Once they decide, Worcester County government officials need to inform citizens where the more than $7 million in funding will come from to purchase the 95-acre site identified for a sports complex. The funding source for the proposed property acquisition must be identified to provide residents all the information needed before the November referendum.
It was learned this week the $11 bond ordinance now headed to referendum only includes funding for the development of the sports complex. It was wrongly assumed by most the bond funded the site purchase. The bond will fund the development of the site, meaning the county will need to buy the property initially with grant funding potentially sought later as a payback. The funds could come from the healthy budget stabilization fund, but it’s also possible casino funding distributions could be utilized.
The county needs to outline how the county will fund the site purchase. A motion needs to be made soon by one of the majority commissioners who back the effort and a vote taken to inform the public. As it stands currently, there is no direction. Chief Administrator Weston Young confirmed as much, saying, “A funding source is not identified right now. Even if this bond bill can be used, it can only be used for development. It does not include acquisition.”
We have long thought a sports complex will benefit Worcester County. We believe and support it generally. Though we worry we are late to this tourism trend of prioritizing youth sports, we support the concept as an economic development initiative as well as recreational expansion for our youth. However, the county is not doing a good job of managing the process. It’s being mishandled. The county needs to build a better case and show an organized effort behind this process. There does not seem to be a plan.
Time is important here. The 4-3 majority vote in favor of the sports complex acquisition could change after the fall election. The referendum’s fate is much in doubt, as the community is divided over this project. The division is a result of the sports complex being a rush job. Though discussed for years informally, the specific sports complex property acquisition under consideration has not been thought out. The Town of Berlin has still not been approached and state transportation officials know little about the project.
The county can help steer public discourse on this project by discussing the process in clear terms. A good start would be deciding how the county plans to buy the property and letting the public know. The fate of the referendum – which will determine if the development can be financed – could well hang on how the county manages the process in the coming months.