The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Wednesday ratified earlier decisions regarding a proposed soccer complex or downtown park in the Burns Bottom area, by voting to accept a donation of property and in-kind services from the city and to commit $3.25 million to the development of the soccer complex.
During a Sept. 17 workshop with the Columbus City Council and Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, the supervisors voted to accept a donation of 14.9 acres in Burns Bottom, water, sewage and in-kind services from the city, but the vote was not official, since it was taken during a workshop meeting.
During the same workshop, the supervisors voted to commit $3.25 million to the development of the complex and alleviate the city from financial responsibility, if the city later pays to renovate the Trotter Convention Center.
But, the Sept. 17 vote to fund the soccer complex also was not official, so the supervisors voted again Wednesday, without a stipulation the city renovate the Trotter Convention Center.
Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders Wednesday motioned the county accept the city”s donations and purchase the remaining needed Burns Bottom property, and the supervisors voted 4 to 0 to pass the motion.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, who earlier unsuccessfully tried to get the supervisors to commit to improvements with the county”s neighborhood parks system, abstained from voting.
“Part of the discussion (Sept. 17) is we would pay (for the soccer complex development), if the city agreed to renovate the Trotter,” he said of Sanders” second motion to commit $3.25 million to the project. “This board does not have the authority to force the city to do anything, but that was part of your (original) proposal, so it should be part of your motion.
“The other thing is, if we”re going to commit the money, where does it come from?” he added.
The county”s chief administrative officer, Ralph Billingsley, noted the county had $5 million in interest money from the sale of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle and planned to use $2.4 million for a new Health Department facility and $950,000 to purchase First Federal Building to use as county administrative offices, plus $200,000 to $400,000 to renovate the bank facility.
He suggested using the remaining balance, after the county purchases the needed Burns Bottom property, toward construction of the soccer complex and noted the county could borrow the rest, potentially from itself.
“We have the option to borrow from ourselves with the intent to pay it back,” he said, referring to the $30 million principal from the hospital sale.
“We”re talking about a good bit of taxpayers” money without any clear indication of how we”re going to pay for it,” Brooks said, offering a substitute motion the supervisors table the matter “until we have a clear understanding of where the money will come from and (the CLRA) has updated prices” on proposed renovations to neighborhood parks.
“If we don”t know how we”re going to pay for the soccer complex, then surely no thought has been given to how we”re going to pay for neighborhood parks,” he added.
Brooks” motion failed with Sanders, District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson and District 3 Supervisor John Holliman voting in opposition.
Sanders” motion to commit $3.25 million to developing the downtown soccer park passed with a 4 to 1 vote; Brooks voted in opposition.
Sanders then motioned the supervisors, councilmen and CLRA officials meet again, after the CLRA has updated estimates on costs associated with a master plan for the county”s parks.
The supervisors unanimously voted to meet with the council and CLRA sometime between Oct. 30 and Nov. 13; CLRA Executive Director Roger Short agreed to have a finalized list of park needs and estimates ready for the joint meeting.
The soccer complex, which has been likened to a downtown park, is to be located on 70 acres in the Burns Bottom area.