SPRING LAKE - The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen is interested in pursuing a partnership with Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation, according to emails obtained by CityView TODAY through a public records request.
In an email dated Jan. 11, interim Town Manager Samantha Wullenwaber wrote to Assistant County Manager Tracy Jackson, Assistant City Manager Adam Lindsay and Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation staff Michael Gibson and Jessica Legette about looking into a partnership.
“Last night the Spring Lake Board of Aldermen had a consensus to continue pursuing the partnership with Fayetteville/Cumberland Parks & Recreation,’’ Wullenwaber wrote. “I will go ahead and draft a letter asking to be brought into the district and send that to you all this week.”
Wullenwaber first approached the idea of a partnership in June in an email to Lindsay. And discussions between Cumberland County, Fayetteville and Spring Lake to bring the town into the county parks and recreation district began in November, according to emails between Cumberland County, Fayetteville and Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation.
The Board of Aldermen met in closed session on Jan. 11 for two and half hours citing N.C. general statutes for personnel, attorney-client privilege and economic development. Michael Gibson, director of Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation, joined the board in closed session. The board adjourned after coming back into open session without taking any action.
Spring Lake officials have not publicly discussed the idea of joining Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation. But the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners discussed the potential partnership during an agenda session on Jan. 13.
During the Jan. 13 meeting, County Manager Amy Cannon said the Local Government Commission had asked the county about helping Spring Lake while its finances are being rebuilt.
The Local Government Commission assumed control of Spring Lake’s finances in October. The town has been under investigation by State Auditor Beth Wood over potential budget deficits, longstanding fiscal disarray and investigations into missing money.
“One of the areas they were interested in were any partnerships or collaborations for the town regarding their parks and recreations program,’’ Cannon said. “They are not a part of our consolidated city and county program.’’
The merged Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks & Recreation was created in 2004 through an interlocal agreement with area municipalities with the exception of Spring Lake and Hope Mills. A master plan was released in 2006 and updated in 2020.
Even though Spring Lake is not part of the interlocal agreement, it opted to be included in the comprehensive planning process in 2020 for the master plan.
Gibson also addressed the county commissioners on Jan. 13 outlining how services could be provided to Spring Lake along with potential benefits to the town.
“We would maintain a standard with the same level of service and amenities with upkeep and modernization,” Gibson said. “What we do for all would also be afforded to Spring Lake.”
No one employed by Spring Lake Recreation would lose their jobs, Gibson said.
“Those jobs would be absorbed and the salaries would increase to the Fayetteville-Cumberland standard,” he said.
He said any vacant positions, including that of director, would not need to be filled. He said the town could save money by coming into the district.
“It would not cost the district to bring them in,” said Gibson when responding to Commissioner Jimmy Keefe’s question about funding.
The county recreation tax collected in Spring Lake is $38,000, according to the town 2022 budget ordinance.
Gibson said state funding is coming that would also help bring Spring Lake’s program up to the same level of service provided to the rest of the county without additional financial stress.
The town has allocated $452,942 for parks and recreation and the senior center, according to the 2021-22 budget. It anticipated $29,105 in revenues from rentals, class fees and registrations.
“They have a recreation department, and it operates,” Gibson said when asked by Keefe about the current level of service offered to children by the town.
The town oversees the multi-purpose community center along with the senior center, five parks, a splash pad, two basketball courts and two tennis courts. Playground equipment maintenance and program participation have declined in recent years and have been a concern for the Spring Lake Parks and Recreation Advisory committee and the Board of Aldermen.
The Spring Lake recreation department had five children signed up for all sports programs in January, including basketball, baseball, softball and t-ball. Three signed up in February. There were seven memberships in the fitness center, including two employees. Three facility reservations were made in January and there were six in February, according to the interim recreation director, Zefrim Lewis.
Commissioner Michael Boose recalled the vibrant and competitive sports programs that Spring Lake had in the past and asked about the drop in participation.
“There definitely has been a drop-off. We’ve always worked with them if they didn’t have enough kids to participate or have a team,’’ Gibson said. “I definitely believe that if they are allowed to come in, that will change and they will be able to provide.”
The decline in participation could be addressed by looking at demographics and what the public is interested in participating in, Gibson said.
“The trend is in travel sports rather than traditional recreation and individual sports rather than team sports,” Gibson said. “Families are looking for year-round options, traditional sports like basketball, football and baseball. We are struggling though to find room for newer sports like lacrosse and are building a state-of-the-art tennis facility at Mazarick Park.”
Town board considering options
Spring Lake Alderman Marvin Lackman said the board was listening to all options, which included keeping Spring Lake Parks and Recreation under the town as well as looking at partnering with Fayetteville-Cumberland. He said the largest benefit in partnering with Fayetteville-Cumberland would be to improve parks for residents and to be able to provide more resources for them to use.
“We would gain the benefits of partnering with Cumberland County as they can make county purchases in larger quantities and a cheaper rate. We would benefit from numerous resources, more activities and events,” Lackman said.
Alderman Raul Palacios said the board had been looking at ways to improve operations and agreed with the need for more programming and events in Spring Lake.
“As long as we are doing things that are geared towards the children, we are looking at our families. If we can get those right, we can pick up sports participation and everything else,’’ Palacios said. “Having events more often that can bring the community together is important. I’d love to see more events similar to the Candy Cane Trail and the Christmas tree lighting. Those events are the catalyst of things that can come to Spring Lake.”
Lackman said he was looking forward to getting feedback from residents. Alderwoman Sona Cooper said she needed more information, but could see a benefit.
“I need to see the whole proposal,’’ Cooper said. “Right now, where we are it would be beneficial especially to our seniors. It’s been a long time since our parks and recreation center has run like it used to.”
The next steps are for the county and town to research the feasibility of Spring Lake being added to the joint district.
“The way that this works with existing municipalities is that we have a contract and we have to do our due diligence to see if this is even possible,” said Jackson, the assistant Cumberland County manager. “There is a lot of research happening.”
Gibson said he hoped to hear something from Spring Lake in the next 45-60 days.