Sports Complex Development Funds Removed As Bond Bill After Successful Petition Drive

Sports Complex Development Funds Removed As Bond Bill After Successful Petition Drive
Pictured, from left, in a file photo are Worcester County Commissioners Josh Nordstrom, Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting, Diana Purnell, Joe Mitrecic, Ted Elder and Bud Church. File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – Officials did not include a bond bill for the sports complex in a list of bills reintroduced this week following an advertising error.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday introduced several new bond bills after learning previously approved bills didn’t adhere to advertising requirements. Though a bond bill for the county’s sports complex was initially part of the group, it was not included this week.

“Bond counsel advised that we should redo the format,” said Joe Parker, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer.

Initially, the commissioners approved a variety of bond projects, projects including jail improvements, the Stephen Decatur Middle School addition and a public safety storage facility, in February. Those projects included $11 million for the development of the sports complex. The acquisition of the site for a sports complex was never part of the bond bill.

Following the commissioners’ subsequent decision in April to move forward with purchasing land for a sports complex, a group of concerned citizens launched a petition effort. They wanted the voters to be able to decide whether the county should be able to use bond funding for the project.

With the petition successful and the sports complex question set to appear as Question A on the ballot, staff told the commissioners they’d left the sports complex bond bill out of the set being reintroduced this week. They also left out a bond bill for a roof at Snow Hill Middle School because of timing issues.

“It should be noted of the list of bond bills that we had previously, two have been removed,” Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said. “One was the sports complex due to the referendum effort and the other was the Snow Hill Middle/Cedar Chapel roof project.”

When asked if the delay because of the reintroduction of the bills was costing the county anything as far as the rate being secured, staff said they’d budgeted conservatively. Finance Officer Phil Thompson indicated rates should still be in line with what staff budgeted.

A public hearing on the newly reintroduced bills is set for Tuesday, Sept. 6.

As far as the sports complex, while studies associated with the parcel identified for purchase on Route 50 continue to move forward, there is currently no funding source identified to pay for the $7.1 million contract on the property. Though there were initially plans to purchase the property with bond funding, which is why the petition was started, county staff confirmed last month that the bond bill could not be used for acquisition after all. That bond resolution was reportedly drafted based on the county’s capital improvement plan, which originally showed the property being purchased with grant funds.

Despite the change in plans, a motion at the time to cancel the contract for the land failed. This week, staff reiterated that the commissioners would have to find other funds if they still wanted to purchase the property.

“Further, the costs of design and construction of this project were to be funded by a general obligation bond that is now currently subject to a ballot question in November,” Young wrote in a report related to the environmental study of the land. “Should the board wish to move forward with closing on the contract on the property in question, a funding source much be determined.”

The ballot question in November merely refers to whether the county should “finance a portion of the costs of designing and constructing a Worcester County Sports Complex by issuing a bond,” according to a letter from county attorney Roscoe Leslie to the State Board of Elections. Voters will need to decide whether they are “for the bond issuance,” or “against.” If the county voters favor the bond issuance, the commissioners could return to the bond market at a future date if the majority of commissioners agree.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.