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York County considers what to do with recreation money

York County leaders aren’t sure why they have so much recreation money banked, but they won’t spend more until they figure it out.

The York County Council deferred a $310,000 request from the city of York on Sept. 2, a month after approving $50,000 for the town of Sharon from funds some say they didn’t know existed.

“It’s a conversation that was had before most of us were on council, and nobody can remember it,” said Councilman Chad Williams.

The county will dole out $1.15 million for recreation in the coming fiscal year. Rock Hill will get $511,656, followed by Clover – whose department serves the Lake Wylie area – at $206,730 and York at $142,333. Fort Mill and Tega Cay each get $69,771; Hickory Grove, McConnells, Sharon and Smyrna each get $8,373.

But the county, which doesn’t have a recreation department, banks $116,247. The annual county allocation brings that pot to more than $830,000 with no designated use for the money.

“The formula that’s used to give away this rec money makes absolutely no sense,” said Councilman Michael Johnson. “There ought to be a basis on why we’re doing this. And ironically, we’re giving 10 percent to our own rec department, which we don’t have.”

The issue arose when officials from Sharon requested $50,000 in August for a park. The council unanimously approved it.

“It began a conversation that, quite honestly, we should have had a long time ago,” Johnson said.

Charles Helms, interim city manager of York, asked the county Aug. 21 for $310,000 for recreation improvements. The money would be used to replace the lights at Optimist Ball Field and repave a walking trail at York Recreation Complex, for $80,000 each.

Replacing the gym floor at the complex would cost $50,000, as would both new playgrounds for children ages 5-12 at the recreation complex and Wooded Valley Park.

In York, more than 70 percent of parks and rec program participants come from outside the city. City and noncity residents pay the same rate per a 2005 agreement with the county.

Councilmen Joe Cox, who represents York, and Curwood Chappell cast the only votes against deferring the request to an indefinite time.

“The city of York has legitimate needs for this money,” Cox said.

Cox took exception to others suggesting the council wasn’t aware of the money until requests arrived.

“It’s in the budget,” Cox said. “It’s a number. Just read it.”

The council didn’t set a date for deciding on York’s request. As the council considers what to do with recreation money, members don’t want recreation departments looking for handouts just because Sharon received its grant.

Williams said it’s clear the funding mechanism broke down recreation dollars along school district, then municipal lines. The county take, whether to maintain unincorporated recreation assets or provide grants to municipalities, isn’t as certain.

“That’s the part that we’re unclear what that was for,” Williams said.

Williams said he wants to see what the original intent was and if the council still agrees with it. Johnson proposed a full overhaul of the system. Johnson said the “mess of our own making” should be fixed with a system that accounts for how many park and rec users are in each area of the county, then funds those departments accordingly.

“And then let’s give away every dime,” he said. “If this council is not going to create a park and rec department, let’s not keep $120,000 a year that disappears, that ends up being $800,000 that no one knew existed.”

Park and rec funding is of interest in high growth areas like Lake Wylie, Fort Mill and Tega Cay. The county has land to put a park in Lake Wylie, but so far organizers behind a park plan have looked to hospitality tax money.

They say the park at Crowders Creek would be used to generate tourism dollars, but also facilitate rec league play in an area where youth programs rent fields across the state line.

A hangup for approving the park plan is an unwillingness by several council members to vote for a plan without knowing how the park will sustain itself. Council members have stated many times they aren’t interested in creating a county park and rec department.

The Lake Wylie park and facilities in Fort Mill were part of an overhaul of the county’s hospitality tax advisory group, which now will prioritize spending on recreation facilities at the mandate of council.

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