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Beauty and the Budget

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By Joseph Beasley, on May 23, 2014

My workspace at the Kannapolis City Offices is surrounded by the finance department. The beginning of my second week, I sat down at my cubicle and got to work doing some more research on buildings and grounds maintenance. While I worked on my research, a number of staff marched back and forth with a sense of urgency. Staff was making final touches to a budget that would be presented to the Kannapolis City Council on Tuesday night.

A news story on the budget was published the same night as the budget presentation.

The City is limited in its ability to hire additional personnel that were requested by department heads. Major reasons include an increase in debt service payments for the construction the new City Hall, along with an expected lapse of a SAFER personnel grant that funded 16 firefighter positions. At the City Council meeting regarding the budget, it was apparent based on comments from council members and department heads that political plays were being made. Managers must be aware of the political environment in their cities and know how to navigate it.

In addition to attending council meetings, Deputy City Manager Eddie Smith continues to include me in several of his day-to-day meetings. These meetings have ranged from department head updates to discussions on a new city logo. On Wednesday, I was able to have lunch with Eddie and Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills (Yes, he does watch and enjoy the TV show comedy, Parks and Recreation). At lunch, I briefly spoke with Gary about the current structure of the parks and recreation department and arranged a meeting at his office. Currently, the parks and recreation department is not only responsible for the grounds maintenance of city parks, but also the grounds maintenance of several city properties. The department uses in-house staff to maintain properties, but also relies on outsourcing to private businesses to cover some maintenance responsibilities. This is a case of how cities engage in public-private partnerships to provide services for their citizens.

A miniature train named the Rotary Express provides children and adults rides through the beautiful Village Park in Kannapolis.
A miniature train named the Rotary Express provides children and adults rides through the beautiful Village Park in Kannapolis.
The field in front of the amphitheater is well-maintained by the Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Department.
The field in front of the amphitheater is well-maintained by the Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Department.

When I arrived at the site of Gary’s office at Kannapolis’ Village Park, I was amazed at what I saw. I lived in Kannapolis until I was about 8 years old. During those years, my family frequented the Cannon Memorial YMCA, located next door to where Village Park now stands. Back then, there had only been a grassy ravine and an old wooden playground. Along with the help of generous donors and taxpayer dollars, the Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Department has transformed the area. A field of manicured green grass is maintained with a finished look. Gorgeous roses are planted all across the park. The park includes a splash pad and a miniature train big enough for both children and adults to take a ride through the park. In addition, a 45’ x 55’ covered brick amphitheater is planted at the edge of the grassy field. The amphitheater hosts events that include concerts and movie nights. The parks and recreation department has not only transformed the old grassy ravine, but it has also improved the grounds of the city cemetery that lies between Village Park and the Cannon Memorial YMCA.

Veterans Park
Veterans Park includes a granite monument that lists the names of individuals from Cabarrus and Rowan Counties who have died in service. The names date back to the Revolutionary War. An eternal flame burns at the center of the monument.

Another city park that I visited and spoke with Gary about is Veterans Park. The transformation at this park is also remarkable since the last time I visited it in the mid-2000s. Major additions include a new fountain with an eternal flame in the center. The grounds include grand oak trees and lush green grass. Gary explained that this site is an example of how a public-private partnership just did not work out. The city had contracted out maintenance for the park, but the quality of service was just not up par. This case falls right in line with ICMA’s Profile in Local Government Service Delivery Choices 2007 survey. The 2007 survey showed that the primary reason local governments brought back in house services that were previously contracted out was because service quality was not satisfactory. The parks and recreation department has done an impeccable job of maintaining the park. The planned Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Park is sure to provide a great experience in large part due to the upkeep of the park.

The monument at Veterans Park is surrounded by tall trees and well-maintained grass.
The grounds at Veterans Park include tall oak trees and well-maintained grass.

When it comes to grounds maintenance, the staff of Kannapolis’ parks and recreation department have proven to me that it can provide excellent service. I’ll be meeting with Kannapolis’ public works director soon to discuss the role that the public works department plays in buildings and grounds maintenance.

This coming Tuesday, I will attend a Concord City Council meeting regarding its budget. Although I won’t begin work in Concord for another four weeks, this meeting should give me a better understanding of the council’s priorities. It will also allow me to make some initial comparisons between the City of Kannapolis and the City of Concord. Next week I’ll provide an update on my buildings and grounds research, talk a little bit about the council meeting in Concord, and share anything else interesting that is likely to occur between now and then.

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