To the editor:
Welcome to the city of Brookhaven. Welcome home! Our future is bright, very bright.
The city of Brookhaven will take over several services from DeKalb County. Parks and Recreation is one of those services. It is one of the services many people rally around because of the obvious improvement potential.
I had the pleasure and good fortune to work on the Governor’s Commission Committee for Parks and Recreation under the leadership of Kim Gokce, commission co-chair. The Committee included Sue Binkerts, citizen co-chair, Terrell Carstens of Clack’s Corner, Wayne Fell of Lynwood Park, Tom Reilly as naturalist, Karen Spitz of Brookhaven Park, Elizabeth Werdesheim of Blackburn Park, Karen Whitehead of Murphy Candler Park Conservancy and me, Chad Boles of Briarwood Park.
They and many other volunteers, friends’ groups and dedicated individuals, have specific ideas about the future of a strong city parks and recreation department.
The committee’s published report included among its recommendations:
• The placement of a parks director with authority over all 11 parks covering approximately 270 acres. An executive search should begin as soon as possible as our timeline requested April 1.
• The parks and recreation director should report directly to the city manager.
• A parks and recreation master plan should be initiated under the supervision of the new parks director sometime in May of 2013.
• We should purchase all the parks from DeKalb County this year. I understand we are on schedule for that transaction in November.
• The parks and recreation budget should begin at $1.375 million in its first full year, as recommended by the Carl Vinson Institute.
Our 11 parks include two recreation centers, two community centers, three swimming pools, a tennis center, eight playgrounds, 22 picnic shelters, a sports complex and a pocket park.
Before you go visit one of these parks you should ask yourself, “Is it open? Is it safe? Is there a bathroom my kids can use?” In many cases the answer is, “probably not.”
We are sitting on a huge opportunity that should be exploited.
As a financial professional, it was hard for me to justify such a large budget number until we began our weeks-long parks audit. The upside potential in our parks created from years of under-funded capital allocations is outstanding. Furthermore, when I analyzed surrounding cities, I discovered a couple of successful examples. The cities of Roswell and Gainesville meet or exceed a parks and recreation budget totaling 15 percent of the overall budget.
There will be, and should be, a lively debate about budget constraints, city priorities and competitive capital allocations. I also understand Roswell and Gainesville have a very good historical head start on us. Even still, here’s hoping the city of Brookhaven increases the parks budget annually to realize our potential to provide world-class parks and recreation to our residents.
In 2001 and 2005, DeKalb County issued $230 million in bond debt. In other words, every DeKalb County taxpayer is obligated to repay not only the principal at maturity, but also the interest payments along the way. The money was slated for green space purchases and park improvements.
Dividing Brookhaven’s 270 acres of parks by DeKalb County’s 6,000 reveals a $10.35 million obligation to the city of Brookhaven. Collectively, a group of us only came up with $3 million of parks expenditures in Brookhaven over the last 10 years for purchases and improvements.
The $7 million surplus would go a long way to improve our parks, bring them up to code, and foster the One DeKalb Works initiative before the transfer takes place this year. Maybe our county commissioners could make that happen.
The newly-created Brookhaven Development Authority and the City Council rightly strive to incentivize economic growth through a larger, more profitable tax base. The parks and recreation department plays a vital role in that endeavor. The state of our parks can enhance our competitive advantage with families and corporations on the move.
Imagine anterooms inside recreation centers transformed into wi-fi hotspots, additions of large, botanical gardens on once shuttered, old growth forests or competitive swim teams where none pre-existed. Now that you’ve imagined that, imagine the revenue potential from city of Brookhaven parks. The parks and recreation department should have a goal of generating 30 percent of its budget requirement through activities, programs and memberships.
To Mayor J. Max Davis and the members of the Brookhaven City Council, you have a thankless job. Currently, you’re doing great. Thank you.
To the dedicated volunteers out there, it’s your city. Embrace it. If you see an area that deserves attention, give it some. And this week, visit a park.
Chad Boles is president of the Friends of Briarwood Park.