County Kills Dawkins Facility

District 4 Councilman Kamau Marcharia put up a good fight, but was defeated in efforts to erect a recreation facility in Dawkins.

FAIRFIELD – Western Fairfield and the Dawkins community will have to wait, indefinitely, for their long-promised recreation facility after County Council defeated – in not one, but two separate votes – a motion to erect the facility on the 8.12 acres off Ladds Road. The vote came after much debate and after Council had received, for the first time, a cost analysis of site construction.

Lori Schaeffer, the County’s Recreation Department Director, delivered some stunning numbers to Council prior to the votes, presenting Council with two building options – a $895,000 facility that would include landscaping and would outfit the building with a basketball gymnasium, but without office furniture, telephones or computers, and a $483,000 option that would just cover the construction of the building. A third option for an outdoor facility that would include ball fields, tennis courts, walking trails, a parking lot and a multi-purpose field came in at $720,000.

“I’m sure that some of that could be mitigated to be more reasonable,” said Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4), who placed the motion to erect the building on the floor. “The community has requested a building that’s already been paid for and laid on the ground for (five) years (see the June 28 edition of The Voice). Whatever it would take to build that building, if all the amenities are not there, we have next year in allocations.”

Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) said Marcharia’s plan to put up the building consumes nearly the entirety of his $500,000 recreation budget, as allocated in the County’s March $24 million bond issue.

“With those figures, there’s no way to put that building up,” Robinson said. “We just started the new budget. There’s not one dime to staff that building, pay for power, anything that’s in there. So we’re going to build it and just let it sit out there?”

Robinson said that churches in the community, as well as the School District, should step in and fill the recreation gap.

“Where are the churches in this county? I think it’s time the churches stand up and be a part of the community and provide for these children,” Robinson said. “The schools have been asked to open their gymnasiums. Those are the same tax dollars that we’re receiving in this county to meet the requests that you want. Why can’t we work with the school system and be able to provide the other facilities that are out there so that children, adults, etc., can take advantage of those not just the months when the schools are open?”

Marcharia, however, was undeterred. He said that, over the last 10 years, the County has received nearly $90 million in tax revenues from the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, a plant that sits in the heart of District 4. Yet District 4, he said, continues to go without adequate recreational facilities.

“We have a community that’s living in imminent danger, and we have absolutely nothing but chasing balls, if you want to call that a recreation sport,” Marcharia said. “Somebody should have something decent that we could be proud of in our district for this money.”

Councilman David Brown (District 7), while he said he supported Marcharia’s request for recreational facilities, said Council should take at least one more meeting to analyze the numbers.

“I don’t think we’re looking at this thing systematically from a money standpoint,” Brown said. “District 4 will be shortchanged from the many fine looking plans we had promised. I know we’re tired of studies. We’ve studied everything in this county five times. But I think it would be wise at this point . . . not to shortchange District 4 . . . if we could have one more meeting to seriously look at the finances of taking a building that’s been in storage, that sounds easy, that sounds cheap, but ends up costing you twice as much for half as much.”

Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) agreed that further meetings on the proposal might be necessary and said the numbers did not add up.

“To say we can just put that building up, I don’t know how we would pay for it,” Ferguson said.  “I’m not sure how we can take $500,000 and build a $900,000 program with it.”

Marcharia said he felt the project could be done in increments and asked his colleagues what had become of the remainder of the original $500,000 Council had allocated to the now defunct Recreation Commission to purchase the building in question and erect it on the 8.12 acres (on Feb. 28, 2005).

“I’ve been asking for four or five years,” Marcharia said. “How many times have we had things in Western Fairfield when people get sick and the ambulance service can’t even get out there, and it’s still like that. It’s raggedy. And we’re living under horrendous conditions in terms of imminent danger, and that’s where a lot of your taxes come from. The County has spent millions on the industrial park. Where’s the jobs? So all that money can go for these industrial parks . . .  and the first job from that is five years down the road. . . .  If we want to argue about money later on, we can argue about it; I asked that the Council approve putting it on that property.”

Robinson said that, to the best of her knowledge, the balance of the original $500,000 had been placed back into the general fund. In May of 2006, the Recreation Commission paid MAR Construction of Lexington, S.C. $15,000 to clear the site, install a septic tank and put in sidewalks. A deal to purchase a building from an Alabama company for $453,710 never materialized, but two years later Council voted to settle a lawsuit with that company for $79,500, which included delivery of the building. The building has sat in crates ever since.

Marcharia’s questions on the remaining money from the 2005 vote went unanswered, however, and his motion died on a 5-2 vote, with only himself and Mikel Trapp (District 3) voting yea.

In a second motion, Marcharia asked that the $500,000 earmarked for his district in the County’s March bond be used to begin construction of the same building on the same site. Trapp offered the second. The move raised questions about how each district representative may choose to spend their funds in the future.

“Are we voting for Mr. Marcharia’s money, which, if it is his discretion to do with what he wants, why are we voting on it?” Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) asked. “This is your $500,000 to do what you like, why do we have to vote on it?”

Ferguson said that, since the money was Council funds, such a vote would have to take place for each district.

That motion, too, failed, 3-2. Trapp and Marcharia voted in favor. Brown, Robinson and Dwayne Perry (District 1) voted against. Kinley abstained.

“We are not a poor county,” Marcharia said near the close of Monday’s session. “Other people here have gotten what they want, but Western Fairfield has been kicked to the ground. But as Sam Cooke said, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.”

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