SNOW HILL – Worcester County will continue to explore options for a sports complex.
Though some expressed concern regarding an impact on taxpayers, the Worcester County Commissioners voted 6-1 Tuesday to have staff continue efforts to bring a sports complex to the county.
“I’d like to see this thing get built because I think it’s going to be an economic boon for the county,” Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said.
Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins told the commissioners Tuesday he’d asked Tom Perlozzo, the county’s director of recreation, parks, tourism and economic development, to provide an update regarding a potential sports complex because it could have a positive impact on revenue.
Perlozzo said he’d spent the last two years actively recruiting landowners and private venture companies that might be interested in a complex.
“We’ve not been successful in the southern end of the county,” he said.
Nordstrom said he nevertheless wanted to see the sports complex come to fruition.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen all the options,” he said. “I’d like to put them all back on the table.”
Commissioner Bud Church agreed.
“This is a golden opportunity,” he said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino pointed out there’d been no mention of the revenue Higgins referenced.
“It’s a little bit disingenuous Harold to say that we’re going to talk about an update with revenue opportunities for the coming fiscal year,” he said. “Quite truthfully that’s not what Tom talked about.”
Bertino added that the county had already discussed a sports complex and that he didn’t believe it was a good opportunity for the county unless it was paid for privately.
“I just say that because there is an agenda, I believe, to get this thing built and to have the county taxpayers on the hook for it and I oppose that,” Bertino said.
Commissioner Jim Bunting agreed. He added that COVID-19 remained a concern and echoed Bertino’s assertion Perlozzo’s update had been orchestrated.
Commissioner Diana Purnell said she hadn’t talked to Perlozzo or other staff about the complex but wanted to see it explored.
“We do not have anything our kids can go to,” she said.
Purnell said Berlin was a central location and should be considered as a potential location for a sports complex. She added the county had just loaned the Town of Snow Hill $400,000 to buy a riverboat.
“I want to know why we don’t want to do anything in Berlin,” she said.
Bertino said a sports complex wouldn’t necessarily provide local kids with opportunities like Purnell suggested, as it was meant to serve as a location for travel sports teams to play. Perlozzo, however, said that his initial conceptual plan had included space for travel sports as well as park amenities such as walking trails and ponds.
“The general concept was, we wanted to make sure our kids in our community as well as our families had the opportunity to use the park but we were also very cognizant revenue wise what it would take to continue the operation of the park,” he said. “It would be a joint kind of use. We would hope to attract promoters to come in to bring the events but that would also allow our kids who can’t afford to travel to participate at that site. That’s never changed we just haven’t gotten approval to move from first phase to second phase.”
Church said his peers were missing the point. He stressed a sports complex would enhance the community, providing youth with opportunities and filling hotel rooms.
“This is a win-win situation,” he said.
Perlozzo agreed and said he wouldn’t support it if it didn’t enhance the quality of life for Worcester County residents. He said he was trying to move his departments away from cost cutting to revenue generating.
“I’d like to be able to come in here and recommend some things I think might be missing in the county that can generate some revenue,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said that was why Perlozzo had been hired.
“We can’t print money down in Harold’s office …,” he said. “There’s only so much money that’s going to be raised through taxes. The other way to do it is to increase revenue with economic development. That’s why you were brought in. …. We need to quit relying on property taxes and we need to find other revenue sources so we can continue to take care of our employees and take care of the citizens of Worcester County.”
Bunting said he wouldn’t object to a sports complex as long as the county wasn’t involved with running it. Referring to the prior mention of Berlin, he pointed out the municipality had instituted a significant tax increase in 2019.
“Then they barely escaped raising taxes last year,” he said. “There is a point where economic development does not do what you expected it to do. I think Berlin is seeing that right now.”
Perlozzo said he wanted to see the county use Program Open Space money for the sports complex. With it, 90% of a project’s cost could be reimbursed by the state. If the county found a private partner to cover the other 10%, a sports complex could be achieved with no taxpayer cost, Perlozzo said. Even if the county didn’t find a private partner, all it would have to fund would be 10%.
The commissioners voted 6-1, with Bunting opposed, to have Perlozzo continue researching sports complex options.