The completion of the first phase of District 2’s Denny Dobbs Park overcame another hurdle Tuesday, but only after commissioners and residents discussed the park’s future for an hour.
The completion of the park, located on Ga. Highway 212 directly across from Oak Hill Elementary School, was once again in jeopardy, as all of the previous construction bids came in over budget. Newton County has about $1.5 million available in collected impact fees for the park, but the least expensive bid for phase one of the park came in at $1.8 million, even after some of the park features were removed.
This prompted a special meeting on Monday, where the commissioners, District 2 residents and members of the recreation department discussed possible options. On Tuesday the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved the combined recommendations of the recreation department, Chairman Kathy Morgan and commissioners Nancy Schulz and J.C. Henderson. The board split 3 to 2, with commissioners Mort Ewing and Tim Fleming voting to delay the construction of the park until next year because they were concerned about county’s financial limitations.
The recommendation calls for the current bids to be thrown out and for the county to bid out the position of project manager. The project manager will estimate the cost and timeline of the project and will evaluate whether the county should use the public works department to complete some of the projects. By including this option, the county is hoping to have a bid under $1.38 million, with no more than a $100,000 contingency. The county is also stipulating that the project should be completed in no more than six months with 30 extra days in case of weather delays.
The public works department would probably be able to handle the grading, the paving of the parking lot and the construction of trails. However, each of the parts of the park, such as the parking lot, the playgrounds and the basketball courts will be bid out separately to get the least expensive total cost. The public works department may not be needed at all if private companies can do the work for less money than the county.
Ewing and Fleming said they are not opposed to the park but feel the county does not have the money to build and operate the park properly at this time. Ewing expressed concern about potentially using public works money to build the park, when the county just cut the public works department’s budget.
"The only reason we’re having this discussion, of these six options, is because we’re trying to build a park when we don’t have the money to build it," Ewing said.
Fleming said he was concerned about cost of the park’s maintenance and operation, which Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey estimated at around $30,000. He also was concerned about possible cuts to next year’s budget.
"When it comes time to cut budgets, the recreation department gets (cuts first)," Fleming said. "It’s irresponsible for this board to move forward without knowing next year’s budget."
To be safe, Schulz added the stipulation that construction should not start until after July 1, the start of the 2010 fiscal year. This way if the county is in worse financial shape than expected, the project can still be delayed. Commissioners and residents pointed out that impact fees can only be used for recreational projects; however, the maintenance would come out of the county’s general fund.
District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons has been the biggest proponent of the park and said his constituents deserve the park.
"I don’t know how you can have the fortitude to explain to thousands of people that we’re not building a park," he said. "It’s not fair to the western part of the county. A family would say let’s put the best and brightest on the park, not put it off."
In the end the majority of the board agreed with Simmons including Morgan. She said close to half of the county’s population lives southwest of Covington, and they need this park, particularly in this economy.
"These families have had their incomes cut and don’t have the recreational money they did two years ago," Morgan said. "With this park they can go have a picnic, a soccer game, play pick-up (basketball) ball games. It’s important to do the right thing for the taxpayers. The people on the west side deserve and need this park."