County stalls on Johnson Park support

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 13, 2010

Mayors in Opp and Florala said Thursday they don’t want their ball players “left out in the cold” if the county commission approves a proposed joint venture with Andalusia for new ball fields at an improved Johnson Park.

Com-missioners voted to table action on the agreement after both mayors said they had “no objection whatsoever” to the proposed agreement; however, each felt it was only “fair” that the county compensate each municipality for its recreation population.

“In fact, we applaud the effort,” Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said. “We just feel like there should be equitable distribution of the money. I don’t know if that should be done on a pro-rated basis or how. We have 150 kids that cross the state line into Paxton (Fla.) for baseball and softball.”

Opp Mayor H.D. Edgar said 513 children played this year in Opp’s city league, 321 of whom resided outside the city limits.

At present, Opp has six regulation size fields and has plans to add two more, he said.

“We need two, but some how, some way we’re going to build at least one in 2011,” he said.

“I don’t see how the county can do for others and not do for all,” Edgar said. “If you’re going to build a county park, you should do something for us and something for Florala. If Red Level or Pleasant Home needs a field, build them one.”

Edgar said Opp gets “virtually no help from the county” for its recreation costs, but said the county recently assisted in constructing both a tee ball field and a softball field.

“If you do (the agreement) make it fair to all that’s concerned,” he said. “Don’t leave us and Florala out in the cold.”

The Andalusia City Council approved the agreement last Tuesday, which provides for both city and county baseball and softball leagues to use of the park. Under the agreement, the county would pay the city $45,000 per year for the use the newly-renovated Johnson Park sports complex.

In 2010, 473 children from Andalusia participated in the city league; 454 from the county, said Andalusia city clerk John Thompson. Wayne Bush, county recreation board president, said records showed 526 county youth played at the park.

Currently, the county pays $6,500 for playing privileges at Johnson Park.

It is estimated the park renovations will cost $850,000; plus an additional $350,000 for the two new fields, which, with the added debt service, will bring the final project cost to an estimated $1.5 million.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city would charge the county $20,000 for the operation and maintenance of the fields and $25,000 for the debt service on the field construction, bringing the total to $45,000 annually. Those payments would escalate through the end of the 15-year contract, when the payment would be $49,500.

Commissioners said they were concerned with the cost of the project.

“We don’t know what we can afford,” said Commissioner David Ellis. “I do think we should prorate the money, but I don’t know how.”

Commissioner Bragg Carter voiced his support of the project.

“If we don’t do something at Johnson Park, we’re going to hurt 526 kids,” Carter said. “We can’t afford to build new fields and keep them up. Seems like we’ve been talking about this for 10 years.”

Commissioner Harold Elmore said, “I’m not interested in going into a contract that doesn’t help Florala and Opp.”

Commissioner Carl Turman did not voice an opinion, stating, “All has been said that needs to be said.”

Thompson said Andalusia is ready to “turn dirt on the project” and is waiting on the county to proceed.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the agreement at an Aug. 30 meeting.