On Tuesday, commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to draw the $22.8 million remaining in bonds and earmarked most of the money for a park with a handicapped-accessible baseball field near Bells Ferry Road, additions to a lengthy Woodstock trail system and a large park in the Macedonia community.
Coming with the projects is an expected increase to the millage rate residents pay on the parks bonds portion of their tax bill for debt service. The increase is from 0.766 mills last year, to 0.819 mills for 2014 tax bills.
The projects will be the last major undertakings to begin through the parks bond after others have been done in different areas of Cherokee County and in each of the county’s cities. The county expects to receive the bond money Aug. 1.
Commissioner Harry Johnston, who asked the board to approve the final draw, said the millage rate increase will put the county above the about.75 mills commissioners always intended to charge for the parks bond. However, he said it’s worth it.
On a $150,000 home, it would mean an increase for the debt service from $46 a year to $49 a year, Johnston said.
“We’ve actually delayed these projects because of the decrease in the tax digest, so as to keep the rate at about 0.75 mills, which is what we discussed back when the bond was originally issued,” he said Thursday, adding the county feels the increase is acceptable based on what the projects will do for residents.
The cost to the average taxpayer under the planned new rate will still be about $50 per year, which Johnston said is still about the price the county imagined in the beginning.
The new parks will go a long way to meet the county’s ever-increasing recreation needs, Johnston said. He said he is particularly anxious for the Macedonia project, which has been tentatively named East Park and will have about 10 total fields for baseball and football on its about 150 acres. The land is off Highway 20, near Water Tank Road.
“The need for ball field space is almost never ending,” said Johnston, who represents Macedonia. “These parks will go a long way, especially East Park. This will make a huge difference in that area. It’s been a struggle to try to meet the needs in north Cherokee.”
Construction is expected to begin on East Park, budgeted at $9.35 million, in the next 10 to 11 months, according to Bill Echols, Cherokee’s capital projects manager.
The other park, going by the name Patriots Park, is also long-awaited, partly because it will contain Cherokee’s first baseball field made specifically for disabled individuals, in addition to other multi-use fields.
The park, more than 30 acres in size, will be between Kellogg Creek and Victory Drive near Bells Ferry, on the far west side of Woodstock. Bryan Reynolds, Cherokee Recreation and Parks Authority director, said while there isn’t a huge demand for a handicapped-accessible field, there does appear to be a need.
“It’s obviously a very special population, but it’s something the county doesn’t currently have,” Reynolds said Thursday.
The field is planned to be used by the Miracle League, a local baseball association helping individuals with disabilities such as autism stay active. The league has been playing on a dirt field at Hobgood Park, which can be more difficult to maneuver wheelchairs on than the rubberized surface planned for Patriots Park.
“This would really improve their ability to serve that population,” Reynolds said.
The budget is $6.5 million and is expected to begin around early 2015, Echols said, adding the county is considering alternative designs after issues arose with how the planned layout would accommodate streams running through the land.
The county is giving $3.5 million for the trails in Woodstock, which the city is working on. Echols said Woodstock is still deciding on routes and looking into easements, and construction could be two years out.
Johnston said he is excited by that project as well. In total, Johnston said Woodstock will get in the neighborhood of $5 million from the parks bond for the trails, after the latest money.
“It’s a really neat trail system that the city of Woodstock came up with,” he said. “Some of those trails have been built and they’re very nice.”
On top of the three big projects, the final $22.8 million will also fund several other miscellaneous park updates around the county, Echols said. The three projects are receiving $19.35 million of the total draw.
As the parks bond initiative nears its end six years after voters approved it, officials say they view it as a success.
“We’ve purchased close to 2,000 additional acres that either have been developed, or will be developed, over the last couple years. That 2,000 acres almost doubles the current number of acres we have,” the Reynolds said. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we’ve almost doubled the amount of recreation opportunities available to the citizens.”
Reynolds said he consistenly heard positive feedback on projects around the county, including the new Badger Creek Park and Cherokee County Aquatic Center, as well as renovations to Hobgood Park and the Blankets Creek Bike Trails.
“The stories go on and on,” he said. “I think people have been really pleased.”
Johnston feels the same way.
“I think it’s been a tremendous improvement,” he said. “These last two parks are going to be a big help.”
The commissioner said the aquatic center must also be mentioned.
“That is a tremendous asset to Cherokee County, meeting a need that was never met before,” for local swim teams without a home, Johnston said. “Now, they’ve got a first-rate place. It pays for its own operations ... so far it is. In fact, it turned a modest profit in its first year.”