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|Vidalia recreation board views land purchase; responds to criticism|
Recreation District No. 3 chairman Mark Archer said the recreation board does not need permission from the Police Jury to purchase land for a recreational complex.
"We had someone from the Attorney General's office give us the wrong information and they told us that we did not need permission from the Police Jury," Archer said at the recreation board's meeting Tuesday that was attended by Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland, aldermen Vernon Stevens and Tron McCoy and Police Jurors Randy Temple and Whest Shirley.
Archer also responded to criticism aimed at board members recently because attended a public hearing scheduled at the Police Jury's Feb. 4th meeting attended about two dozen Vidalia residents.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there," Archer said. "It's not that we're trying to hide anything from the voters, we just didn't know we were supposed to be at the meeting."
Archer said the board has already voted to purchase the land through an agreement with the City of Vidalia.
"I will be glad to have a public hearing if I am informed about it ahead of time to answer questions, but if someone asks me where the horse barn is going to be, I couldn't answer that. I will be glad to come, but I will not be able to answer all the questions right now because we are only talking about purchasing the land at this time."
Temple said he assumed the board members knew about the meeting and also assumed the board needed permission when they requested to buy the land.
"But I looked into it as well and the board does not need the Police Jury's permission," Temple said. "We don't want to be involved in your business, but we want to be able to assist if you need a grader or bulldozer."
"We have basically been a maintenance board," Archer said. "This is a new venture for us. This is a big undertaking. We're trying to take Recreation District No. 3 into the next 50 years."
Archer said the board's main objection right now is to purchase the land at $17,000 an acre.
"Everybody wants to know when this is going to be done," he said. "We're not pursuing that at this time."
Board member Fred Marsalis said the board needed to do something, and not "sit on this" or he would resign. McCoy said he didn't want to look way down the road for the project to be completed."
"We don't either," Archer replied. "But we have to have the funds."
Copeland offered the board to hold a public hearing "to sit down with the people of Vidalia and see what they want. Ask them what they are willing to do and they will tell you what they want. Every bond issue we've ever taken to the people has passed. They will let you know what they want to do. There are grants and in-kind structures that the town will be glad to help you pursue."
"We're just trying to be careful with our money and not over extend ourselves," said Recreation Board member Melvin Dobson.
Archer said the board and Asst. Dist. Atty. Brad Burget will get with Copeland and city attorney Jack McLemore to finalize a deal in which the City of Vidalia will purchase 30 acres for $500,000 to lease to the recreation board, while the recreation board will purchase an additional 20 acres that will be located behind Wal-Mart, going toward the levee and over to the barns on Cecil Parker's farm land.
"The reason the town is involved is because we strongly believe in recreation," said Copeland, who added that the town's part would be paid by lease payments from businesses located on the Vidalia Riverfront.
"I've been in the pew, now I am in the pulpit," said board member Casey Young, who recently joined the board along with Daniel Grayson. "We have to get on the same page. There are enough people in here to get through the barriers."
Presently, Recreation District No. 3 owns a few acres near Vidalia Junior High and 12 acres near the Recreation Center which encompasses seven ball parks.
Archer said Recreation No. 3 currently has $1.5 million in certificates of deposit and receives between $250,000 to $270,000 through its tax millage.
"A good recreational complex can cost about $10 million.," Archer said.
Archer said after purchasing the land, the board would begin building the complex in phases, starting with ball parks and a concession stand.
"Then we can add soccer fields and other things down the road," he said. "The biggest cost will be the infrastructure, parking lots and roads. We're not going to raise taxes. I am totally against that. But we need to move forward with this opportunity."
"Three years ago that property sold for $10,000 an acre," Copeland said. "Property value in Vidalia is going up almost every day."
"I think we are all in agreement that something needs to be done," Dobson said. "We just need to all work together to get it done."
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