August 15, 2009 7:30:00 PM
Before more money, time and energy are spent vetting site for soccer park, questions need to be answered first.
When asked about the Columbus Country Club''s offer of land for the city and county soccer field plan last week, Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders made an interesting comment: "Unless something comes along that prevents us from getting the Burns Bottom land, I would say we are pretty much committed to it."
Sanders is certainly committed to Burns Bottom as the location for soccer fields.
But if the entire board is "committed" to Burns Bottom, that''s news to us.
It is probably also news to the rest of the board, who by their own statements are either not whole-heartedly committed to it, or are against it.
An exhaustive process was undertaken to narrow the possible locations to three: The more than 70-acre plot in Columbus'' Burns Bottom area near the Hitching Lot Farmers'' Market on Second Street North; a 156-acre tract of land near the Columbus Riverwalk; and a 50-acre plot near the Highway 82 Macon-Meridian exit.
Because the Burns Bottom location has multiple landowners, the city and county both voted to pursue the feasibility of buying up that land. A recent report back to the board showed that a majority were willing to sell.
However, no formal vote has been taken on a final location for the project. While time and treasure has been spent on the feasibility of the Burns Bottom location, we are not "pretty much committed" until such a vote is taken, by the two groups that matter: The Board of Supervisors and the City Council.
In two weeks, planning experts, sponsored by the Mississippi Main Street Association and hosted by Main Street Columbus, will be in town for a charette that will engage the public in a comprehensive visioning exercise. The three-day event -- beginning Sept. 1 -- will bring interested citizens together with planning experts to explore planning and marketing strategies to make Columbus and Lowndes County a more livable and economically viable community.
We urge our supervisors and City County to engage in this process, and use what input flows from it into their decision-making on a location and funding source for the soccer complex.
Once that process is complete, and it is clear that the Burns Bottom land can be purchased, it will be time to settle on a location with a formal vote. And, if we do indeed commit to a location, it will be time to come clean on who will foot the bill, and how.
It makes little sense to continue spending taxpayer money before a vote is taken on the site.
In addition to this formal vote, there has been another glaring unanswered question to this process: Once the land is purchased, how will the project be funded? And by whom?
Before spending more money, we urge the county and city to answer these two important questions, which are central to the project.
As board president, Sanders may feel that since he holds the checkbook on this project, the decision on the location is his alone. We remind him -- and his counterparts -- that he holds one vote of five. And the checkbook he holds belongs to you and me, the citizens of Lowndes County.
We have been "backing into" the Burns Bottom location for too long. It is time for a final decision on the site, ratified with a formal vote, and for a decision on how the project will be paid for.