27,000 residents in the Cleveland community in Johnston County are a step closer at forming their own Parks and Recreation District.
In a unanimous vote Monday night, Johnston County Commissioners approved a request by a group of community volunteers to formally ask local representatives of the NC General Assembly to introduce a Bill in the 2018 session to approve the creation of the Cleveland Parks & Recreation District with the authority to tax residents to pay for recreational needs.
Denton Lee, the unofficial spokesperson for the group, said things are moving forward at a rapid pace.
Two community meetings were held in January to determine the level of support from Cleveland residents. Lee said 88 percent of those who completed an online survey were in favor of forming the district. 75 percent of those who filled out paper ballots were in favor. Opponents said they did not want additional taxes. Proponents said the amenities would be greater than any additional taxes and could actually increase property values in the community.
“There is no free lunch to buy land,” Lee said. If approved the district would tax Cleveland residents 4 cents per $100 valuation on their homes for recreation needs. A resident with a $100,000 home would pay $40 more per year.
Michael Knott, President of the Greater Cleveland Athletic Association (GCAA) said his volunteer organization does not anticipate any change if the Parks & Recreation District is formed and an advisory board is created to oversee the needs.
Knott said the GCAA currently has a cap on many of their sports programs because they don’t have adequate facilities to hold additional sports events. Currently, 4,500 youth participate in GCAA activities.
Lee said the GCAA and Pop Warner organizations would continue to function. Hopefully, the Cleveland Parks & Recreation organization, he said, would be able to acquire the land needed for their additional needs and allow the organizations to focus on sports activities and not facility concerns.
The Parks & Recreation District would also help fund other needs. Lee said there is not a single child’s playground in the Cleveland community, outside those at public schools and those are often locked or not available to pre-school age children and their parents during school hours. There is not a single picnic shelter or table for a group to hold an outdoor event, or a community meeting room for scouts. “It’s not just about athletic fields, it’s about the whole concept of parks and recreation,” Lee told commissioners.
Lee said it was important to begin to acquire land now before development takes it all over.
In a 6-0 vote (Commissioner Larry Wood was absent), Commissioners authorized Chairman Jeff Carver to write a letter to the local General Assembly delegation asking them to work on appropriate legislation to form the Cleveland District, which would also include a November referendum of voters in the McLemore Fire District to approve its creation. The district would follow the same boundary at the fire district.
If the legislation is passed and the referendum is approved by voters this Fall, county commissioners would appoint members to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. The district would have the authority to borrow money, levy taxes and apply for grants. It would not have the authority of eminent domain.
“I am confident the quality of life will be improved for everyone in the community,” Lee told Commissioners after the vote.
Parks and Recreation Districts were common in North Carolina in the 1950’s and 1960’s but not in recent years.
Representative Donna White of Clayton has previously voiced support for assisting the community form the parks and rec district.