County Recreation Plan Meets Resistance

WINNSBORO – Bids for the County’s $3.4 million recreation plan, which also includes a pair of fire and EMS stations, were opened at the County offices on the afternoon of July 14.

Loveless Commercial Contracting of Cayce came in with the lowest offering at $7,453,044, with Solid Structures of West Columbia coming in second at $7,767,078. A late bid from Thompson Turner Construction in Sumter will still be considered, according to David Brandes, whose Genesis Consulting Group is assisting the County with the implementation of the recreation plan.

Brandes, who conducted the bid opening, told representatives for Loveless and Solid Structure that the County would examine the bids and respond to them by July 20.

But at County Council’s July 14 meeting, citizens lined up before the microphone during the first public comment segment to plead with Council to put the brakes on the recreation plan. Two Council members agreed, urging their colleagues to review the plan and get public input.

“Please take a little more time to have town hall meetings in your district for feedback from the citizens as far as what we want,” Beth Jenkins, of District 2, said.

District 3 resident Carrie Matthews, meanwhile, was a little more stern with Council in her comments.

“This entire concept began with a false premise,” Matthews said. “The premise that money for recreational facilities is a gift to be passed out by a benevolent government in return for the citizenry willing to accept a large debt for economic development. What a flawed concept it is for a governing body to determine an amount of money to be spent on anything without first deciding what was needed.”

District 7 resident Betty Gutschlag said that while she agrees recreational opportunities are needed in the county, she said it needed to be organized and supervised. And with the County’s big payday from two new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer plant now delayed to perhaps 2020, and with the debt coming due in 2018, taxpayers may be on the hook.

The plan did have one supporter speak on its behalf Monday night. District 1 resident Moses Bell said the time has come for the County to forge ahead with its long-discussed plan for recreation improvements.

“I am hoping we put this thing to bed and that we move ahead with the plan that’s already been talked about for the last two or three years,” Bell said. “We have talked about this long enough. Let’s move forward.”

District 7 Councilman Billy Smith, during County Council Time, said the plan was approved on the very night it was first introduced to the public back in September of 2014 and that it could benefit from more citizen input.

“I think we should allow (citizens) to drive the (recreation) process,” Smith said. “I don’t think they’ve been in the driver’s seat or behind the wheel on this one yet. I think we should maybe have a work session on it so we can put forward what all is included in the plan and I think we should have citizens input and let them tell us if they think we ought to look at it and change anything.”

District 1 Councilman Dan Ruff agreed, suggesting that recreation could be incorporated into the County’s long-term strategic plan, currently being undertaken by T.Y. Linn International. But Councilman Kamau Marcharia (District 4) was adamantly opposed to any delay.

“I want to move ahead with my plan,” Marcharia said. “We’ve been fighting for years. We certainly want to move ahead.

“I’ve constantly had community meetings in my district,” Marcharia added. “Saying that the public is not involved, it is on their own volition. They didn’t want to get involved. It’s in the newspaper. We’ve been going through this for several years. I don’t know what stopped them from getting involved. If each individual has a problem with their district, they need to fix it rather than to cut this whole thing out and try to stop it.”

Smith then said that the District 4 plan was the only plan he felt should move ahead without delay.

“That’s the only part of the plan that has been in the works for years and years,” Smith said. “It’s been an identified need in that area. It’s been requested for years. There’s been land donated. We already have it ready to go. All the other ones, I think we need to look at them again. I don’t like the idea of borrowing money and then coming up with a plan.”

There was no indication from Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) that Council would review the plan as a whole. In that case, Smith said after the meeting, he intends to at least address the contents of the District 7 plan.