Recreation Plan Under Fire

Councilmen Push for Recreation ‘Revisit’

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County has, since officially adopting the $3.5 million plan last September, been working toward a recreation makeover for the entire county. But with the housecleaning enacted by voters during the November general election and the March special election, in which four new Council members were swept into office, the plan as it exists today may be in jeopardy.

District 3 Councilman Walter Larry Stewart, the last of the four newcomers seated to Council, brought the matter up during Council’s March 23 meeting.

“I am uneasy with our whole recreation plan for the County,” Stewart, addressing Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson, said. “I’m not sure where we stand on that, but it is my gut feeling that says we need some more citizen input on our recreation plan.”

Billy Smith, District 7’s new face on Council, echoed that sentiment during Council’s April 13 meeting.

“I do want us to bring that (recreation plan) up at the next meeting to see if there’s anything Council members want to change,” Smith, also addressing the Chairwoman, said.

Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) questioned Smith’s suggestion of a review, asking if Smith was interested in having each Council member review their individual districts or take on the entire plan.

“I think we need to start the discussion to see where that might go since we do have a new Council up here, but I’m talking about the plan as a whole,” Smith answered.

Robinson said the plan was discussed at Council’s Feb. 21 retreat, but noted that Stewart, elected in a March 3 special election, was not in attendance.

“I have no problem with us bringing back that same presentation and showing everyone as well as the public what is out there for recreation,” Robinson said.

The presentation made to Council by David Brandes of Genesis Consulting just prior to their vote last September is available on the County’s website, and what it details is a project that is more than 100 percent over budget. But Brandes told Council then that “We’re not trying to get down to the exact budget. We want some ability for the marketplace to play a role. If prices come in better than we anticipated, we wanted to take advantage of that.”

Only District 3, with a basketball court and a handful of playgrounds, came in under its $500,000 budget (at $499,337). The other districts range from as little as $9,600 over budget to more than $144,000 over budget, bringing the entire project over budget by $628,009.

By bidding out the plan as one large project, instead of as individual smaller projects, the County hopes to get those numbers down, according to Milton Pope, Interim County Administrator. At present, the County has only advertised for pre-qualifications for bids.

After the bids come in, Council will take another look at the numbers.

“We haven’t looked at the final (bid) plans, yet,” Marcharia told The Voice this week. “After we get the bids, we will look at what can be trimmed, or even added.”

Marcharia has long been an advocate for recreation in the county, particularly in rural District 4. After the adoption by the former Council of a comprehensive recreation plan, Marcharia is reluctant to see it tampered with.

“I don’t feel good about it,” Marcharia said. “I feel very threatened. The whole community has worked on this, to have a community place to go. I feel bad they are contemplating looking at stopping it or starting all over again.”

The plan for District 4, totaling $641,660 at present, includes a community center, walking trails and outdoor basketball court.

“If it were up to me, I would like to revisit that and come up with a new plan,” Smith told The Voice. “That would be on the table.”

With the bond money set to expire next year, however, any new plan would have to happen quickly.

“The clock is ticking,” Marcharia said. “What will it cost taxpayers to put on the breaks? That’s inexcusable after all these years.”

But Smith said the expense of starting over might be less than the expense of moving forward.

“All that has been agreed to so far is the consulting services (Genesis and Ken Simmons Associates) and the architectural renderings,” Smith said. “If we changed the plan, we would lose that money, but that may be better than putting through a plan that wasted a lot of money.”

The District 7 plan, created under Smith predecessor, David Brown, weighs in at $644,440 in pre-bid dollars, and calls for an outdoor basketball court, a baseball/softball field, picnic shelter, restrooms and improvements to the genealogy building. The latter, Smith said, pushes the boundaries of the definition of ‘recreation.’

“I’m not so sure the County government using taxpayer money should be involved in the genealogy research business,” Smith said.

And if individual Council members want to tweak the plans for their districts, Marcharia said, that is fine by him.

“If they see something that needs to be fixed, they can do so without starting all over,” Marcharia said. “I hope they don’t plan on putting on the breaks and stopping this.

“I am perplexed they think we would need to start all over,” Marcharia added. “And it wouldn’t just be for my district – everyone would have to start over at square one. Who knows how many more years that would take?”

Smith said he hoped the item would be included on Council’s April 27 agenda. Robinson, however, said that as of Monday afternoon, it was not.

“The budget is on everyone’s mind,” Robinson said. “Or it should be. I don’t know what is on their minds. I have my suspicions, but I don’t really know what it is they even want to talk about. Stewart was the only one not in our retreat. The other three (new Council members) got full disclosure on the recreation plan then. It’s to the point of being bid out. We are on a time table.”

Robinson said the item would not likely appear on any agenda before Council gets at least one more budget work session in, the next one of which is scheduled for April 30, she said. Furthermore, she said, there were several “legal questions” that she needed answered before moving forward and placing the item on the agenda.

“I have to know if we are following all the rules correctly,” Robinson said.

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