Controversial $3M street, rec plan dies

February 11, 2009

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WEST POINT -- A contentious $3 million bond issue was killed Tuesday night during the West Point Board of Selectmen meeting. 

 


After almost two hours of public appearances, the board voted 3-2 to kill the bond issue, which would have given the board the option to appropriate money for much-needed street repairs and construction of several new recreational facilities. 

 


Ward 3 Selectman John Cummings and Ward 2 Selectman Marion "Bubba" Wilkerson voted for the bond issue. Ward 1 Selectwoman Linda Hannah, Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer and Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman voted against it. 

 


West Point resident Frank Portera was the first to speak Tuesday night in support of the bond issue. He recounted an emotional story, which he offered as proof of West Point''s desperate lack of recreational facilities for the city''s youth. 

 


Portera saw six black teenagers climb the fence of a private parking lot to skateboard, he recalled. A police officer then was forced to kick the children out of the parking lot. 

 


"They looked totally dejected, because they had no place to ride their skateboards. It made me sick they had to be kicked out, that we cannot supply our kids with something to do," he said. "Columbus and Starkville are leaving us behind. Personally, I think our priorities are messed up. What''s more important -- our streets or our children?" 

 


Another West Point resident, Gordon Hatcher, disagrees. 

 


"I know the city is in financial straits for many years, but you don''t have to replace one debt with another," Hatcher said. "The voters challenged (the bond issue), because we don''t think we need to add the debt." 

 


When it came time to vote, Mayor Scott Ross, who is a longtime supporter of the resolution, said repeatedly, the issuance of the bonds did not necessarily mean any money had to be spent. 

 


"Passing this does not obligate you to do any of these projects," he said. "It will allow you to do it, up to $2.995 million. You do not have to limit it to the streets which have been previously selected, and you do not have to spend a dime on any recreation project. 

 


"We ask for your consideration; there''s a lot of talk about providing things for children and the condition of streets. Sadly, this seems to be our avenue. The city of West Point has always bonded street improvements and social recreation projects." 

 


This argument fell on the deaf ears of many board members who felt the recreation package within the resolution to issue bonds was too much for the city.  

 


"Mayor, I understand that, but the people don''t," said Pittman. 

 


When it came time to vote, all the members of the board who voted against the bond issue were quick to say they supported street repair but not the recreation package. McBrayer vowed to redraft the issue to include only the road projects. 

 


"I think we all need to provide services to our children, and that''s something I''ll strive for," he said. "The streets itself cannot be overlooked, but at the same time, with everything going on nationally and in the state, I think that''s an indication of where we are at today, as opposed to where we were a year-and-a-half ago." 

 


"We don''t need a blank check for $2.995 million," said Hannah. 

 


The bond issue has been on the forefront of West Point politics since the board passed a resolution of intent to issue the bonds in June of last year. Since then, a petition has been filed against the bond issue resolution, the issue had been tabled three times and the public has weighed in at public hearings and meetings.