Press "Enter" to skip to content
Photo/Angela Reinhardt Bob Coleman, Georgia North District Pickleball ambassador, was one of many attendees who spoke in favor of outdoor pickleball courts.

Parks, pool, pickleball at town hall

            Of the many opinions expressed at the county’s town hall on parks and recreation, primary concerns of the public were: how to keep residents from travelling out of Pickens for better facilities, how to attract tournaments and players here, and how to keep potential revenue from sports in town.

            The meeting began with Pickens Commission Chair Kris Stancil giving an overview of the county’s current park and recreation status, with a focus on the dollars and cents — budget and cost estimates for a few projects.

            The goal of the town hall, held Tuesday, Aug. 29 at Pickens Jr. High auditorium, was to listen to what the public wants so leaders can consider that input for future planning.

The dollars and cents

            For 2023 the county budgeted $859,707 for parks & recreation, with the department expected to generate $200,000 in revenue from fees like those paid for kids who participate in rec. sports and rentals for the community room.

            “[Parks and rec] is not what we consider to be an enterprise fund that pays for itself,” Stancil said. “It’s a service that’s provided for citizens so there is a big chunk of that paid for out of the general fund.”

            Parks & rec makes up 2.5 percent of the total county budget of $34.1 million. It also receives 10 percent of a one-cent SPLOST that began in 2020 and that will end in 2026. Revenue from the 2020 SPLOST is around $600,000 a year, which is earmarked for parks projects. The SPLOST parks & rec. balance is about $1.4 million currently.

            “We do have money sitting in the bank to start whatever the first thing we start next is,” Stancil said. “We were ready trying to discuss pulling the trigger [on projects]. The board has met…and we all decided let’s pause just a minute and listen to what the public has to say first.”

            Commissioners want to assess the “bucket of money we have right now,” the list of potential projects, and where they should spend the money they have available.

            Short-term funding for parks can come from that SPLOST revenue, as well as the county’s American Rescue Act funds, which has around $200,000 that can be allocated to parks, Stancil explained.

            Longer-term parks funding could come by shifting road paving funding to a different source. Around 50 percent of the current SPLOST is earmarked for road projects. If road paving projects were funded through a TSPLOST instead of a SPLOST the county could use more money in a future SPLOST for parks – but that would mean the public would need to pass the TSPLOST and SPLOST in a future election for the plan to work.

            “If we…take all the roads out of SPLOST and TSPLOST fails, we no longer have any money to add to for additional road paving projects,” Stancil said.

            If the 2026 SPLOST failed, those projects would have to be paid for from general funds which would require an increase in taxes.

            Stancil said this strategy would be a way to increase funding without pushing the county into debt, increasing property taxes or increasing the millage rate – but that “would be in 2026 before we could start to see a significantly larger portion of funds come in to play.”

            Park bonds are also a way to fund parks. This approach would require an extra millage on property taxes that would go towards parks.

            “There are counties to our south that do this,” Stancil said. “They are successful with it. There are other counties that try to stay away from it because it is an increase in what people pay for property taxes.”

            One member of the public asked about grants for parks, and Stancil said they do have a grant writer but that Pickens did not qualify for recent grant opportunities. Grants will be considered in the future.

Recent projects, future project estimates

            Since 2021 the county has: added LED lights on seven fields at Roper Park (over $900,000), resurfaced the walking trail there and added new playground equipment. The parking area at the Pickens Community Center was also resurfaced.

            Roper Park is the only park the county owns and operates. All others are in the cities of Jasper, Nelson or Talking Rock.

            Stancil presented estimates of projects that were included in a master plan developed in 2021 to get an idea of much it would be for a  revamp of Roper Park, which was  almost having to grade it down and build it back from the ground up,” he said.

            The plan, developed by Lose Design out of Lawrenceville, included the following estimates: a new park similar to Roper with current features but also with pickleball courts and pavilion with restrooms – $13 – $15 million; new outdoor pool – $3 – $5 million; indoor aquatic center – $15 – $20 million; new ball fields not including land acquisition – $275,000 per field; new fencing for fields – $700,000; digital sign on Refuge Road – $30,000; pickleball courts, $200,000-$400,000; splash pad – $600,000; pavilion, $250,000-$300,000; restroom facility, $225,000; maintenance shop, $350,000. (Note: Some of the numbers came from the county surveying other counties about projects.)

Inadequate parks send people – and money – out of county

            Several people who spoke are involved in sports either themselves or by way of their children, with a main complaint being that they feel like they have to leave the community because local facilities are inadequate — either in poor condition, non-existent, or too small to accommodate players.   

