Smithfield Herald

August 25, 2014

Manager: 19 Johnston groups vying for county recreation grants

The Johnston County manager says 19 different groups are vying for recreation funding available for the first time in 12 years.

County Manager Rick Hester says 19 groups are vying for recreation funding available for the first time in 12 years.

The county’s open-space fund has about $700,000 available to towns, athletic associations and nonprofits planning recreation projects. Applications, which were due Aug. 15, totaled more than $770,000, Hester said.

“We’re going to go through everything and make recommendations to county commissioners as to what we think is fair,” Hester said. “The board will decide.”

The money comes from residential developers who choose to pay a $400-per-lot fee instead of setting aside open space in their subdivisions.

The county has been collecting the fee for more than a decade. A recent change in state law gives commissioners more flexibility in spending the money. Before the change, the county could only use the money to buy land.

The amount of money available to communities is based on how much developers in the county’s high school districts pay in open-space fees. In the Clayton High district, where about $18,000 is available, the Clayton Little League, Town of Clayton and Clayton Civitan submitted separate applications totaling more than $41,500.

Clayton Little League applied for $8,550 to renovate the baseball field it uses at Clayton Middle School. Clayton Little League Vice President Mike Orlowski said the money would fix a drainage problem that causes uneven surfaces on the playing field.

“When you have a small ramp and a ground ball, those two don’t mix well,” Orlowski said.

The Town of Clayton, which applied for all of the money available in the Clayton High district, hopes to expand parking at the Sam’s Branch Greenway trail head. Orlowski said it’s not right that Clayton wants all of the available money, as the town collects its own open-space fees.

“I don’t think they shouldn’t be allowed to apply for some of it, but I think they should not be allowed to get all of it,” Orlowski said.

Since the 2010-11 fiscal year, the Town of Clayton has collected about $246,500 in open-space fees. That total includes about $179,200 from 2012-13 year, when a number of apartment complexes broke ground in Clayton, said town spokeswoman Stacy Beard.

The town uses open-space money to pay for park development and to buy land. For instance, the town used open-space dollars to purchase the land for East Clayton Community Park, Beard said.

When asked directly about Orlowski’s comments, Town Manager Steve Biggs said, “We’re dedicated to having quality parks, and if there is funding available, we have a responsibility to our citizens to pursue that funding.”

The town also applied for $60,000 of the nearly $95,000 earmarked for the Corinth Holders High School district. Clayton would use that money to help buy park land on Covered Bridge Road.

The Town of Archer Lodge, the Archer Lodge Community Center and the Corinth Holders Athletic Association also submitted separate applications for a total of $221,069.

In the Smithfield-Selma High School district, the Town of Smithfield is seeking roughly all of the $23,660 available. The towns of Selma and Wilson’s Mills are seeking $17,337 and $14,250, respectively.

In addition to the money earmarked for specific high school districts, commissioners are reserving about $350,000 for countywide recreation projects. Hester, the county manager, said a $15,800 application from Johnston Community College might fall into that category.

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