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Cornelius News

Town begins lengthy process of potential park bond referendum

McDowell Creek Greenway / Jason Benavides photo

June 6. The Town of Cornelius has begun the process of potentially putting a bond referendum on the ballot in November to fund park capital projects for the next 10 to 15 years.

The potential of the bond was raised after the town recently updated its parks and greenways master plan, which must be done every 10 years to qualify for most state and federal grant money.

The previous master plan was completed in 2015 and, back then, residents voiced needs for new walking and biking paths, which was the primary driver that led to construction of miles of greenways and multi use paths.

Cornelius has grown considerably since, so to make sure the new master plan reflected the wants and needs of current residents, the town took a three-pronged approach to gauge public sentiment.

First, town leaders and parks commissioners held a series of listening sessions for residents to attend and voice their opinions on parks needs. Data from those meetings identified recreation fields, biking and pedestrian resources, and land acquisition.

The town also tapped a research team at UNC Charlotte to conduct a scientific survey that targeted a cross section of Cornelius residents in terms of age, gender, race and geographic locations. The results prioritized wildlife viewing, water access, walking and biking trails, and recreational fields.

The UNCC survey was supplemented with data from an online survey posted on the town website. It identified similar needs in addition to tennis and pickleball.

“This is the most comprehensive amount of data that we’ve ever collected when examining our master plan,” said Parks and Recreation Director Troy Fitzsimmons. “This is a true reflection of the wants and needs communicated to us by Cornelius residents.”

Capital improvements

The park department’s current Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP, calls for future construction and renovation plans totaling roughly $113 million. It includes greenways, recreational fields, recreation centers, pickleball and tennis courts, and more. Due to budget constraints, almost all of the significant projects have been delayed.

For example, the town has plans for two new large park projects north and south of Bailey Road Park that have been delayed for years due to a lack of available funds.

If the bond is approved, potential parks projects would be aligned with the wants and needs expressed by residents during the master plan surveys and listening sessions, as well as data from the National Parks & Recreation Association, which has metrics on the amount and types of recreation needs based on population.

What’s next

Putting a bond referendum on the ballot is a lengthy process.

The town board of commissioners recently voted to apply to the state for the ability to pursue a $20 million bond, which is the first step. If approved, the town board will then take public input before voting this summer whether or not to put the bond referendum on the 2024 ballot.

At that point, town residents would decide the bond’s fate on Nov. 5th.

“Our parks and recreation is the face of Cornelius and it’s what distinguishes us from other towns,” said Scott Higgins, a former parks board chairman, current town commissioner and mayor pro tem. “There isn’t a person in town who hasn’t walked on our greenways, gone to summer camp, attended events like Jazzfest, or played with their kids at the park. As a community we need to decide if that’s something we want to continue to provide for future generations.”

The town of Cornelius has used bonds in the past as fund capital needs, rather than enact tax increases, including a roads bond in 2018.

The town last issued a parks bond in 2013, which funded construction of Wilhelm Park at Cornelius Elementary School, four new greenways, and significant renovations at Bailey Road Park and other facilities across town.

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