Eastern Wake News

Wendell commissioners wait to commit to park grant

Commissioners approved just over $28,000 for three parks and recreation features at Wendell Community Park but delayed a vote that would determine how much the town may have to contribute toward larger projects.

Commissioners OK’d a $12,344 dog park, $5,995 fitness trail kit that will create exercise stations along a trail system and a $10,000, 18-hole frisbee golf course.

“These projects are going to be huge additions to the park,” Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Polaski said. “They’re going to bring a new population to the park that hasn’t been using the park.”

Commissioners asked Polaski to pursue sponsorships for what he could on those projects, like a business sponsoring a hole of the frisbee golf course or a station along the fitness trail.

The suggestion came after a discussion of how the town could afford to pay its share of a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, should the town be awarded one. In September, commissioners asked Polaski to apply for a PARTF grant this year, even though he voiced hesitation because the timeline would have to be accelerated.

He presented some early numbers to the board. Most PARTF grants fund larger projects with several components, but Polaski said he was advised by some grant consultants to keep the town’s proposal at or below $500,000.

For the state’s PARTF grant, municipalities have three years to finish the project and the same amount of time to pay for 50 percent of the project’s total cost.

Wendell’s proposal includes fixing a multipurpose field, creating an ADA-compliant walking trail, an additional playground, parking lot, game area for bocce, shuffleboard and horsehoe pits and an optional picnic and restroom facility.

Without the restroom and picnic facility, the project would cost $556,250 and the town would have three years to pay $306,250.

With the restroom and picnic facility, which would need to be converted from a septic system to the town’s sewer system, the project would cost $831,250. The town would be required to pay $581,250.

Polaski said the sewer work is the major cost of the picnic and restroom facility.

Finding matching money

Commissioners decided to wait to take a vote until Oct. 23. But they aired concerns about paying back any major amount. Mayor Tim Hinnant said whatever the town had to pay back would have to come from the town’s fund balance, or savings.

“I do not think we can bite off 300 grand,” he said at the meeting. “Our tax base will not support that and it will have to come out of our fund balance.”

Under the town’s current policy, the fund balance must also retain 40 percent more than what the town needs to operate. Town Manager Teresa Piner said right now, unaudited numbers show the town has a fund balance that is holding closer to 53 percent of the town’s operating budget.

But the money was being committed to projects quickly that night.

“I’ve been scribbling while we spend money tonight,” Piner said. Commissioners approved spending over $200,000 of the fund balance in the first quarter of 2015 on various projects.

Even after that, the town had about $200,000 leftover to stay above the required 40 percent.

After voting on which version of the plan they want, Polaski will need to finish the PARTF application, which includes a public comment period, entering a contract with a firm to draw up official plans, a needs survey and garnering community support.

The town has to submit its proposal by February and will find out if it received the grant by July 2015.