RICHLAND COUNTY Council has embarked on a parks proliferation program that it simply cannot sustain unless it pilfers from more important and necessary basic services — or lets new parks sit idle or undeveloped.
The problem is two-fold, involving both the county Recreation Commission’s $50 million parks renovation and building campaign and County Council’s inexplicable and disjointed decisions to establish two additional parks outside of the commission’s purview.
County Council has displayed poor judgment on both fronts, and it’s likely to cost taxpayers, one way or another.
The county never should have borrowed money to let the Recreation Commission expand its fiefdom by building and improving parks and buying land for future parks. Although County Council levies taxes to operate and build parks, it has no say over the unaccountable, unelected commission, which is appointed by county legislators.
Now that the improvements are beginning to come online, the commission says it needs more money to pay for operating expenses. But the special purpose district that the commission oversees in unincorporated Richland is funded through a dedicated property tax that is subject to a cap set by the Legislature; county officials worry that even if they raise the tax to the legal limit, it won’t yield enough money.
If the county can’t find the additional money, the Recreation Commission could have to delay some construction, operate understaffed facilities or, worse, put off park openings.
As if that’s not enough, County Council has begun to develop what can only be characterized as its own separate park system, purchasing two park sites, mostly with hospitality-tax dollars.
These County Council parks would not be run by the Recreation Commission, which inappropriately undercuts the elected council’s authority but does have the expertise, wherewithal and obligation to operate parks and recreational facilities. It’s unclear how the county will manage and maintain the two new parks.
The largest project is a superfluous, pricey mega-sports complex proposed for a 206-acre parcel at Hard Scrabble and Farrow roads. When M.B. Kahn unveiled a $36 million plan for the site that included soccer and baseball fields and walking trails, some council members suffered sticker shock. The plan now is to scale the park back to a soccer-only tournament park, which would cost $21 million.
The council also has agreed to purchase 44 acres along Garners Ferry Road for $1 million. There is no need for this park other than to appease Councilman Norman Jackson, who feels that if Northeast gets a park then Lower Richland is owed one. Mr. Jackson has grand and misguided plans about developing this into a tourist draw.
Why is the council pursuing either of these unnecessary, expensive projects in these still-lean times, when the county has to raid its reserves to help pay for basic services?
What a monumental waste. What poor, poor stewardship.