Lake to return PARTF money

Lake Waccamaw Commissioners also voted Tuesday to reopen meetings to a limited number of the public.
Lake Waccamaw Commissioners also voted Tuesday to reopen meetings to a limited number of the public.

Lake to return PARTF grant

Lake Waccamaw Town commissioners Tuesday reluctantly voted to return $180,000 in Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) money to the state.

Commissioners emphasized that Elizabeth Brinkley Park will still expand, but at a much slower rate than originally planned.

“We’re running out of time,” said Town Manager Damon Kempski. Among the challenges faced by the town since the park project began are rising construction costs, complications in everything from labor to permitting due to COVID-19, damage and water levels from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, and Kempski replacing Town Manager Gordon Hargrove.

The manager said that after a meeting with the project planner and other officials, he could not recommend moving forward on the full park project right now.

“It’s not up to me to determine if the town scraps this project,” Kempski said. “It’s your decision. But right now, the timetable is not favorable, and I feel other actions need to be taken before we can move forward.”

An additional 20 acres of property contiguous to the park was donated to the town in 2011 by the heirs of Elizabeth Brinkley. When completed, the entire park will span more than 50 acres, and include additional athletic fields, workout trails, a retention pond and other features. It will eventually be the largest public park in the county.

Clearing, permitting and building the stormwater retention pond were budgeted at $108,000 in 2011, Commissioner Matt Wilson said. Now that work alone will cost $311,000.

“We would be looking at a million dollars,” he said.

The town has already spent around $100,000 for permits, surveys and planning, Mayor Daniel Hilburn said.

“That money has not been wasted,” he explained. “All that is now in place. Just with the increased construction costs, it would be a hardship on the citizens to have to take on this project in one piece.”

PARTF funding comes with a timetable set by the state, and the town could not meet the schedule or some of the other 24 requirements set down by the funding agency. The highly competitive grants require a large match by local governments, but those matching funds can be in the form of cash or in-kind investments such as use of local equipment and personnel.

Commissioners Rosemary Dorsey and Frank Carroll said they would support moving forward with an incremented plan for the park. The cost of the full project would not be a fiscally responsible move, Dorsey said.

“I don’t see us coming up with $500,000 for a matching grant,” Dorsey said.

Wilson also said he felt “it’s time to see some dirt moving” on the parts of the park the town can continue to improve.

“The folks who donated that land to us deserve to see some work being done,” he said. “here’s some improvements I think we can make.”

Commissioner Terry Littrell said that while he supports the park expansion, the town has other priorities he thinks need to be examined.

“I can’t vote for expanding the park until we get something done with our sewer system,” he said. “We have all kinds of very serious infrastructure needs right now that are more important. But I want to see the park improved.”

Littrell cast the sole dissenting vote on a motion to return the PARTF funds and “aggressively” reapply in the spring, when the next grant cycle begins.

“My hope and goal is to see this project through to its fruition,” said Kempski.

In other business, the commissioners voted to reopen meetings to the public on a limited basis beginning next month. Seats will be seven feet apart, Hilburn said. That will allow for five to six members of the public to attend.

“We rarely have more than that unless there’s something confidential,” he told the board, noting that he only knew of a few times in his term as mayor that the meeting room was filled.
In the event that a large crowd is expected, Hilburn said, arrangements have been made with the Boys and Girls Home to use the downstairs chapel.

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Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].