Park plan cannot be a rush job

Published 1:01 am Sunday, April 1, 2012

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., famously said during debate of the “Obamacare” legislation that, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

In other words, take our word for it.

The devil, as often is said, lies in the details. And such is the case with a proposed recreation park in Warren County. On Monday, Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield rolled out a map to show the two tracts of land he wants to pick from to convert into a sports complex. He wants a city-county collaboration on the project and pitched his plan to the Warren County Board of Supervisors, who were lukewarm to the plan.

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Winfield wants the county board to act quickly so that a referendum can be put on November’s general ballot for a ½ percent or 1 percent countywide sales tax. The money generated would help fund the project, estimated at between $15 million and $20 million.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George correctly cautioned against moving too fast and specifically referred to past efforts by the city to design and build a sports complex. To date, the city has pumped more than $3 million into a proposed facility on Fisher Ferry Road and is still trying to collect a $250,000 feasibility study by a Florida company when plans were to transform the current Halls Ferry Park, including Bazinsky Field, into a sports park.

The mayor must be sensitive to those concerns. Money is tight everywhere and the last thing residents of Warren County want to see is straddling taxpayers with additional burdens without the full scope of the plan outlined. “You’d better be able to identify not necessarily where it will be, but several possibilities — we need to build this many fields, for this many purposes, we will have this much parking, this much concession,” George said. “The key is to enlighten the voters as to what they’re going to be paying for and how it’s going to stand in the future.”

Freshman Supervisor John Arnold said he was wary of strapping a tax on his constituents, many of whom would get little or no financial benefit from the park.

There is no doubting Winfield’s desire to have this park built. He believes that it will be a game-changer for the county, but moving too quickly could turn disastrous. The deadline to pitch the tax plan to the state Legislature is April 25. Whether it makes it this session, or the next or even the next after that, when the plan is pitched, the voters have to be assured that every T is crossed and every I is dotted.

What we don’t need is a Pelosi moment with the mayor saying, “You have to pass this tax increase to see what good will come from it.”

The people are far too skeptical of elected officials for that.