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Parks & Rec budget could limit future growth
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The Dawson County Parks and Recreation Department has great plans for the future, but funding could put them on hold. Last Thursday, Parks and Rec Director Lisa Henson presented the new five-year plan to the Dawson County Board of Commissioners.

The plan that we were operating under was outdated and the plan recommendations were unachievable basically, because of the downturn in economy, Henson told the board last week.

The new plan, which Henson described as a guide, says that the local park system has more than $33 million in needed improvements by 2016. The needs are based on how Dawson County citizens use the facilities and population increases.

The plan makes recommendations for another park - possibly as large as 30 acres - but the greatest needs come in the form of soccer fields, playgrounds, pavilions, park trails, possibly another recreation center, community center and some type of water feature.

Due to funding constraints, the plan is recommending spending between $5-6 million over the next five years and putting the remaining approximately $27 million worth of improvements beyond 2016.

I think [the plan] needs to be doable given the expected funding and when I look at the expected funding it says that our county looks likes its going to go down, said District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon. Well be lucky to continue to hold where we are in 2013.

The countys annual budget has declined steadily in recent years and the current three-year budget projects a flat budget.

I commend the staff and Park board for being aggressive with their plan, they wouldnt really be doing their job if they werent aggressive about it, said District 2 Commissioner James Swafford. When I read the report, it reminded me of when I was a child. I would sit down with my buddies... we could come up with a wild list. But when I sat down with my parents I had to get realistic and this is a good item to have on the shelf, but funding-wise we need to come up with what we can do.

The plan made recommendations for numerous items, including land acquisition, improving existing parks, developing new parks, trails, greenways and maintaining current parks, but commissioners asked Henson for a priority list.

You want a plan that doesnt mislead the public, who is interested in the parks, and the staff as to what is possible, Pichon said. When I look at the requirements in terms of money, you cant argue with the argument that says, based on these standards, these would be great things to have, but for me I would like to have a one-page priority list of the basic changes, the additions you would want to do, in some sort of ranking over the next couple of years.

The Dawson County Board of Commissioners will meet Thursday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at Dawsonville City Hall for its regular voting session.