October 18, 2012
Guilford County is taking over the management and operation of five of the county's parks on Jan. 1, 2013 – maybe.
It could happen at the first of the year, or at a later date, or possibly not at all.
On Thursday, June 7, when the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners adopted the county's 2012-2013 budget, a last minute amendment tacked onto that budget with no discussion called for Guilford County
to stop outsourcing parks management to the cities and towns, which have decades of experience operating the parks.
The amendment called for Guilford County
– which has no experience running parks and which has only one employee in place for the expected Guilford County
Parks and Recreation Department – to take over the maintenance and operation of the five parks, including a golf course and 22 swimming pools.
The June budget ordinance stated: "decrease the Culture & Recreation budget by $170,025 to reflect the in-house, county administration and management of parks operations effective January 1, 2013. The Board will meet in 60 days or thereabout to review the plan of operation for the parks."
That $170,025 is the amount the county expects to save annually by hiring the 30 full-time and 19 part-time workers who now maintain and run the five affected parks.
While the Board of Commissioners did vote to adopt the budget that contained the parks amendment, some county officials now say off the record that Guilford County
staff is waiting to see what the new Board of Commissioners, to be sworn in in December, thinks of the move. That board will be sworn in less than a month before the county is supposed to create an entire parks and recreations department
There are concerns among some county staff that, once several long-standing commissioners are gone, and new commissioners are sworn in on Monday, Dec. 3, the will to take over the parks in January won't be there – not that a will to take over the parks has ever been all that apparent among the commissioners.
Commissioner Billy Yow, who will be stepping down from the Board of Commissioners on Dec. 3, said it's true that the board unanimously adopted the 2012-2013 budget, but he said he also made a motion at that time for staff to report back in two months on costs, equipment needs, logistics, etc.
According to the county's meeting minutes, Yow "requested an assessment be done on each park and a cost analysis to determine if it is cost efficient for the County or another entity to manage the parks."
Yow said the board never got adequate responses to those questions.
"I said I wanted a cost assessment," Yow said, "and I haven't gotten any of that."
At a Board of Commissioners work session on Thursday, August 9, the commissioners did hear some details about the costs of taking over the parks. However, Yow said, that presentation didn't offer any real answers.
Though Guilford County
has seven parks that it owns in whole or in part, the county has no staff to maintain those parks. Guilford County
owns Bur-Mil, Gibson, Guilford-Mackintosh, Hagan-Stone, Northeast and Southwest parks. Guilford County
also owns half of Triad Park with Forsyth County the other owner of that park.Guilford County
pays $2.2 million a year to the cities and towns to maintain its parks. For instance, Guilford County
pays the City of Greensboro about $347,000 to run Bur-Mil Park and $245,000 to run Hagan-Stone Park.
The current plan calls for Guilford County
to take over operations of those two parks as well as Gibson Park, managed by Jamestown, and Southwest and Northeast parks, which are now both managed by Gibsonville.
The operation of Guilford-Mackintosh Park, currently handled by Burlington, and Triad Park, which is managed by Forsyth County, would remain unchanged.
Yow said that Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston pushed for the takeover of the parks, arguing in the summer budget talks that the move would save the county money. However, Yow said, Guilford County
doesn't know the first thing about running parks, and, as far as he can tell, he said, county staff still has no idea how much the move will actually cost the county.
"Show me the savings," Yow said.
He said staff had never given the Board of Commissioners the details they need to make an intelligent decision.
"The thing of it is, the facts aren't coming out," Yow said. "They haven't brought s--- back to us. They're just showing us what they plan to do – they're not showing us the cost or the details."
If Yow and some of the other county commissioners feel like they're getting the run-around without getting any of the details – well, the park workers feel the same way only more so: Guilford County
is supposedly on the verge of taking over the parks, and, so far, those park workers have received no notice from the county of any kind.
"We've never been informed about anything regarding our employment after the change in January," one park worker said.
That worker said he wished to remain anonymous because he wants to keep his job – and the county might be his next employer. But, he said, as Jan. 1 approaches, park workers are very uncomfortable with the fact that they haven't heard one word from Guilford County
"We haven't heard anything except what we read in the papers," he said. "No one has told us anything about our benefits – or even whether we will have our jobs. The staff is anxious. We're 70 days from a potential change in employment and we don't have a clue."
He also said there's a great deal of concern among park staff that Guilford County
, if it does take over the parks, will be unable to manage the parks well. He said that, every now and then, county staff can be seen at the parks roaming around talking, pointing and taking notes, but, he said, all indications are that they don't really know what they're doing.
The park employee said he wished the county employees would at least ask questions of long-time park staff while making all these new plans – but he added that's not happening.
"We have a vision; we are a resource, but they have never run a park." he said. "They know nothing, but their attitude is, 'We can do it better.'"
He said an article that appeared in The Rhinoceros Times earlier this year about two baseball fields at Southwest Park – fields so poorly designed that they can't be used for competitive baseball games at any level – was indicative of a lot of other problems in the parks due to decisions made at the county level.
The June motion to take over the parks was adopted as part of the budget with no discussion, but some commissioners now say they agree with Yow that the county needs a lot more information before moving forward.
Commissioner Kirk Perkins, who voted for the budget that included the parks takeover motion, said he has his doubts about the wisdom of Guilford County
getting into the parks management business and creating a new parks and recreation department.
"I'm not sure the savings are as real at the end of the day as they are on paper," Perkins said. "We may need more equipment and trucks like the cities and towns have. I want to do the most efficient thing, but I haven't determined in my mind what makes sense in light of the PR and goodwill that we get by working with Gibsonville and the others."...continued on page 2