Last night, Sustain Charlotte Director of Engagement and Impact Meg Fencil addressed the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners at its first budget hearing to receive resident input on planning for the county manager's fiscal year 2024 budget. The county is also in the process of completing the next five-year Capital Improvement Plan, a program that funds a range of projects, including creating new community resource centers, updating county facilities, and expanding our park and greenway system.
Both the annual budget and the Capital Improvement Plan will be up for discussion at the County Commission’s budget retreat on Jan. 24, so we're speaking up now for continued funding to support a vibrant, healthy, and equitable community for all.
Here's what we said at the public hearing. We'd invite you to take this action alert to let your elected representatives know you support this funding as well.
"Good evening, Commissioners and Manager Diorio,
Thank you for your service and time tonight.
My name is Meg Fencil, and I am the director of engagement and impact at Sustain Charlotte. We are a local nonprofit that has been serving the residents of Mecklenburg County for 13 years. Our mission is to inspire choices that lead to a healthy, equitable, and vibrant community for generations to come.
We want to thank you for your ongoing support of our parks and greenways, especially the increased funding of $50 million for land acquisition that you approved this past summer for fiscal year 2023. This funding allows the staff to buy land while it is still available and before costs accelerate further.
In the FY24-28 Capital Improvement Plan and the FY24 budget, we urge you to do the following to ensure that our county’s parks and greenway system catches up — and keeps up — with our rapid population growth and needs.
First, prioritize communities that have historically received less investment by fully funding the Equity Reinvestment Projects. Neighborhoods in underserved communities throughout Mecklenburg County need high-quality parks, greenways, and facilities.
Everyone deserves a safe and healthy green space near their home.
Second, fund accessible greenway segments that will close gaps in the network to increase connectivity and access as recommended in the Meck Playbook. A network is only as strong as its weakest link.
Greenways have the potential to literally re-connect neighborhoods that were disconnected from one another in past decades by highways and major roads and they provide residents safe, active routes to exercise, enjoy the amenities and social connections of surrounding neighborhoods and get to work on foot or by bike.
We all benefit from healthier air when more people can choose to walk or bike instead of driving.
Third, allocate sufficient resources to enable the completion of at least 50 additional miles of greenways by the end of fiscal year 2028. By funding all of the Tier 1 greenways in this CIP, you will keep Mecklenburg County on track to reach its Meck Playbook goal for the next five years. That, in turn, will create a solid foundation for the next five years as we work towards the ultimate goal of a completed greenway network of over 300 miles.
We currently have 63 miles of greenways built with another 12 miles under construction. We applaud Park and Recreation staff for accelerating the planning and construction of greenways in recent years, but they need more funding and resources to catch up with the goals of the Meck Playbook.
Finally, remember the importance of annual land acquisition funding. We need not only funding through the CIP to build parks, greenways, and facilities, but also to continue purchasing land so that we don’t miss opportunities to complete the greenway network and have a public green space within a 10-minute walk of every resident.
In your FY 24 budget, please build upon the success of last year’s budget allocation of $50 million and make another meaningful commitment to land acquisition for greenways, parks, and nature preserves.
By prioritizing investment in Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s capital needs, you will help to literally build a more equitable, healthier and more vibrant future for all of our residents.
Thank you for all that you do, and this concludes my remarks."
Here's what others said at the hearing
Several other residents spoke up about the need for continued funding for land acquisition for parks, greenways, and nature preserves in the next county budget. Here's a quick look at some key points from their comments.
• Carolina Thread Trail Director Bret Baronak asked for adequate funding for green spaces. “At the heart of this regional system (of trails) is the development of the greenway system in Mecklenburg County," Bret said. "It serves as a catalyst for so much other trail development in our region." He also added that greenways can connect people to jobs, transportation, and greater opportunity for upward mobility ""I hope to see that the greater Charlotte region is synonymous with trails and largely defined by greenways and also a reputation for respect of our natural environment."
• Nancy Nicholson encouraged the county to ensure funding for green spaces, including land acquisition for more: "Having parks, bike trails trees, and green spaces makes for a better place to live, as well as economic sense."
• Paul Freestone with the Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Advisory Board encourages county leaders to fund land acquisition for parks, greenways, and nature preserves in FY24 at a level consistent with the FY23 budget.
• Maureen Gilewski with CharlotteEAST and the Charlotte Regional Transportation Coalition asked commissioners to ensure funding for greenway expansion, saying greenways can "make connections where there was once separation," citing communities divided due to highway construction. “Together, we can make the Charlotte region more walkable and bikeable with greenways, sidewalks and more protected bike lanes,” Maureen said.
Click here to learn more about our Growing our Greenways initiative and what we're doing to push for an equitable expansion of our parks, greenways and nature preserves.
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