Renuka Soll, chair of the Parks, Recreation, and Greenways Commission and current Town Council Candidate, has come under attack from our opponents over her statistics concerning Chapel Hill’s Parks funding. These attacks are unfounded and are misinformation. In response, she wrote a great article clarifying her figures. The post is below:
First, so many of you who have come to meet me at various events. Thank you. It is wonderful to meet you and inspiring to hear your ideas and thoughts. Please keep sharing! For those who I have yet to meet, please reach out.
I’d like to start this newsletter with a discussion about parks. I am the Chair of the Parks, Recreation, and Greenways Commission. I serve on this commission because I love our parks. I believe that parks are critical to a healthy community. They offer mental respite, places to connect with others, and spaces for children to play. I also serve on this commission because our parks need help. You don’t need to me to tell you that. Many of you have shared your stories, needs, and hopes with me.
If you play tennis, you know that the tennis courts at Cedar Falls are in such bad shape that the staff has taken two nets down to signal that it’s too dangerous to play on those courts and it is a short matter of time before the rest come down too. If you play pickleball, you know that you may have to wait up to an hour to play a 15-minute game. If your child plays a field sport, you may have to drive to Durham or Cary for your child to play because Chapel Hill doesn’t have enough fields. If your child skateboards, you know that the skateboard park is falling apart.
Alarmed by this state, the Parks Commission began a focused campaign for better funding for our parks in the fall of 2022. By working with the Parks and Recreation department, we created a presentation to show how underfunded our parks are in the spirit of trying to get our ~70 project long, $25 Million queue of projects funded.
We were successful with some of our advocacy. We succeeded in getting some of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA funds), a one-time stimulus package provided by the federal government, allocated to parks. We urged the Council to use APRA money on re-turfing the fields at Cedar Falls, fields that had gone long past the end of their lives. We succeeded on allocating some money for a new skate park, a request that has been on the queue for over 10 years, and getting some money for inclusive playground equipment (though sadly, we could not secure enough funding for a dedicated inclusive playground.) To be very clear, we are extremely grateful to the federal government for this funding, because it is unclear any of this could have happened without it.
An important secondary point of this story is “how” the funding happened. It happened because of the work of the town’s volunteer Commission. This commission met tirelessly to advocate hard for these funds. I point out this out not to laud the Parks Commission, but to illustrate how important Commissions can be to the town. Our current Town Council is trying to get rid of a lot of our Town Boards. I hope this example shows why I think this is an unfortunate idea. Our town is better when it listens to its residents.
Some facts that I would like clear up
Recently, I have been on the receiving end of attacks by the Triangle BlogBlog (TBB). The TBB would like to be seen as a source of news. It is not. Rather, it is a blog backed by a 501(c)(4), who does NOT disclose its donors, and are able to conduct political activity to get preferred candidates elected. They cherry-pick facts, change definitions, and create narratives to suit their agenda. If you choose to read them, please consider what you know about me and my fellow slate of candidates (Adam Searing, David Adams, Elizabeth Sharp, and Breckany Eckhardt) and question whether what they write jibes with your impressions. If you have any questions, please reach out. I would love to help answer or provide clarity.
Chapel Hill spends $4/person on parks versus the median spend of $19/person.
TBB attacked me for using an incorrect number for Chapel Hill’s spend on parks. I stand behind those numbers that were calculated by the work of the town staff and commission and presented to Mayor Hemminger. The town’s capital expenditure budget, which is the budget used for maintenance and new projects, was less in 2022-2023 than in 2014.
The $4/ person is a number that represents 2022-2023. Because of the hard work of the Parks Commission, there have been some very important changes since 2022-2023. The biggest change came from the Parks Commission successfully advocating for some funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, one-time federal stimulus money, discussed earlier.
Another big change is that after the Parks Staff and Commission brought public attention to our under-funded state, our local government passed “Pennies for Parks,” which starts in 2023-2024. It is estimated to give parks an extra $900,000/year. We are grateful for the extra money, but with $25 million dollars of projects in need on the current list, it will take 25 years to fund them all. And that is without adding more projects to the list that may be needed.
The effect of this continued budget shortfall is that many of our residents have to leave Chapel Hill to recreate.
Over 1,000 people signed a petition for a splash pad, but at this time, it is not funded.
It is still in the planning stages. The town hasn’t decided how many splashpads we will have, how big they would be, or even finalized a location. Homestead Park is one of the possible sites for the future splash pad. There is a lot of talk and excitement about splashpads. Let’s find the funds.
As mentioned earlier, ARPA provided funding for some inclusive playground equipment. This is “okay,” but not what the Commission or public hoped for. The Parks and Recreation department has a thoughtful plan to build a dedicated inclusive playground at Cedar Falls Park, but that project would cost over $1,000,000. The town did not find funding for this and instead, the Council voted on putting some inclusive playground equipment on some of Town’s playgrounds. It’s better than nothing, but frankly, it made many of us a little sad. We feel we should do better for our children with special needs.
A new skatepark, which has been in demand for over a decade, will cost over $1,000,000. With ARPA money, the Council provided $500,000. The results is parks staff having to create a skatepark that can be built in phases with the hopes that a future Council can fully fund it.
With only 14 public courts in town (quite short of what our 2013 Master Plan says a community of our size should have), the Commission has been tirelessly advocating for the renovation of the Cedar Falls tennis courts for years. We still don’t have funding.
Many other parks projects
These are just a few examples. The parks department has so many other projects, many of them need repairs. Cedar Falls Park’s bathroom facilities are on a septic system and needs to be connected to the sewer system. Meadowmont has a dam that needs replacing. Umstead Park has broken park benches. Many of these parks projects are not exciting or glamorous. These are basic fixes and upgrades to keep us safe while we are there.