LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — Recreation advocates scored a big win Tuesday in Lexington County.
County Council gave tentative approval to a $23 million package of new sports facilities and senior centers that will be paid for by a small property tax hike.
The strong endorsement of the plan by all nine council members sets the stage for final adoption Nov. 12. “Get ready to enjoy yourselves out on their new ball fields,” Councilman Brad Matthews told supporters of the plan.
It came after 457 residents signed statements in support of the package, reflecting what some said is the need to end congestion on overcrowded fields.
The plan is “a significant investment in our families,” Eric DiGieso of Gilbert said. “What better way for us to invest our taxes?”
Other supporters said many of the 55 facilities now in operation need improvements. “Let’s not step backward but go forward,” former South Congaree Mayor Jerry McCormick said.
Plans call for work on some of the 13 new projects to start by mid-summer, according to Randy Gibson, executive director of the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission.
New fields and related facilities will rise south of Lake Murray and the lower Saluda River, the area that Gibson’s agency serves.
The main beneficiaries are youth baseball, softball, soccer and football, sports that will gain up to 25 fields. A new gym for basketball also is coming.
Also included is a baseball stadium suitable for collegiate baseball as part of an effort by county leaders to make their area a regional hub for the sport at all levels.
Activity centers for seniors in Pine Ridge and Gilbert also would be expanded.
The package is estimated to add $4 a year to tax bills for every $100,000 in taxable property, such as homes and vehicles. The tax hike would start in the fall of 2014.
Recreation officials predict new fields will attract more tournaments that will generate another $2 million a year from taxes spent primarily on hotels and meals. “It is money you’re going to get back,” said Hans Pauling of Gilbert, a leader in youth soccer.
No one openly opposed the plan, although council members said anti-tax forces sounded off through emails and telephone calls. “There’s another side that contacts us and let’s us know how they feel,” Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said.
But that sentiment struck out.
The plan even found favor with Councilman Frank Townsend of Batesburg-Leesville, a persistent foe of tax increases.
Townsend said he decided to support it because of strong sentiment in his area, the western edge of the county, that the benefits far outweigh a tax hike viewed as inconsequential.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.