            Several local pickleball players were in attendance and spoke in favor of outdoor pickleball courts. They argued that pickleball is a sport that has exploded in popularity across all age groups, and believe courts would be a big draw and bring in revenue.

            The county does have pickleball indoors at the community center in the mornings, but availability is limited.

            “We’re the only county up 515 that doesn’t’ have public, dedicated pickleball courts,” said Steve Lowe, who along with others present go out of county several times a week to play.

            He referenced Ellijay, which a few years ago built pickleball courts that are so busy “they’re about to go back and ask for more…I know it’s something that will be used. If you build us pickleball courts, I think we can build revenue to help maintain them.”

            Lowe recently hosted 250 pickleball players at Bent Tree to raise money for the Joy House “and I turned people away for the last three weeks. If I had enough courts, I could do 400 people here playing, spending their dollars here in the community.”

            Pickleball player Bob Coleman, north Georgia pickleball district ambassador, and Hans Rueffert also spoke in favor of outdoor pickleball courts. They said pickleball is something that can be picked up easily, even by people not in prime physical shape or the older demographic, but which is also played by younger people. 

            “I don’t want to see us miss out on an opportunity,” Coleman said. “I think we have a golden opportunity to do something nice with pickleball.”

            Rueffert said they recently returned from a tournament in Foley, Ala. where 340 players and families stayed in hotels, “{went] to local shops, [spent] money on food.” At that tournament $25,000 was also raised for the Gastric Cancer Foundation in addition to other revenue.

            The county swimming pool was also a hot topic at the town hall, with several parents of swimmers who have been on either the high school or other teams commenting on its poor condition. The county’s pool was built in the 1980s with few upgrades since then.

            Parents of swimmers who spoke would like to see an indoor aquatic center that could provide year-round swimming practice, a place for meets, and which could also support and other sports like water aerobics.

            One mom said swimmers and their families regularly advise people to go out of county to swim “because our pool is so bad. When we started doing travel swim team we started going to the different facilities – Cartersville, Calhoun, Cordele, and you see these facilities…how did we not have this?”

            She said by the end of the season, “the floor is coming off [of the county pool]. The kids are picking up pieces of the floor and setting it on the deck.”

            Another swim mom said they have spent thousands of dollars traveling across the state to meets, and wants to see money generated from those events stay here. She said the pool is held together by “paper clips and chewing gum,” and that she took her daughter to Cherokee County to practice when she was on the team.

            “We’d love an aquatic center, but we’d settle for a working pool,” she said.

            One man said he was shocked to hear there was no swimming complex here, and that the current pool is closed most of August when weather is still hot.

            One resident, who played at the rec department her entire youth, called for more attention to the county rec baseball/softball/t-ball program. She said the season is too short and wants to see the addition of a fall league.

            “A lot of kids are going to Cherokee County where they have a fall league,” she said.

            A father who coaches 10U travel ball said they always have to leave the county to play “to have a higher standard of baseball,” and also mentioned tournaments other counties host.

            “So many kids leave this county, and we’re losing money,” he said. “…those are the same fields I remember playing on when I was three years old. Let’s update these fields and start bringing in tournaments…I’d like to start seeing all these kids saying in the county.”

            A father with two girls who play soccer said the sport is “overlooked” in the county.

            “A little disappointing,” he said. “We don’t put any time into the fields. The coaches have to fix the fields themselves.”

            He pointed out the wide range of sports represented that evening all with their own needs, and said, “The county has got to build a big enough complex to fulfill everything everyone needs here.”

            He also cited a recent soccer tournament they attended out of town and revenue generated by the event.

            A recently-retired west end resident asked for parks on the west end of the county, specifically walking trails.

            “We have nothing on the west side,” she said.

            Greg Moore called for a partnership with  schools that could create a quicker solution “to be able to utilize, for example, Hill City. Let’s look at creating a little mini-park at Hill City or Tate other places where we can try to get some of these things out there.”

            He said Cherokee County used this method years ago when they only had one park.

“That might be a way to get some of these quick hit items before making major capital investments,” he said.

            One man said after hearing concerns expressed that evening, that he feels the county needs a comprehensive long range plan and “a method of raising funds besides tax dollars…figure out how to prioritize so you can deliver these things to the community as a whole.”

            Stancil said they did pay for a comprehensive plan through Lose Design, but that it would require they tear everything down at Roper Park and they would lose park services for a while.

            “The whole purpose of tonight is to take that plan and sit down with the advisory board build the long-term plan, the short range projects and then what the long range projects are,” he said. “I think we’re on the same page.”

            Several members of the Pickens Parks & Recreation Board were in attendance.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Website by - Copyright 2021