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Flat Rock to add nature center, trails to park

FLAT ROCK — Park visitors will see a nature center, a quiet place for reflection, more trails and a couple of bridges at the Park at Flat Rock in the next year or so based on a budget the Flat Rock Village Council adopted this month.

The council voted unanimously to authorize the new construction at a projected cost of $154,000 as part of a $1,901,484 budget that keeps the tax rate level at 11 cents per $100 valuation. The property taxes in Flat Rock go primarily to cover the cost of fire protection provided by contract with the Blue Ridge, Valley Hill and Green River fire and rescue departments. The town also gets revenue from the motor vehicle tax , sales tax and franchise taxes on utilities. And in the case of park projects, it gets money from donations. The Flat Rock Park and Recreation Foundation has collected or received pledges for about $1 million to fund park improvements, including the playground, bridges and community room in the welcome center.
The improvements the council committed to for the fiscal year beginning Friday include a “Quiet Place” (an open pavilion for meditation), nature center, secondary walking trails connecting the existing 1.3-mile perimeter trail, an observation deck and two bridges over streams. The council culled several higher-priced projects from a wish list compiled by the Park Commission, including a temporary gravel parking lot.
The council is still getting price projections on the cost of an entry gate and deliberating on whether to install one. After getting a quote of $50,000 for a two-armed gate the town went back to the vendor and got a cost of about $20,000 for a one-armed gate. Residents of Highland Golf Villas have asked for the gate in order to prevent trespassers from visiting the park at night.
Ginger Brown, the council liaison to the Park Commission, also urged the council to support hiring nighttime security through a private agency. Brown looked into the cost of the service and obtained estimates that the village could get five to six hours of patrolling per night for under $20,000 a year.
“I really think we need to move on this,” she said. “I like the idea of having a live person out there because that way if people come into the park on foot someone is there.”
Vice Mayor Nick Weedman, noting that the council had just adopted the new budget, warned that the security option would add operating costs.
“We were talking about a gate for $20,000 to $40,000. Now we’re talking about an ongoing expense and it adds significantly to the cost of operating the park,” he said. “To me security is the issue. The question is what’s the best solution.”
The new budget transfers $325,184 from the village’s fund balance to cover capital projects in the park. That still leaves a fund balance of $2.8 million, one and a half times the general fund budget. Although some advocates for more park amenities have urged council members to use more savings, Weedman cautioned against that.
“There’s no way to replenish that (fund balance) except to raise taxes or to cut spending,” he said. “When we sold the idea of the park, we said — I said — against a very adversarial audience, it’s my opinion that we could purchase the park, develop the park and operate and maintain it without a tax increase. We’re so park-centric, we are straining to do anything outside the park.”
As has been customary in Flat Rock, council members did their part when it comes to a financial boost for the village. Although the budget appropriates annual pay of $3,000 apiece for the six council members and $6,000 for Mayor Bob Staton, none accept the money. The unspent money, $24,000, drops into the fund balance.

It like an open-sided pavilion. Up toward the north end.