GARLAND — Recreation is vital to Garland, but limited action has been taken to improve the town’s park in the past year, town officials said. Money was freed up this week, and a request to the county discussed, with board members ultimately voicing the need for renewed efforts in bettering its park and recreation offerings.
“We are in a better place financially in terms of cash flow than we were in the past,” said Mayor Winifred Murphy. “There were sometimes last year and the year before that we were just rock bottom. But we still need a lot of cash to do the things we need to do, in terms of getting that park ready.”
The Garland Board of Commissioners discussed a town CD at Southern Bank, which matured less than $50, from $3,450 to $3,494, over a 36-month term. Murphy said it would help to have cash on hand.
“We’ve got a lot to do and the more cash we have to do it with (the better),” the mayor said. “We can’t always depend on additional revenue coming in. I think we need to get it and use it for the citizens.”
Last month, Register said recreation reiterated the need to improve the park’s amenities, identifying the benefits of adding shelters, tables and grills for the park, along with purchasing soccer goals to replace the current damaged ones. Murphy said she would be submitting a specific plan of needed items and cost estimates as part of a request, due by April 1.
“There’s no guarantee we’ll get anything from the county,” the mayor said, “and everyone’s asking.”
Commissioner Ralph Smith said, along with the Recreation needs, the Water and Sewer Department is still battling to stay afloat too. Town clerk Jennifer Gray suggested the money be taken out of the CD and be placed in a regular account until the town sees how it fares with the county request. The money, if not spent, can always be placed back into a CD, she said.
Smith said the $20,000 received from the Garland Fire Department as part of a recent purchase of town property for a new station could be put, with the $3,500, into a money market account, where it can draw a bit of interest but still be accessed with no penalty.
“I worry about Water and Sewer and everything else, but we’ve got to do something (about recreation),” said Register. “I want to save every dime we can, but we have to do something out there at that park. We have to figure out a way to generate money off of our park.”
For starters, Register said he believed softball and soccer could generate money, which could in turn open up other revenue opportunities.
“We could book stuff on the weekends, and that might open up concessions,” he said. “I’m not saying take every bit of that money and put it toward it, but it would be nice to put a little bit of money toward it. I’m not saying spending that ($3,500) right now, because I think that would be foolish to spend that money.”
He said there were funds in the Recreation budget that were put there in June and, not only has nothing been spent, but money has been taken out. Smith said money has been “moved out of just about every place,” not just recreation. Register said he understood that.
“We have to also remember that we’re not going to generate that revenue from Internet sweepstakes,” said Murphy, “so we will have to revise our budget over the next few weeks, and we might need that money.”
Bringing it back to the CD, Register said he did not think the money should be tied up. The board agreed, unanimously approving that the money be taken out of the CD and placed in a money market account with the $20,000 from the fire department’s property purchase.
County taking over?
In light of stretched staff and funding, Murphy entertained discussion on whether Garland should seek county assistance in overseeing recreation.
“We’ve been struggling,” said Murphy. “People have been asking ‘can we do this or that’ but nobody’s followed through. Several years ago, Sampson County Parks and Recreation was here. I’m wondering if we need to ask them again if they can come back to Garland. With our staff and limited resources that we have, it’s difficult for us to operate our own Recreation Department.”
County recreation is currently in the Union district, looked at as “more of a central area,” Murphy noted. The mayor asked whether board members wanted a request to be made for the county to return to Garland.
“Not me,” said Commissioner Haywood Johnson. “We learn from experience.”
Register asked what recourse the town had if the county did not come back.
Smith said the town needed to find a dedicated person or group of people interested in working with recreation. The town has had those types of people in the past, but not recently. Some in the last year or so have come to the board with plans for athletic programs and improvements at the park, but nothing has come to fruition.
The coaches and sponsors were there to help, Smith said, but someone needed to oversee and coordinate a program and look after the park itself.
“You have to have somebody that is willing to go out there and work with the system in order to make it work,” Smith remarked. “Just bringing the county down here is not going to do it. That’s when our mess fell apart to start with — when the county took it over. It doesn’t make any difference how much money you’ve got, if you don’t have somebody to look after it and is willing to go out there, take it and go with it, it’s not going to happen.
“That’s the reason I’ve been hesitant about putting any money out there.”
Johnson said he agreed with that, but said something needed to be done. Driving around the town, Johnson said, he saw no basketball goals. He talked about purchasing a couple break-away goals, which he said could be done at limited cost.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” said Johnson.
Murphy said she encouraged any movement in that direction.
“I welcome this getting started,” the mayor said. “I just know that nothing’s getting done and we’ve been talking about it and people have been coming in here and saying ‘I want to do this’ but they don’t follow through. We’ve got to take some leadership and organize. They want it before this summer.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.