discussion about RTP Park erupted into 30 minutes of political wrangling by two factions of the Morrisville Town Council last week.

Construction estimates for the park came in about $420,000 over budget. To make up the difference, town staff suggested the council dip into the money set aside for the Cedar Fork ball fields and Northwest Park.

Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Allen assured the council that $1.1 million in park fees would be available in 12 to 16 months to reimburse the Cedar Fork and Northwest Park accounts.

Council member Steve Diehl and Mayor Jackie Holcombe said they were on board with staff’s recommendation.

But Mark Stohlman, Michael Schlink and Steve Rao said the town should replace the money for the other two projects before approving the construction bid for RTP Park.

Stohlman is running for mayor, and Rao is running for an at-large council seat this year. The construction of Northwest Park has become a hot-button issue for residents who live in the Breckenridge neighborhood. The area represents about 24 percent of Morrisville’s population, and residents signed a petition earlier this year asking the town to build the park, which has been in the works for almost a decade.

So far, the Town Council has approved up to $100,000 for the design of Northwest Park.

Stohlman, Schlink and Rao said they wanted to transfer money from the town’s general fund to the Northwest Park and Cedar Fork projects until the park fees come in.

Meanwhile, Diehl said the whole issue has become a “political football.”

In May, Stohlman wrote in his online newsletter that Northwest Park construction could start in the next 12 months.

“This is the most embarrassing discussion,” Diehl said. “I am embarrassed to be on this council. It’s perception. It’s a total waste of our time for the past half hour. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. What a disgrace.”

The council wants to move forward with Northwest Park and other planned parks, greenways and recreation centers, but it must be realistic about money, Diehl said.

“Rather than unduly raise expectations, I would hope we would be honest and provide the correct information,” he said. “To simply transfer funds among accounts to mislead residents in believing that monies for (Northwest) Park is available now, is not being truthful.”

Stohlman said the issue is about the council fulfilling its obligations to Breckenridge residents.

“If we are confident with all this additional money coming in ... then I would have lots of confidence to loan ourselves the money to move forward with these two projects,” Stohlman said. “Let’s put it in writing. I think we owe it to citizens to show we are serious about this park. If we start defunding, it blows our credibility with citizens.”

Developer Pulte Homes donated about five acres for Northwest Park and paid $1.2 million in park fees eight years ago. Other projects, like the Cedar Fork Community Center and Morrisville Community Park, have taken priority.

Town staff is expected to present funding options for the ball fields and RTP Park at Tuesday’s meeting. The Town Council is also set to vote on whether to award the RTP Park construction bid to Racanelli Construction South.

Ramos: 919-460-2609

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