Tax dollars should help area they come from

March 25, 2013 

We would like to thank York County Councilmen Bruce Henderson and Michael Johnson for questioning the Convention and Visitors Bureau staff about its request to use $1.5 million from the county’s hospitality tax reserve account to relocate the visitors center services to Riverwalk in Rock Hill.

While we support the CVB in its mission to promote the wonderful destinations of York County, we feel the money could be better spent meeting the needs of many of the 850 county residents in Lake Wylie, who in a online survey last year told county planners what improvements they’d like to see.

According to planner Dave Pettine some of the biggest weaknesses residents mention are not enough park or public spaces, a lack of recreational opportunities, and too few pedestrian/bicycle paths.

The idea, Pettine said, is to create “a desirable community to live, work and play” in for current and future generations.

“It’s not to say that we don’t already have a great community, but we just feel like we can do a better job,” Pettine said while presenting results late last year.

Well here’s an opportunity for York County Council to do just that. For 10 years, York County councilmen representing Lake Wylie, from Perry Johnston to Tom Smith and Henderson, along with many community members, have been working to establish a public park near Crowders Creek. About 50 acres have been deeded for the plans. Partnerships with businesses to help have been forged. But in order for it to happen, planners need York County support.

Why would the hospitality tax collected in unincorporated areas of York County pay for a visitor center in a municipality of Rock Hill, and not support project requests in unincorporated areas of York County?

Why are these park planners having to beg for financial backing?

Lake Wylie park planners shouldn’t be having to beg for this money when the majority of this hospitality tax comes from the Lake Wylie, Fort Mill and Carowinds areas. The park, with multiple soccer and ball fields, could help keep games here, and the tourist dollars that come with them, instead of seeing them being played in other counties like Mecklenburg and Gaston when Rock Hill’s fields are full.

According to the latest 2010 U.S. Census figures, the unincorporated area of York County called Lake Wylie saw a population spike of 189 percent from 3,061 residents in 2000 to 8,841. Fort Mill also is a hot spot of growth. Why wouldn’t the county want to create destinations here?

While we love the River Walk, but we want recreational opportunities here, too. Yes, we have a lake, but unless you have a boat it’s not of much use. Nanny’s Mountain is a quick 45-minute trail, but with no restroom facilities it’s not exactly drawing in tourism dollars. Again, York County loses out because nearby in Mecklenburg is McDowell Nature Preserve and Gastonia has several wonderful parks and trails.

Park planners say they envision a similar park to Martha Rivers Park in Gastonia. The 57.95 acres feature:

•  four lighted soccer fields

• three lighted youth baseball fields

• one lighted youth softball field

• two batting cages, and a scorers’ tower with a concessions stand and restrooms.

There are paved walking trails that loop around the outer edge of the baseball fields, playground and soccer fields with several adjoining crossovers to vary distance and geography. There are two large picnic shelters, a sand volleyball court, two horseshoe courts, and a restroom building.

The highlight for most children is the result of Operation Playground, a one-acre playground designed by children, and built by hundreds of community volunteers who were organized by a group of dedicated citizens using thousands of private fund donations, according to the website.

Chuck Dellinger of Gaston County Parks & Recreation Department said the total cost, excluding the playground, was about $5 million, not the more than $11 million quoted by the group consulted by the county. And, he said, yes, the tournaments held there “definitely has an economic impact on the area.” Sports, he says, is an industry and “economic engine.”

Dellinger said this park, like Cherry Park, were in concept for more than 10 years. “Everything is key to funding mechanisms and all the pieces have to come together.”

Lake Wylie’s amenities have not grown with it. Those unincorporated area tax dollars should help those unincorporated areas first. Rather than drawing residents or tourists from here to there, perhaps we could entice them to come here.

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