Since its inception nearly two decades ago, the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund has been kind to Johnston County towns.
PARTF has handed out some $3.9 million to Johnston towns for parks and community centers since the General Assembly established the fund in 1994. That’s the eighth highest amount among the state’s 100 counties.
The Town of Archer Lodge hopes to be the latest town to win one of the dollar-for-dollar matching grants for a park it’s planning near the corner of Wendell and Wall roads. The town is seeking $150,000 to help buy land for the park.
Mayor Mike Gordon knows his town is one of many vying for the competitive grants, which come from a pool of money state lawmakers allocated to the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
Fewer PARTF dollars have been available to local governments in recent years, upping the competition for the grants even more.
The fund was more robust before the recession in the late 2000s, when money for the grants still came from an excise tax on deed transfers. When the housing market crashed, the total amount of grants awarded to towns fell by half.
Since the General Assembly started directly appropriating money to PARTF, the number of grants awarded has continued to decline, along with the dollar amounts.
This fiscal year, the fund gave out 17 grants for a total of $4 million, the lowest amount since 1997. By comparison, in 2007, before the recession, the fund awarded 54 grants for $17 million.
The money Archer Lodge is seeking would help buy the land for its park. The town will have to find other ways to pay for the ball fields, tennis courts and walking trails it’s planning.
“Like so many places, we are trying to get a little help while it’s out there, because we don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Gordon said.
Despite shrinking funds, Johnston towns have still had recent success in obtaining PARTF grants.
The Town of Smithfield received $350,000 this fiscal year to help the Partnership to Build a Miracle build Johnston County’s first baseball field and playground for children with special needs. The group has raised a total of $850,000 for the project and broke ground last November on the site, located at Smithfield Community Park.
Applying for the grant took about two years and was competitive, said Gary Johnson, Smithfield’s director of parks and recreation. About 70 or so groups seek PARTF grants each year, Johnson said, and only about a third of those win funding.
The state uses a points system to decide where the money goes, Johnson said, and considers a community’s needs and its master plans.
“It’s a long, arduous process, so we were tickled to death to get the money,” he said.
Elsewhere this year, the Town of Wilson’s Mills won a $250,000 PARTF grant, which the town will use to buy land for its park.
The 30-acre Wilson’s Mills Community Park on Powhatan Road will have two baseball fields, multipurpose soccer fields, tennis courts and a gym that will double as a community center. Wilson’s Mills Town Manager Zach Ollis said the town hopes to break ground on the project this summer.
Ollis agreed that PARTF grants are hard to come by.
“The fact that Johnston County has received the number it has is very impressive,” he said. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
Archer Lodge will learn later this year if it will be the latest Johnston winner.
Staff writer John Hamlin contributed to this report.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104
PARTF grants to Johnston County
Here’s a partial listing of grants received by Johnston towns.
Town of Clayton
2011: $300,000 to help purchase part of the future River Park property.
2005: $500,000 to help build the Clayton Community Center.
1998: $250,000 for Clayton Community Park.
Town of Smithfield
2015: $350,000 for the Partnership to Build a Miracle’s inclusion park.
2008: $451,950 for the second phase of the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center.
2006: $500,000 for the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center.
2002: $250,000 for phase four of Smithfield Community Park.
1998: $250,000 for phase two of Smithfield Community Park.
Town of Wilson’s Mills
2015: $250,000 for the town’s planned community park.
Total PARTF funding to Johnston County: $3.9 million
Source: N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation