ROSWELL — The Roswell City Council voted unanimously Sept. 27 to fund the Department of Parks, Recreation, Historic and Cultural Affairs’ five-year master plan and maintenance.
The master plan will cost the city $95,000 for a contract with consulting planning firm Brandstetter Carroll Inc. Another $310,000 will be allocated through a budget amendment from the general fund balance for park maintenance.
Jeffrey Leatherman, director of Roswell Parks, Recreation, Historic and Cultural Affairs, said the purpose of the master plan is to build on the objectives of the community on a cyclical basis so recommendations can be made to the City Council. He said the last time the department reached out to the community was about six years ago, and the current five-year master plan expires at the end of the year.
“This includes land acquisition for the future,” Leatherman said. “It includes what types of fields and facilities we should be advocating for, but it also includes items that we should be prioritizing. Essentially, from the community’s perspective, what are the highest and best uses of the resources that we have made available?”
Initially, the City Council was only supposed to vote on the master plan. However, Councilman Mike Palermo questioned the immediate need for a master plan when they had cut the department’s budget for annual maintenance by over $300,000 three months prior. His objection led to nearly an hour of back and forth arguing before they were able to reach a compromise.
“If you couldn’t afford needed repairs in your house and you weren’t contributing to your 401K, would you spend thousands of dollars on an architectural design of your dream house?” Palermo said. “Let’s be honest, not the best use of the money if that’s your situation. Well, that is the situation the City of Roswell is in.”
Longtime resident Sue DuPart said she knows of a volunteer docent who recently fell through the back porch at Barrington Hall because the city has not given it the maintenance that it needs. The historic house museum, located along Barrington Drive, was built in the 1800s.
“It’s sad to see that house unraveling,” DuPart said.
Resident and local businesswoman Janet Russell, a frequent critic of the mayor and City Council, said funding a five-year master plan would only be worth it if the city followed through with the consulting firm’s recommendations. Otherwise, she said, it was a “complete joke.”
“You can’t let the house fall down while you’re making plans,” Russell said. “Life is what happens when you’re making plans…. Everybody in metro Atlanta laughs at Roswell for that and it’s really sad. … No one says hey let’s go to Roswell they have a Target and a Kohl’s and two Home Depots. They come here for what we have.”
But Councilman Matt Judy said they knew all along the city would fund park maintenance. It was just a matter of time. Additionally, he said the City Council had spent an hour before the meeting discussing the city-wide strategic plan, where they agreed to develop and implement the parks and recreation 2022 master plan.
“I find it offensive and misleading to say we won’t fully fund the parks this year and for years to come and put all the money in it that we can,” Judy said. “… Our very esteemed parks and recreation director would not be standing in front of us asking for $95,000 to fund a plan if he didn’t believe it was necessary. He wouldn’t be standing in front of us asking to fund a plan that wasn’t in our strategic plan that we just saw for an hour before this in the workshop.”
After debating whether to cut funding from other areas of the city’s budget or to use a portion of the $12 million the city is set to receive from the federal government in COVID-19 relief funds over the next two years, Director of Finance Ryan Luckett confirmed the city has sufficient funds to pay for the master plan and maintenance. Councilwoman Marie Willsey asked why they were arguing then.
“I’m not quite sure why we’re having this argument if the funds are available for both needs that the parks director has identified,” Willsey said.
Councilman Marcelo Zapata, the liaison to recreation and parks, made the motion to approve the funding. The motion was seconded by Councilman Matthew Tyser.