August 15, 2014

Midland park on hold after county budget cuts

Officials react after Cabarrus County Commissioners cut funding to Midland’s planned $1.8 million Rob Wallace Park off U.S. 601.

Midland Mayor Kathy Kitts called Cabarrus County Commissioners’ recent budget cuts a crippling blow.

Commissioner Jason Oesterreich’s budget amendments were adopted during a June meeting, where an amendment was made to the fiscal 2014-15 budget after the public hearing had closed.

One of the amendments eliminated $1.8 million that had been appropriated for the creation of Rob Wallace Park in Midland, as well as funding for three positions for the town’s planned library and the town’s economic development group, Kitts said.

Oesterreich, as well as commissioners Larry Burrage and Chris Measmer, voted for the amended budget; commissioners Liz Poole and Steve Morris voted against it.

In Oesterreich’s budget amendments, he said it was “irresponsible to fund a new park” when the county is almost $500 million in debt. The slashing of county funds caused Midland to miss state grant money that had previously been planned for the park.

The master plan for Rob Wallace Park, a 190-acre southeast Cabarrus park off U.S. 601 near Wallace Road, was presented to and approved by the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners in 2010.

The park property was acquired by the county from the Wallace family as a long-term lease purchase. All of the capital improvements such as facilities, roads and utilities required the project to be funded with previously allocated Cabarrus County capital improvement funds. The estimated total cost of the project was $9.5 million.

Morris said residents and Midland council are justified in their anger prompted by the cuts.

“They’ve seen a great deal of residential growth in that area, and they are attempting to prepare for more … ,” Morris said. “The park is something that is a quality-of-life issue for them in that part of the county because they don’t have anything close by, like other areas of the county do.”

Frank Liske, the closest park to Midland, is about 20 miles away.

“For them to see us abandon this project and actually turn down grant money that we were already scheduled to receive, … I can certainly understand why they’re upset. I’d be upset as well,” Morris said.

Kitts, a resident of Midland for 24 years, said she and residents feel they got the raw end of the deal.

“They really have given us a bad apple, because we’re going to have sit here and do things ourselves – like we’ve always done … ,” she said. “They really have just taken us to the cleaners on this.”

According to meeting minutes about a month before the primary election in May, Measmer and Burrage are on record saying they wouldn’t support cuts to the libraries and parks, Kitts said.

“Low and behold, the month after the election … , they physically started cutting it and didn’t talk to anyone,” Kitts said. “When they passed Jason’s (Oesterreich) cuts, (they) robbed the residents of Midland and Cabarrus County the ability to understand what was going to happen to their community. He took away our rights to voice our opinions on the budget as we’ve always done.”

Kitts believes that the silver lining will come when new commissioners take office later this year.

“The thing about the new commissioners coming in, they truly have the Cabarrus County (residents) at the forefront … ,” Kitts said. “They know what’s right for the community, and they work hard to do that. They’ll make sure things get moving in the right way.”

Richard Flowe, planning zoning and subdivision administrator, said the cuts came as a shock but added nothing is certain in the political arena.

“But even if something slows us down, if it’s what the people want, we’ll find a way to get it done – just give us some time,” he said.

Liz Poole, chair of Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners, said cuts affecting Midland should be restored.

“I said last year that I wanted to restore library cuts, which were made as a result of the recession, with this budget. And instead, we went the other way,” Poole said. “The park has been a project for many years and shouldn’t have been cut. I don’t know what will happen in the coming year. There are many unknowns at this point.”

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