Outside of Hendersonville, this year's municipal campaigns have been relatively sedate and free of rancor.
In Hendersonville, candidates have engaged in spirited debate combat over the costs of services and how much the city should lay out in capital spending. The biggest target of critics has been the Berkeley Mills Park bond issue, which three challengers oppose and three incumbents support. If approved in Tuesday's referendum, the bonds would allow the city to borrow up to $6 million to improve the park, adding everything from a better road to parking to walking trails, playgrounds and picnic shelters. The debt would cost city taxpayers 3 cents per $100 valuation for up to 20 years.
Parks have played out as an issue across Henderson County. As the Hendersonville Lightning reported in January of this year, 2013 appeared to be shaping up as the Year of the Park. We had no idea how right we were.
In Mills River, candidates James Cantrell and Billy Johnston both identify the Mills River Community Park as the biggest budget challenge in the years ahead. Both recognize that if there is a tax increase, it is likely to be driven by the next round of park improvements. Johnston says that if Mills River voters want park improvements, the Town Council ought to seek their consent through a referendum, as the Hendersonville City Council has done.
Even in Laurel Park, the small Lake Rhododendron has become an issue in the Town Council election, one of the few subjects that divides candidates.
Challenger Lou Lunardoni says the park has already cost the town $223,000 in reserve funds (over four years) and require a new town employee for upkeep. Incumbents Dona Mennella and Paul Hansen argue that the work started out as an emergency road repair that had to be done to prevent Lake Drive from caving in. The stream rerouting and other improvements worth about $250,000 have cost the town nothing because they're part of a developer's environmental mitigation project.
The Village of Flat Rock is getting ready to take possession of its new parkland, the Highland Lake Golf Course, which the village bought for $1.15 million. The council has set aside $823,700 for park improvements in the current budget year. The village received a $475,000 state grant to offset the purchase price, and the town board has not raised taxes for any of the project costs so far.
In fact, the record shows that Henderson County (the Christian School property, Jackson Park, Tuxedo Park) and its towns have managed to make significant park improvements without raising taxes.
In the city of Hendersonville, politics has collided with the usually popular idea of preserving green space and setting aside space to walk and play. The year of the park has brought park acquisition and improvements that we forecast, and mostly with civic harmony. We'll see next week whether the voters' appetite for recreation is greater than their anxiety over taxes.