Community Politics

Board blunders through baseball offer

 

The October 22nd meeting began with a presentation from Jeremy Aagard, the General manager for the Fayetteville Swampdogs.  They’re proposing a partnership with Hope Mills wherein they would lease 5 acres of golf course property, plus enough for a parking lot.  They want to build a $12-15 million-dollar multi-use facility for recreation.  They’re asking the municipality to contribute $3-5 million for the project and they would pay for the rest.

The facility would house a new baseball field for the Swampdogs to play at, but it would also serve as a music venue for quarterly performances.  They want to host college ball tournaments, yoga classes, movie nights, seasonal festivals and provide an area to accommodate football, lacrosse, skateboarding and BMX.  They would maintain their existing location, JP Riddle Stadium on Legion Road, to accommodate additional tournaments.

The franchise comes with 19 years of experience in facility management.  Which means they’ve had nearly two decades to build relationships with local organizations, schools, businesses and vendors.  Each of those partnerships could potentially benefit the municipality.

Throughout the presentation, Commissioner Jerry Legge, who’s been associated with Dixie Youth baseball for decades and who’s lobbied for new ‘wagon-wheel’ style ball fields on the golf course, was shaking his head ‘no’.  He asked finance director Drew Holland how much money the town had readily available and Holland indicated it was about half of what they were asking for.

Commissioner Legge insisted the town didn’t have the money to partner with the Swampdogs.  He also said he wouldn’t spend that much money on the project even if they did have it and insisted “We try to partner with our own self.”

Commissioner Mitchell remarked that baseball scored very low on the McAdams survey.  (Which is interesting because Commissioner Legge has supported Mitchell and Larson in every endeavor for months, but neither of them supports his projects) Most of the surveys indicated Hope Mills citizens favor an aquatics center.  But, they also wanted an amphitheater and bike trails.  In fact, most of what the Swampdogs are offering was requested by the citizens.

Mayor Warner and Commissioner Edwards suggested the board refer the proposal to the McAdams Group for a feasibility study.  When the McAdams Group, who has been conducting a comprehensive parks and recreation study, presented the first phase of the survey to the board in early October, they stressed the importance of partnering with organizations to achieve the municipality’s parks and recreation goals.  Partnerships relieve the town of the costs, but also allow them to provide more recreation than they could otherwise afford.  This offer, where the town would only pay 25% of the costs, is a perfect example.

Commissioner Mitchell asked Jeremy Aagard if he had 19 years of financial records for the board to review.  (Mitchell also investigated the financial records of LSF) Aagard said he did, but it wouldn’t impact the feasibility study.

Finally, Commissioner Bellflowers suggested they refer the proposal to the Parks and Rec. Committee for a recommendation.  There was considerably more debate as Larson, Legge and Mitchell seemed hesitant to move forward at all, but eventually a consensus was reached, and Jeremy Aagard will make his presentation to the Parks and Recreation Committee on October 29.

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Commissioner Mitchell addressed several other items on the agenda.  In a rambling speech that confused the audience and the board, he said parks and recreation revenue was down, the objective is to provide more recreation, he referenced a 2008 crash, and announced he’s a CPA.  Again.  Then, he suggested Hope Mills should do a bond referendum to finance future parks and recreation projects AND suggested the town should give control of their parks and recreation…back to Cumberland County.  They fought to get that control in 2006.

The bond Commissioner Mitchell is suggesting is a $20 million-dollar bond which would pay for all the proposed recreational development as well as the $8 million-dollar public safety building.

During the 4-month standoff with Lone Survivor Foundation (LSF), Commissioners Larson, Mitchell and Legge were very concerned with protecting our parks and recreation program.  The minutes from previous board meetings can be viewed here, and there are links to the video recordings as well.  The three commissioners referenced the parks and recreation survey hundreds of times, and they cancelled a scheduled public hearing to wait for the results of the McAdams Group survey.  Commissioner Legge ultimately voted to deny LSF’s request to buy land, citing the importance of that land to our parks and recreation needs.

Commissioners Mitchell, Larson and Legge were so focused on parks and recreation they were willing to deny a nationally recognized organization an opportunity to build their facility here, presumably on the pretext of protecting our land for recreational development…until two weeks ago.  Now, inexplicably, they don’t want to be responsible for that land.

So, why consider a long-term bond for recreational development if you want the county to manage our parks and recreation?  Last week Commissioners Mitchell, Larson and Legge, along with staff and members of the public walked much of the undeveloped land at Commissioner Mitchell’s request.  But why did he request it?  The LSF offer was rejected nearly two weeks before and he was already considering forfeiting the parks and recreation department to the coounty.  Finance Director Drew Holland said it can take at least two years to complete the bond process and receive any money.  In two years, these board members may not be serving, and this town may not be in control of its recreation.

If the board moves forward, there would be a public hearing and then the issue would be placed on a ballot.  There is no guarantee the town could generate enough revenue to pay back the bond. In that case, they would raise sales tax 5-6% to cover the outstanding debt.

An interesting side-note is the recent resignation of Parks and Recreation Director Kenny Bullock.  Neither the board or staff have officially addressed or announced his resignation or attempted to fill his position.  Personnel issues are the responsibility of Town Manager Melissa Adams.  But Adams reports directly to the board.  Have they purposely delayed the announcement in an effort to sabotage the parks and recreation program, lending credence to their plan to turn it over to the county?

The final consensus was to let the parks and rec. committee as well as the finance committee deliberate and make a recommendation to the board.

Next, Commissioner Legge requested the board cancel the November 19th meeting because he will be absent.  Mayor Warner asked the board to consider rescheduling, but they refused.  The board discusses and schedules their meetings in the fall of each year, which means Commissioner Legge knew a year ago when the November meetings would happen and chose not to schedule his vacation around his responsibilities.  It’s also worth noting, if the board held their regular meeting in November without Commissioner Legge, and an issue was voted on with a 2-2 vote, Mayor Warner would have been the deciding vote.  Commissioner Legge has consistently sided with Commissioners Larson and Mitchell since June.

This is the FOURTH meeting the board has cancelled in recent months.  The public hearing was cancelled in August, both board meetings were cancelled in September, and now a November meeting has been cancelled.  In each case, the board did NOT consider rescheduling.  This is particularly insulting to the tax payers since the board voted to award themselves huge pay raises in March.  This board is costing us an additional $15,000 a year, but working less.

 

 

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