BREC outlines plans for future if voters renew tax

BREC officials say they plan to build a new community park in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, enhance trails and do other upgrades if parish voters approve the renewal of BREC’s dedicated property tax on April 5.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission outlined its plans for using 2 mills of the tax up for renewal in a budget overview Thursday that was approved in a unanimous vote by commissioners.

That 2-mill portion of the tax would bring in an estimated $73 million over the next 10 years for capital improvement projects at the parish’s parks.

An additional 4.2 mills up for renewal would go toward paying BREC’s maintenance and operating expenses.

Nearly 34 percent of the capital improvements funding — about $24.8 million over 10 years — would go to enhancements at the system’s 12 existing community parks and the creation of another.

BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack said a location hasn’t yet been identified, but the plan notes that the southeast part of East Baton Rouge Parish “does not have good coverage from the existing community parks.”

About 26.4 percent — $19.3 million — of the 10-year funding would go toward special-use facilities, including $2.1 million for the system’s golf courses, $5.2 million for the Baton Rouge Zoo and additional funding for conservation, cultural and athletic facilities; and 19.6 percent, or $14.2 million, would go to neighborhood parks upgrades, including installing air conditioning to at least six recreation centers.

The remaining 20 percent, which is about $14.7 million, would go toward general systemwide needs.

BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said the funding is critical for BREC to continue building on its growth since the tax last was renewed in 2004.

“BREC has made considerable progress in transforming what was an aging park system made up of mostly small, neighborhood parks,” she said.

Jack said the spending plan approved Thursday was developed with input from the community through scientific surveys and public meetings.

“It helps us really move forward,” he said. “It helps us understand what the community wants to do.”

Jack said the plan reflects the public’s desire to have the funding spread across the parish.

“One of the drivers that the public has always told us is that they want for us to be applying things in an equitable manner,” he said.

The plan identifies amounts of funding that would be dedicated to various areas of improvements, but the funds are not all tied to specific work.

It includes $5 million for trails and connectivity projects, which McKnight said has been a key interest in the community.

“The No. 1 request we have heard at every community meeting, in every survey and from our online forum has been for BREC to develop more trails across the parish,” McKnight said.

She said BREC also plans to seek grants and community partnerships to enhance that funding and “create connectivity across East Baton Rouge Parish.”

Part of the systemwide funds in the proposal would help pay for feasibility studies to help BREC solicit outside funding for projects.

While it makes up one of the largest dedicated streams of funding in the plan, McKnight said, the $5.2 million slated for the zoo isn’t as much as officials would like to put toward it.

“It is not enough money to do the things we need to do at the zoo,” she said.