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How much are Meck’s parks worth? $985M, study says

For those who don’t consider the community value of local parks priceless, The Trust for Public Land has put a dollar value on Mecklenburg County’s parks, recreation centers and greenways: approximately $985 million.

In 2009, the assets that fall under the county’s Park and Recreation Department brought $8.2 million to the county and $28 million in revenue to residents, while saving the government $25 million and citizens $923 million, according to a report by the Trust.

When presented with the study Tuesday, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners had mixed reactions. Some suggested that the study overestimated the figures. Others said they were likely underestimated.

The report also estimated that residents saved $841 million because of their use of parks and recreation facilities rather than having to pay for gym memberships. At-large Commissioner Harold Cogdell, a Democrat, was skeptical of that figure and the implication that closing all of the county’s parks and recreation centers would translate to $840 million being injected into the private sector.

“What we’re not factoring in is that some people will use a park that’s free,” Cogdell said, “but they would not use a facility if it was not free.”

But commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts defended the finding about savings to residents, particularly the $81.4 million the report estimated they saved in medical bills by providing an outlet for physical activity.

Though the study measured the savings to county government by having trees filter air pollution, it did not include an estimation of the health value, such as a reduced number of emergency room visits for asthma attacks and respiratory problems.

The report estimated that having parks rather than commercial or residential development constitute a similar amount of property saved county government $4 million in air treatment and $19 million in stormwater treatment thanks to absorption of water by trees and soil. Additionally, the study estimated that the county saved $2.5 million in police, fire, prison, counseling and rehabilitation costs by bringing community members together.

According to the study, the increased value of property near a park or greenway translates to $3.9 million in property taxes collected by the county and $10 million in increased property values.

Businesses received $18.7 million in profit from tourism associated with parks and events held in them, while the county government received $3.9 million in tax revenue from those same tourists.

Caitlin Coakley can be reached at caitlin.coakley@mecktimes.com.

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