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Sports complex needs county cooperation

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The City of Vicksburg’s ad hoc recreation committee was appointed in May by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to examine the city’s recreation programs and present recommendations to improve the overall program over the next five years by Dec. 31.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room has been and will continue to be a modern sports  complex. Former Mayor Paul Winfield put the cart before the horse on the rec complex. He bragged about possible sites, with no specifics. He rolled out tax plan after tax plan, each one coming after an interest group showed its ire. Finally a plan to have the state Legislature approve a ballot referendum on a tax increase never happened.

The city still owns a piece of property — into which it has dumped more than $3 million — on Fisher Ferry Road earmarked for a rec complex. Flooding issues, among other concerns, torpedoed that idea, leaving the city holding a mighty expensive piece of property.

Vicksburg and Warren County do need a sports park. Vicksburg’s largest youth baseball tournament, the Governor’s Cup, brought in 85 teams over two weekends last year to aging Halls Ferry Park. A modern complex would mean more tournaments, more people and more tax collections. Forming a committee to spearhead the project is the right move.

Although Mayor George Flaggs, Jr. and Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson have said they will not participate in committee discussions or give it direction, an indication of the committee’s potential direction came during open remarks by the board members before the committee began its deliberations.

“We’re going to get out of the way and allow you to do your homework,” said Mayfield, who represents the North Ward. “We’re not looking for pie in the sky. I’m willing to do anything that the citizens are willing to afford. If you want a $30 million complex and the citizens are willing to pay for it, I’ll vote for it.

One of the problems with getting a sports complex, committee chairman Omar Nelson said, “is certain sections of he community were left out. We need to bring them back. We need to being every stakeholder in the community that wants to take part in this to the table, we need to give them input.”

One of those stakeholders, he said, is Warren County, adding the committee needs to try and get the county involved in the sports complex issue.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in October passed a resolution inviting the Board of Supervisors to form a joint committee to discuss merging city and county recreation facilities. The supervisors have not responded. If one were to envision a structure for an entity that would throw in the county stuff this would be it, a single director to be hired by majority vote on both boards and some staff.

The need for a combined city/county recreation department where about 48,000 people were counted in the last census the need for combined departments makes fiscal sense. Politics abounds on a molecular level in city halls and courthouses nationwide.

The city has it’s fiscal house in order and is looking at restoring it’s bond rating. That puts both the city and county boards on the same footing with borrowing money, it’s time for the county to get serious about consolidation.