By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
County officials' move to pass a $14 million bond issue to fund recreational projects and courtroom renovations has left some in the county feeling left out.
In a 3-2 vote on Monday the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution of intent to pass the bond issue, the first step in the process of getting the funds.
The bond issue proposes to spend $3.8 million to build a 32,000 square foot sports complex that will house a four-court gymnasium with bleachers at Highland Park. Also, $3.5 million of the bonds will go to the county-owned fields of the West Lauderdale Youth Association; $2.5 million will go to the county-owned Clarkdale Community Recreation Association park construction, and the remainder, $4.2 million, will go to fund a renovation of the Circuit Court courtroom at the courthouse.
The bond resolution also states that the money could be used for road construction and repair, buying firefighting equipment, and for purchasing heavy equipment, but none of the proposed bond funds are earmarked for those projects.
Dr. David McGrew is part of Meridian Youth Sports Authority, a group that has been working for about three years to find a location and funding for a master sports complex that could be used to attract lucrative sports tournaments to Meridian and Lauderdale County. He said he has no problem with the county helping West Lauderdale and Clarkdale, but he and other supporters of the master sports complex wish some money had been set aside for their project.
"We are very concerned with this bond issue for several reasons," McGrew said. "It leaves out half of the county's youth boys baseball. We thought this was going to be a county-wide approach."
Van Goodman, a supporter of the master sports complex, spoke up at the board meeting on Monday, saying such a complex would bring in money for tournament fees for soccer, baseball, recreation basketball, and will bring in money for restaurants and hotels. In response, Hank Florey, board president, said the group has not approached the board with land and a plan.
McGrew said the group had asked the county for the use in either of two areas where the county already owns land. McGrew said they had asked the county for use of land at the industrial park where Handy Hardware is located, noting that there are more than 100 acres out there that are not being used. McGrew said they also asked for the use of county-owned land at the Loblolly site that the county purchased and invested money in for an industry that never located there.
In both instances, McGrew said, they were told they could not use that land because it was to be left for industrial development.
Florey confirmed that in an interview on Thursday when he explained that both those sites are to be used for industrial development.
"That's an industrial park. That's a good thought and I don't blame him for mentioning that because it's beautiful land out there, but that is an industrial park. We are working on three big prospects right now that we are hoping to pull in there," Florey said. "You've got to have a site to bring somebody in. You can't say 'we'll find you a site.' You've got to have a site ready. Those sites are ready out there at the industrial park. They have the infrastructure already installed and are shovel ready for industrial enterprises to come in."
Other locations that have been under consideration include the old fish hatchery on Highway 19, but McGrew said since the property is designated as wetlands, it would be too expensive to go through the steps of purchasing environmental acres to replace the wetlands. Another site that has been considered is the old fairgrounds south of I-20.
Land at city-owned Bonita Lakes is another option, but that option drew criticism last year during a town hall meeting where many users of the park said they wanted it left alone.
The site they are looking at currently is property on the Jimmie Rodgers Parkway. A site there is for sale for $2.5 million, McGrew said. He said he believes the board should have designated some of the bond issue money to help them purchase land.
Florey wasn't optimistic about the Jimmie Rodgers Parkway land.
"That's an expensive property out there and it's my understanding that there are no utilities out there. They would have to depend on the city to extend water and sanitary sewage. That is not up to us."
McGrew said he is also concerned about the half of the county's youth who live on the east side of the county who don't have an opportunity to play baseball. He believes bond money should be spent in additional areas of the county and to shore up aging facilities at Magnolia Park and Phil Hardin Park.
In an email to county supervisors on Thursday, McGrew asked them to cut the cost of each project by 30 percent, then use those funds to update Phil Hardin Park and Magnolia Park, and to purchase land for the Meridian Central sports complex.
McGrew also cautioned the county about investing its resources into facilities that will have a high cost to maintain.