Marion should have a parks and recreation department which would expand and improve existing parks, create new ones and provide more activities for residents to enjoy.
That was the conclusion of the updated parks and recreation master plan for Marion, which was presented Tuesday evening at the Marion City Council meeting.
“We have reached the point where we need a parks and recreation department,” said summer intern Rosa Fowler in her presentation of the updated plan to council.
The city of Marion’s Planning and Development Services Department spent the summer updating the comprehensive parks and recreation master plan. It replaces the 2006 document and will be used as a guide for the next six years in park planning.
Fowler, a Marion native who is now a student at Oglethorpe University, led this effort for the city. She worked during the summer, sought community input and held a special meeting about the future of Marion’s parks and recreation offerings. That meeting only drew nine people but valuable input was obtained.
She also sent out a survey which asked Marion residents what they want in their parks and recreation programs. More than 80 percent of the persons surveyed said they would be willing to pay for services provided at the facilities. Many persons said they would like to see expansion of existing parks as well as the creation of new ones.
“We have great locations in our city,” said Fowler. “A lot of community members say they love our city but would like more things to do.”
Also, many people said they would like to see the addition of public restrooms and parks that are more accessible for the disabled.
Some of the recommendations from the updated plan are:
• Facilities that are certified with the Americans with Disabilities Act
• Additions to sidewalks and bike lanes within Marion limits
• Having recreational programming in the parks
• Marketing and media to advertise parks and recreation programs
• Using GIS GeoApps to make it easier to find parks
“These recommendations are suggested goals for the city to meet over the next 20 years,” said Fowler.
To implement many of these recommendations, the city would need to provide more money for parks and recreation. The current amount for parks and recreation is 1 percent of the total city budget.
“It is suggested that the parks and creation budget be increased to 3.3 percent equaling $316,996,” reads the recommendation to council.
This would allow for the hiring of a parks and recreation director for Marion and relieve many of the responsibilities already assumed by the city manager, public works director and others.
At this time, the city gets the majority of its money for park improvements from grants. “Grants are excellent ways to obtain funding but they are not a reliable or consistent source of funding for our capital improvement plan,” reads the recommendation to council.
“We will need to search for alternative ways to raise funds for day-to-day operations,” said Fowler to council.
One option would be to raise property taxes, which has not been done in Marion for the past 49 years straight. Another option would be to create a “luxury tax” on tobacco purchases. The plan developed by Fowler and city planners outlines several strategies used by other cities and towns to fund parks and recreation. As she concluded her presentation, Fowler said she hopes the city officials will consider seriously what she has proposed.
“This is a very meaningful part of our community,” she said. “People want to see this happen.”
City officials said they will consider the recommendations.
“We’re not going to put this on a shelf,” said Mayor Steve Little. “We’re going to look at this.”
Tuesday was Fowler’s last day as a summer intern with Marion. At the meeting, Little and City Manager Bob Boyette presented her with a city of Marion lapel pin. City Planning Director Heather Cotton said Fowler has also worked on a plan about landscaping in Marion over the summer as well.
“She is a model for leadership in our community,” said Cotton of Fowler.