Kirven: Reorganization of GCRD into countywide P&R was difficult, but timely decision

County Councilman says Recreation District was constrained financially from outset

Published on Tuesday, October 1, 2013

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Butch Kirven of Simpsonville represents District 27 on Greenville County Council and served as the Council’s chairman from 2005 to 2013. He can be reached here.

Butch Kirven of Simpsonville represents District 27 on Greenville County Council and served as the Council’s chairman from 2005 to 2013. He can be reached here.

By Butch Kirven

In August 2013, Greenville County Council approved a resolution dissolving the Greenville County Recreation District (a special purpose tax district) allowing the creation of the Greenville County Department of Parks and Recreation. Since 2006, Greenville County has authorized the expenditure of over $53 million for parks, recreation, arts, and related improvements across the county.  This amount is over and above the $14 million annual budget of the Recreation District. These new and enhanced parks and recreation facilities serve and benefit all Greenville County citizens.                

The Greenville County Recreation District goes back 45 years.  In 1968, the SC General Assembly passed legislation creating the Greenville County Recreation District, a Special Purpose Tax District, for the purpose of “providing parks and recreation facilities and programs to serve the citizens of Greenville County.” The Recreation District was authorized to be funded with the proceeds of a property tax levy. This was before Home Rule, and before there was a County Council. The Recreation District was governed by a Recreation Commission whose citizen-members were appointed by the governor upon recommendation by the Legislative Delegation.  After County Council was formed in 1975, recreation commissioners were appointed by County Council.

From its inception, the Recreation District was constrained financially. The District was able to implement a moderate recreation program with the limited funds available.  Over time, an increasing share of the District’s annual revenue was needed to operate and maintain facilities, leaving little for expansion and improved services. As Greenville County’s population grew, the Recreation District’s budget remained relatively flat.  By the 1990’s, Greenville County’s parks and recreation programs had fallen well behind the times.

That was the general situation in 1996 when Mauldin and Simpsonville withdrew from the Greenville County Recreation District and set up separate recreation departments.  Greenville and Greer were not part of the Recreation District. Fountain Inn and Travelers Rest remained part of the Recreation District, and those cities worked out arrangements with the Recreation District to provide services jointly. However, since 2000, municipal annexations further reduced the boundaries of the Recreation District.  Shrinkage in the boundaries of the Recreation District further constrained its ability “to provide parks and recreation facilities and programs to serve the citizens of Greenville County.”  Going back to 1968, creation of separate jurisdictions to provide parks and recreation services set a course that would eventually become untenable.

By 2013, the character of Greenville County, including all municipalities, had become a modern, vibrant, and rapidly urbanizing community approaching half-million population. Political boundaries for certain services were obscured by overlapping suburban neighborhoods. The old ways of providing parks and recreation services were outdated, inefficient, and too rigid to serve citizens most effectively.

Reorganization of the Greenville County Recreation District into a countywide Parks and Recreation Department of Greenville County was a difficult, but timely decision that needed to be made.  It brought with it the immediate question of what to do about the tax that four of the six municipalities collect from their citizens for parks and recreation, since the county rate will now be extended by law throughout the county.  The short answer is not much can be done this year. But the outlook is very good for tangible returns over the next few years.  The larger question is how can leaders of both the cities and the county work together to ensure truly great parks and recreation programs keep pace with the needs of an ever expanding and sophisticated population? Now is the time for leaders with vision to step forward and find the best solutions for the next decade and beyond, not just for this year.

Submitted by Butch Kirven, who represents District 27 on Greenville County Council. Kirven can be reached here. 






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