Vidalia discusses 40-year tax renewal

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 16, 2010

VIDALIA — Members of Recreation District No. 3 fielded questions Thursday about the upcoming vote for a 40-year tax renewal to pay for the proposed recreation complex in Vidalia.

The second of two public forums to discuss the tax renewal, which is on the May 1 ballot, was Thursday.

While acknowledging that a 40-year tax renewal may sound scary to some, district President Marc Archer said the tax on the ballot is the same as the one currently in place — usually a 10-year renewal — at 3.89 mils.

“We do not expect to go 40 years with this loan, we think we can pay this off in 22-23 years,” he said.

“Forty years sounds like a long time — it is a long time. The purpose to all of this is to try to get a 40-year U.S. Department of Agriculture loan. With the UDA loan we are hoping to get a matching grant from USDA, and the matching grant could be 10 percent and it could be 40 percent.”

The estimated cost for the complex is $5,982,812.50 with approximately a half-million dollars of that being contingency money for unforeseen circumstances, Archer said.

He also said that the district believes it can ultimately build the complex for $4.5 million.

“Construction costs are down about 30 percent because of the economy, so it is a cheaper time to build things,” he said.

The estimates were a little high to be safe, project engineer Bryant Hammett said.

“I would rather go in it on the high side of things rather than low-balling it and not having enough money,” he said.

The district will be able to save some money by recycling materials from the existing complexes, Archer said.

“We are not going to utilize a lot of stuff from the existing fields, but we feel like at the existing parks we have some real nice aluminum bleachers we can move,” he said.

When audience member Lawrence Chauvin asked what the projected maintenance costs of the facility would be, Archer said the current facilities are maintained for approximately $40,000 a year.

“With the new parks we won’t have a lot of maintenance in the first several years as far as repairs because they will be new, but we feel we can maintain this facility for $50,000 a year,” he said.

While nothing has been decided for sure, the district board has discussed having a facilities manager, Archer said.

“We haven’t talked about that at length yet, what the salary of that will be, but with our current income — $300,000 a year — right now we spend about $125,000 maintaining the programs we have, and hopefully, depending on how much of a matching grant we get, we can make the payments to the USDA for $150,000—$175,000 a year and operate the facility on the rest,” he said.

The district has approximately $2 million in the bank, and Archer said the property the current ball complex is on is worth approximately $1 million.

And while there is no guarantee that the recreation board will be composed of the same people in the future, bonding attorney Bill Boles said that the USDA oversight of the project would guarantee that the money would be spent on the complex.

The proposed complex has baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts and soccer fields, though Archer said the plans aren’t final as the funding for the project won’t be secured until the tax renewal passes.

When Police Juror Willie Dunbar asked Archer about the possibility that a swimming pool be included, Archer said a pool has not been ruled out but that it was not one of the top priorities for the project.

“One of the problems with a swimming pool, when you talk about liability, is that it is a huge liability,” he said. “One of the things about a swimming pool is the maintenance of it, and if it is a public pool you have got to have people there to staff it, and lifeguards.”

The City of Vidalia’s new municipal complex will be adjacent to the recreation complex, and the city will build the access road into the land on which the parks will be located and do a drainage improvement project to the property before the recreation construction ever begins, something Archer said will save the recreation district a significant amount of money.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said the city would also maintain several acres with a play park designed for small children near the new municipal and recreation complexes.

The existing properties the district owns could be sold, left as green space or maintained in some way as practice fields, Archer said.

But for the recreation project to go forward, the tax has to be renewed, Archer said.

“If this tax is not renewed, this project is basically dead,” he said. “Even though we have money in the bank, there is no way to take on a project of this size on a 10-year renewal.”

The recreation district board meets at 5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at the community center located at the district’s Vidalia ball fields.