By: Steve Trubilla
On Thursday Jan 21, I attended the second community meeting for the Owens Park. The public was invited to become involved in the planning and design. Others attending the meeting included the park planning committee, local media, a cross section of interested citizens, County Commissioners John May, Sidney Dunston, and Roger Lytle, a 2016 county commissioner candidate.
Not one to easily let local officials get by when things go wrong, when they get one right, it is only right to point that out as well. It was a very good presentation. The team and committee did a great job putting this meeting together. Well done!
Assistant County Manager Elton Daniels and Parks and Recreation Director Oliver Greene's involvement, and commitment to a successful meeting were clear and present. They personally welcomed everyone as they entered the building, inviting all to take part of the light and abundant refreshments that were made available.
As the meeting unfolded many asked questions. All of which were well received, and responded to. I asked what will this park cost, where will the money come from, and when will it be completed.
It was stated the estimated cost for Phase 1 alone is going to be a staggering $518,220. It was also stated this phase is a very small part of the overall plan, there will be many phases to the project.
When was the last time you saw a Franklin County project come in lower than any estimate? I do not think anyone really knows ultimately what this park is going to cost. As for where the money is going to come from, an application for a $250,000 matching grant has been, or is going to be submitted.
Last year the budget included $250,000 for a matching grant for this park. If you remember, we were told we could not afford it, so it was taken out of the budget plan. Did we all miss something, how is it we can now afford it?
Grants are very competitive, so time will tell if it is approved or not. The remaining quarter of a million dollars plus will fall to Franklin County taxpayers.
I pressed the issue on the cost. The resulting conversation suggested there may be some people willing to make donations to reduce it. I guess that could be true, and hope that it is.
Given the current condition of other parks, like the one in Pilot, maybe it would be a good idea to ask for donations and grants to maintain them as well. After a good rain the drainage is so bad in the Pilot Park it looks very much like a duck blind.
So when will this park finally be done? The answer to that was 10 to 20 years. No you did not read that wrong. Yes, 10 to 20 years.
There is a large equestrian community very interested in seeing horse trails along the border of the property. As a "friend" of the park, they are willing to help establish these trails. I think this is a great idea that should be pursued now. No need to wait 10 or 20 years. I also think there is a possible revenue stream that can flow from being horse friendly.
The park is a wonderful idea and there are wonderful people involved in trying to make it a reality. Their work has already benefited the community. The park is now being used to host school events like track meets.
Looking at the plan and cost, the question is, or should be, can we really afford this park? The answer is, in my opinion, no. Just weeks ago we were reminded of millions needed to just maintain our schools, and other infrastructure. Where is that money going to come from?
Mr. Owens' generous and most appreciated gift to the people of Franklin County placed a park well within reach, without it adding to the burden of the taxpayers for decades into the future.
Many questions remain as to why the Bull Creek Golf Course property was selected. One of them is, given the wide availability of land with ponds in Franklin County, why was this land taken out of foreclosure and then purchased? If you follow the money you do not need a map and compass to find the probable answer.
We now own it, and it is an unfunded liability. I see it as the product of poor decision making by elected county leadership. They literally pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.
As of today there are 34 days until early voting starts for the 2016 Primary Election. This year, two incumbent county commissioners are not seeking re-election, and Commissioner Sidney Dunston faces a challenger. The election can be a game changer for future economic development and fiscal responsibility within Franklin County. An opportunity you may not soon see again.
When you vote, and please do vote, remember the destruction of historical records, remember the closing of the hospital, remember your property taxes went up, and also remember the "whole story" on this park.
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