When Lumberton residents overwhelmingly voted no in November 2005 to general obligation bonds as a financing method to pay for the lion’s share of the Northeast Park, we interpreted the vote not as a repudiation of the park itself, but a concern that its $8 million price-tag could mean higher property taxes.
With this nation’s recession approaching a third birthday, those worries have been validated. Times are difficult, maybe not for all 99 percent, but folks are struggling to pay their bills, and higher taxes would have been another stone in the back pack.
The 2005 referendum could have been a death blow for the Northeast Park, which was envisioned by the late Bill Sapp, the city’s longtime director of Recreation, as long ago as the early 1980s. But city officials — and other supporters of the park — while staggered, plugged along, going to Plan B, which meant abandoning the Big Bang approach of constructing the 91-acre park all at once in favor of the Slow Drip.
Phase II of the park is now being built, with a completion date for the end of November or early December. It will add, among other things, five baseball fields, a centerpiece for the park, but amenities, such as a central scoreboard, will have to wait. This phase, unlike the first, is being paid for with only city money, and not with any grants or private donations, although they are still being sought. Property taxes have not gone up, but revaluation has provided additional revenue — and not a tax decrease.
There continues to be an uncertainty about the park. City officials can’t fix the number of phases it will take to complete the park, nor is there a solid time-line, which depends on available funding. But work at the park is likely to be going on up to and beyond 2020.
Meanwhile, the Northeast Park is providing recreational opportunities. There is plenty of activity at the park beyond construction, and when Phase II is completed, the city could become a player in the recruitment of large youth baseball tournaments that will not only showcase our community, but will stoke its economic engine.
What should be plain to everyone is that Northeast Park is needed, especially in North Lumberton, where the city has drifted in recent years, and much of the wealth is concentrated. Lumberton is an aging community, and it is economically distressed, and despite it dreams of morphing into a retirement community, its viability hinges on a younger generation of professional people who have kids with soccer balls and baseballs.
Northeast Park offers them a place to play, and without it, the odds are greater that they would look elsewhere in their search for a home.