Latta Plantation, Rural Hill could face budget cuts

by Aaron Burns

HUNTERSVILLE – Kristin Toler wants to make sure the Huntersville community doesn’t lose sight of its history.

But if the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation department is forced to make budget cuts in the 4-5 percent range this summer, department funding to Historic Latta Plantation – where Toler handles marketing and finance – and Rural Hill, would end July 1.

The Rural Hill Sheepdog Trials and Dog Festival is one of several events that the north Mecklenburg County park hosts each year. Rural Hill and Latta Plantation are on a list of parks that face budget cuts from the county. (Jackson Sveen/MI Monitor photo)

The same would go for the Catawba Lands Conservancy and the Nature Museum in Charlotte.

The cuts would save the Park and Recreation Department about $126,000, said Deputy Director Michael Kirschman. The money would be used to save full-time jobs in the department.

They’re not a certainty, however. Kirschman said City Manager Ron Carlee will present his budget cut proposal to county commissioners in late May, and the board will vote June 18.

If the proposed cuts are in the 1-3 percent range, Kirschman still anticipates a cut in funding, but some money would still go to the four organizations.

“When we are tasked with making cuts, we’ll make cuts where we feel it’s least impactful to the public,” Kirschman said. “That’s not to say there won’t be an impact, but these places often raise most of their own money. We couldn’t really afford to cut any more of our staff.”

Rural Hill officials were not available for comment prior to The Herald Weekly’s deadline.

County money accounts for about $30,000, or eight percent of Latta Plantation’s total budget, Toler said. The plantation has four full-time employees.

“(Funding from Parks and Recreation) has been reduced by about 50 percent in the last three years,” she said, adding it was once as high as $65,000.

“We’re asking schools and the public to support us.”

Executive Director Nicole Cheslak agreed.

“With so many historic sites closing and reducing their hours, we are in high demand with schools, and booking every available date on the calendar,” she said.

“It would be a shame for the students to lose their opportunity to learn their history in an interactive way because we lost our support from the county and had to cut back even more.”

Latta Plantation has a petition on to fight the cuts. Toler said every time a person signs the petition, an email goes to commissioners reminding them of the issue.

As of May 2, 642 people had signed the petition.

“If our funding is cut like that, we’re looking at losing another full-time staff member,” she said. “We’re really at a point where we’re already as self-sufficient as possible.”

Attendance at Latta has risen in the midst of the possible cuts.

Toler said attendance from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, is expected to be in the 45,000 range, the highest total in the organization’s history.

Cheslak added that the possible funding cuts could cause programs to be cancelled.

Toler said the budget cut decision is largely up to the vote.

“We know the public wants to support the sites,” Toler said. “History should be supported.”

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