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"I sat on the parks and recreation board and, to me, it hit out of nowhere," Branson said. "It was like a slap in the face if you sit on these boards. We were blindsided."
Branson also said the simple fact that the parks takeover has created a new division within Guilford County
government doesn't sit well with him.
"I'm not a big fan of growing the government," Branson said.
Last June, when the county adopted the 2012-2013 budget, the parks takeover was tacked on to the budget at the last minute. At that time, Commissioner Billy Yow pushed for a provision that the board would get to see a detailed breakdown of the supposed savings.
Though county staff did make a presentation on parks at a work session on Thursday, August 9, Yow complained then, and to this day – as have other commissioners – that the board never got the answers it requested.
Branson said that, when he was running for commissioner, he attended a number of commissioners meetings, including the August work session where staff gave the presentation on the parks takeover.
Like Yow, Branson said the level of detail that staff provided to the board at that meeting was highly unsatisfactory.
"I was at the meeting and I wasn't really impressed with the information they gave us," he said. "I'm very, very cautious about how it will work out."
Branson said that, even before the takeover was complete, it was easy to see county money starting to walk out the door.
"They've already spent money," he said pointing to maintenance costs recently brought to the board and an expensive new online facilities scheduling system that allows citizens to make reservations for park shelters, ball fields and other park facilities over the internet.
Trapp said the current situation reminds him of when he sat on a board that was created to study a potential merger of the planning boards and planning departments of the City of Greensboro and Guilford County
. Those discussions were very active in late 2009 and in 2010 and Trapp said that, while there was optimism at first, when the group got down to crunching the actual numbers, it became evident that consolidating the two departments wouldn't lead to the hoped for savings.
"It wasn't going to save us any money," he said.
Trapp also said that, in the case of taking over the parks as well, he wants to see some hard evidence that the county is going to save money through the move.
Trapp said the board should look at all options when it comes to operating the parks.
"Everything is on the table," he said.
Henning, like Trapp and other commissioners, said he's open to the idea of continuing to run the parks in-house if it can be shown that the county actually does save money doing so. He said that's why he didn't make a motion to stop the merger before the Jan. 1 changeover. By the time the new nine-member Board of Commissioners with four new members took office, the county was only a few weeks away from the move.
Henning said it's not too late for the new board to address the matter.
"The train isn't too far out of the station," he said.
However, there's no question that the train did leave the station at midnight, Dec. 31.
Shaw said, "A year from now if it's not working out we can always go back to the way it was."
The assumption that the commissioners can just wave a magic wand and return things to the way they were is, of course, Panglossian. In this case, going back to the way things were is a lot more like putting toothpaste back in the tube than renewing a magazine subscription after a lapse.
The cities and towns that have been operating the parks have canceled contracts with vendors and made other changes; and there's certainly no guarantee that the cities and towns would want to take the employees back and go back to the previous arrangement – not to mention that those cities and towns now have a foul taste in their mouths from their prior dealings with the county regarding parks. Perhaps, if they do agree to run the parks for the county again, they might require more money to handle those services or demand a large deposit like landlords require for questionable tenants.
Woodard said that shifting parks operations back to the towns and cities would be a complex affair because the cities and towns had contracts with providers that have been dissolved as a result of the county taking over the duties.Guilford County
has seven parks that it owns in whole or in part. It owns Bur-Mil, Gibson, Guilford-Mackintosh, Hagan-Stone, Northeast and Southwest parks. Guilford County
also co-owns Triad Park with Forsyth County.
Until this year, Guilford County
was paying about $2.2 million a year to the cities and towns to maintain its parks. Guilford County
had been paying the City of Greensboro nearly $330,000 to run and maintain Bur-Mil Park and about $240,000 to do the same with Hagan-Stone Park. The county now runs those two parks as well as Gibson Park, which was previously managed by Jamestown, and Southwest and Northeast parks, which were both managed by Gibsonville.
The operation of Guilford-Mackintosh Park, currently handled by Burlington, and the operations at Triad Park, which is managed by Forsyth County, remain unchanged.
Before the county created the new parks manager position, it was assumed by some that Roger Bardsley, who now oversees the parks and has the title Guilford County
parks planner, would be in charge of the 30 new employees, but clearly, if that ever was the plan, there's a new plan now.
When asked about the current situation, Bardsley said he was unable to shed much light on it.
"They don't tell me much," he said.
Former Commissioner Skip Alston was a strong supporter of Fox's move to take over the parks, but Alston is no longer on the board and Fox is stepping down as county manager at the end of this month.
Six members of that previous board are gone and there's a new board that is asking more questions – about parks and many other issues as well.