FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Talks to divert $12 million away from the development of Denmark Park have been put on hold.
The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners recently voted to table discussion of funding for the park, set to be constructed along Mullinax Road near Denmark High School.
The issue, which sparked a lively debate among commissioners at a July work session, stems from a priority list of park improvements primarily funded by SPLOST 8 tax revenues.
After the optional sales tax passed, the county Parks and Recreation Board presented commissioners with a list of parks projects ranked by priority. The list included 11 undertakings divided into Greenway improvements, new developments and renovation projects.
While the parks priorities list gives estimated costs, Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said the figures are also placeholders, and the true cost isn’t known until a master plan is developed.
Now that some of the projects have undergone that process, some are showing higher projected costs at a time when revenues may be falling. The park improvements will be financed, over the next five years, by SPLOST revenues and impact fees paid by developers for added burdens on local infrastructure. But with the present economic uncertainty, Pryor said there is speculation revenues could be lower than anticipated.
While some commissioners argued the county should use funds for renovations and upgrades to other parks rather than investing in a new build, District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent disputed those calls.
Levent shared concerns that around 1,800 soccer players — about 1,300 kids and 500 adults throughout the county — could be left without fields to use. Forsyth leases the soccer fields at Polo Fields off Majors Roads and subleases their use to United Futbol Academy.
The county recently extended its lease with the owners of the property until May 2021, but included in that agreement was the right for the property owners, the county or UFA to end the agreement at any time with a 120-day notice. There is also uncertainty how long the fields will be in place with a potential residential development proposed for the area.
Levent said if the county plans on “defunding” Denmark Park, it needs to have a contingency plan for providing soccer fields if the Polo Fields complex closes.
Phase 1 of Denmark Park development does not include rectangle fields. It does call for a parking lot, restrooms, a pavilion and pickleball and basketball courts, which Levent said were sought after by residents. A later phase does include rectangle fields that could potentially be used for soccer.
Commission Chair Laura Semanson said she would “work with the soccer people all day long,” but the county should focus on improvements to its existing parks before shelling out funds for the construction, staffing and maintenance of a new space.
“That means we don’t have some parks that are in complete, degraded condition and other bright, sparkly new parks in other areas,” Semanson said.
She also disputed that $12 million had already been earmarked for Denmark Park.
“The idea we are defunding something, it was never funded to begin with,” she said.
At the commissioners’ July work session, board members voted 4-1, with Levent opposed, to reallocate the $12 million called for to begin construction on Denmark Park to cover overages on park improvement projects.
“It’s just removing a project from the list and making it 11 projects down to 10,” Pryor said. “And yes, it does remove $12 million from the list, but it doesn’t necessarily save $12 million due to the unknowns of the revenue collection rates over the next four years.”
Pryor added that all costs are still estimates. He said the county is hoping the bidding process could result in lower costs on initial projects and some other plans could be added back to the list.
Because the vote occurred at a work session and was not unanimous, the item was placed on a recent commissioners’ agenda, but the item was tabled without discussion.
The 2019 priorities list calls for just over $17 million for the master plan and renovation of Bennett and Sharon Springs parks. Also outlined are improvements to Midway Park and Coal Mountain Park with a proposed $3.325 million renovation of Sawnee Mountain Park.
The development of Denmark Park was listed as the top priority under the new development projects in the rankings. Other new construction that may join Denmark Park on the back burner are improvements to Sawnee Mountain Preserve and Lanierland Park and a recreation center at Matt Community Park.
The priorities list also includes two Big Creek Greenway projects — $6.8 million for an expansion and $5 million for the boardwalk renovations near McFarland Parkway.