During the November 5 board meeting, Commissioner Larson suggested the town re-open the golf course, which has been closed to the public since spring 2014, as walking trails. “It would give the citizens another place to walk during the day other than Municipal Park,” Larson said.
Commissioner Larson was among the handful of people who toured the golf course in October. She’s aware that hurricanes and years of neglect have destroyed portions of the golf course. One specific area, adjacent to Golfview Road, has completely washed away. The paved walking path is gone and instead there’s a hole 15 feet deep and nearly 30 feet wide. Utility wires and cables protrude on both sides of the hole. That area would have to be filled and repaved and at considerable expense.
Additionally, there is no drive or parking available. The owner of the existing parking lot has been approached multiple times and refuses to consider leasing the parking lot to the municipality. Commissioner Mitchell enthusiastically suggested the board spend $50,000 to install a turn lane on Golfview and negotiate with NCDOT to create a new drive and parking lot, both at additional costs.
I spoke with an expert contractor with more than $120 million dollars of contract experience. He indicated, in addition to the $50,000 turn lane, the drive and parking lot would cost $30,000 and repairing the erosion damage would cost another $20,000. These are conservative estimates. You also have to account for mobilization costs, proof rolling, new signage, insurance, the benches and trashcans Commissioner Larson wants and new maintenance costs. And, the city already spends $25,000 a year to maintain the lot. Ultimately, the board just fecklessly agreed to spend close to $150,000 to create a walking trail no one asked for or needs.
And to what end? Less than a half mile from this proposed walking trail, is a walking trail. Municipal park has a designated path available to town residents. It’s never crowded, it’s clean, has ample parking, benches, lights and access to other amenities. Better yet, it’s paid for and won’t cost the taxpayers anything.
On the surface, Larson’s plan is redundant and needlessly expensive. It may also conflict with the $87,000 comprehensive parks and recreation plan commissioned by the board. McAdams Group has been working on that plan for months and the board expects the results in early spring, around the same time they plan to reopen the golf course. Commissioner Bellflowers mentioned this during the meeting. He liked the idea but said it was premature and he urged the board to slow down and wait for some direction from McAdams before making a commitment.
Commissioner Edwards reminded the board there are many projects which need to be finished. The previous board voted last year to approve the second phase of the lake plan, but this board has consistently voted to change nearly every aspect of that plan. The engineer has provided the board with multiple draft changes, but the board refuses to commit to a single plan. They’ve also wasted precious time on the historic properties. We’re no closer to a historical park and museum than we were a year ago.
Hope Mills residents have not expressed an interest in additional walking paths. The McAdams Group survey of local residents indicated they wanted a pool/splash pad, outdoor amphitheater, multipurpose fields, pump track (off-road terrain for cycle sports), and green-way trails. (Audio of the October 1st presentation of the McAdams Group initial results)
In April, the board will receive the final golf course conceptual site plan and draft recommendation. These are prerequisites for applying for grant funding to develop the golf course. What happens if their concept and draft recommendation conflicts with the newly developed walking trails? Will the board move just as carelessly to undo everything the tax payers have just paid for, in an effort to accommodate the McAdams Group recommendations? Or will the walking trail be another reason for the board to condemn McAdams Group and reject their proposal. Commissioners Larson and Legge have been very vocal in expressing their disappointment in McAdams group’s early results.
Despite all of the warnings, and the lack of public interest in additional walking trails, the board voted to move forward with Larson’s plan. It was a sad reminder that most of this board is both inexperienced and unskilled as stewards of our finances. This same board voted a few months ago to delay purchasing a new phone system to replace the existing and failing system, and to delay purchasing a security system for Town Hall. Our systemic problems take a backseat to a board member’s whim.
It’s also worth noting, two board members have already cautioned they will likely have to raise taxes for Fiscal Year 2019. The board barely managed to stay on budget for this year, and in addition to raising their own salaries and implementing travel stipends and cell phone stipends, they’ll have to finance the new walking trail. Which…like the existing walking trail, will not generate revenue to offset its costs.
And for Larson’s part, one has to ask, why did she suggest the residents of Hope Mills wanted or needed additional walking trails? Larson was at the meeting in October when McAdams Group discussed the results of the surveys. She was aware the public didn’t want additional walking trails. In fact, she and Commissioner Mitchell both latched onto the idea of green-ways and using lake bed #2 as walking nature trails because that scored moderately high with the public. The golf course is not a green-way. This was the very reason Commissioner Mitchell suggested the board should tour lake bed #2 in October, and their excuse for not selling the lake bed #2 to the Lone Survivor Foundation.