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Group: Fund could help pay for improvements at parks

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 4:03 p.m.

A citizens group looking to improve the Westmoreland County parks system has now offered a way of paying for it.

The Citizens Advisory Board for Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation has proposed developing a fund that could be used to pay for new programs and capital development at the county's nine parks.

The fund would be attached to the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and supervised by the advisory board, plus at least one county commissioner acting as the governing body.

Members of the board made their pitch to the Westmoreland County commissioners earlier this week.

'We think this is a way to help the parks and give people the opportunity to help,' said Paul Heyworth of Hempfield Township, an advisory board member, on Wednesday.

The county's solicitor will review the proposed agreement. According to Commissioner Tom Ceraso, the county's concern is that new programs would be started but would later be turned over to the county to fund.

The county's parks program is one of the few services county government provides that isn't required by state or federal law. But because it isn't required, there is little or no state or federal money available to sustain the program. This year, the county plans on spending about $3 million on its parks.

Commissioner P. Scott Conner praised the idea.

'I think it's a good idea. ... It's the private sector, public sector and foundation sector working hand in hand,' he said.

The use of nonprofit organizations as foundations to supplement government functions has increased over the past few years.

'A lot of government bodies are setting up (these types of organizations). The idea is to augment and support the county parks for both facilities and the programs,' Heyworth said.

A specific fund also would provide a mechanism for the public to make donations.

In 1999, the advisory group, along with the county's Department of Parks and Recreation, reported that a survey sent to parks users revealed they wanted to see services expanded and most would be willing to pay to see it done.

In addition, it was concluded from the survey that the county's parks suffer from poor marketing and a lack of knowledge as to what programs and services are offered.

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