THIS ARTICLE IS COMMENTARY AND PUBLISHED IN OUR EDITORIAL SECTION.
By Randy Arrington, publisher
All good things come to an end. For the last few years, a flood of federal and state money has flown into the county coffers to fund major efforts from a multi-million-dollar regional broadband project, to water- and sewer-related infrastructure upgrades in the towns. There have been significant contributions to law enforcement agencies, schools and some non-profits, while smaller allocations of these funds went toward message boards, stocking up on hand sanitizer and even advertising on this website.
Original COVID relief funds allocated through the CARES Act are long gone and mostly spent on more immediate pandemic needs such as retrofitting office space, providing hand sanitizing stations and hazard pay for front line workers. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds have paid for some infrastructure upgrades and are nearing their final phase. Local decision-makers may soon have to consider budgetary cycles without the heavy-duty federal lifeline.
Nowhere is that more evident than recent discussions surrounding proposed recreation projects. The Page County Board of Supervisors has shelved an idea for a new community recreation center on county-owned land near the Page County Technical Center and the Page County Animal Shelter. Supervisors have twice asked for revisions to the plans that create revenue-generating uses for a facility that is projected to cost up to $6 million, according to figures given at a March 6 work session.
County officials can’t seem to agree on what may be the best mixed uses of such a facility, but despite talk of growth in revenues and millions in reserve there seems to be a general desire among supervisors to put such a project on hold until the county works its way through the current budget cycle and finalize a spending plan for FY24.
However, supervisors generally agree that they are not saying “no” to the project, just delaying it a little while. And they believe basketball programs could — and should — continue to use the school facilities that are already available.
Meanwhile in Luray, Town Council has pumped the brakes on an outdoor recreational facility with multiple courts proposed for Ralph Dean Park. This facility was inspired and driven by a considerable private donation committed toward the project in an effort to memorialize a family member. While the Luray Council had initially committed $150,000 toward the construction of an outdoor basketball court, pickleball court and tennis court, a plan that recently came before the council had grown in size and scope, and required a commitment from the Town of more than $485,000. Despite being able to leverage around $350,000 in privately donated funds, the council decided to table the issue last Monday.
However, council members generally agree that they are not saying “no” to the project, just delaying it a little while…”maybe ’til fall.”
Some other recreation projects coming up that are making the cut, the Town of Stanley will be opening its new “Bailey’s Legacy Dog Park” on April 8 at Hawksbill Park, and the Town of Shenandoah just last week approved nearly $14,000 for new playground equipment at Big Gem Park. Last year, the Town of Luray replaced all of its aging equipment at Ralph Dean Park’s Imagination Station, and in just a few weeks in late May, a crew of nearly 100 from the Where Angels Play Foundation will descend upon Stanley’s Hawksbill Park to construct a playground in memory of fallen police officer Nick Winum.
There’s still plenty of quality recreational facilities in Page County, and those offerings will continue to grow. But local officials are wise to slow down on the quick impulse to spend taxpayer dollars on a project just because the money is there to do it. It’s not something longtime public servants are accustomed to doing. In past years, budget time meant, what do we cut? In recent years, local officials have been asking, how do we spend this “free” money? Well now those pools of federal funds are dwindling, and budgetary talks are slowly migrating back toward the real world. The county administrator recently stated at a meeting that she expects department requests to exceed projected FY24 revenues by “millions”. We’ll see when she presents her projected budget at tonight’s (March 20) supervisor’s meeting.
Needs continue to mount, well outside areas of recreation. Schools and other agencies are considering the possibility of additional hires — schools alone have discussed the potential need for more than $2 million in new positions next year. Inflation and supply line issues continue to drive higher prices for all departments. New state or federal requirements constantly create new costs, whether it’s an upgraded radio system or additional nurses and psychologists at schools. And once new facilities are created, then you have to plan for their maintenance and upkeep, and potentially staffing, for many years to come. Things such as a new recreation center…or a new jail.
For those still wishing for an indoor pool…just realize that it can happen anytime you want, town or county…as long as you, the citizens, are willing to pay for its construction and perpetual upkeep. A swimming pool is not much of a moneymaker, much like a golf course, because typically it carries a pretty hefty cost to simply maintain and operate. Just ask the folks in Stanley, who have a beautiful, large outdoor pool at Hawksbill Park, but have experienced more than a few headaches associated with the old Shuler Pool.
For those who want to play pickleball, host pickleball tournaments, have another spot for outdoor hoops during March Madness, another place to play tennis or get some swings in at a batting cage…those days aren’t that far away. We project that in the next few years, all of those offerings will be added to the already wide array of recreational activities to do outdoors (and indoors) in Page County, increasing its attractiveness as both a place to live and work.
We would also include a fitness center to that list, as we have heard that a private sector interest is exploring the opportunity to open a fitness center in the area to serve Page County.
Just be patient, and know that our collective tax dollars are being prudently withheld while considering the many needs across all departments and services that local government provides.
Even if you don’t get an indoor pool.