Ellis, Elmore unsure county can support ball field project

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2010

At least two of the four voting commissioners say the county can’t afford to participate in a joint venture with Andalusia for new ball fields at Johnson Park.

Commissioners David Ellis and Harold Elmore each voiced concerns on the $45,000 annual payment required to cover the shared cost of improving the park, including new ball fields. The proposed renovation is expected to cost $1.5 million. The bulk of the entire project’s expense would be carried by the city and funded through a recent bond measure.

Last Thursday, the commission tabled action on the agreement after hearing opposition from the Opp and Florala mayors, who each requested in-kind assistance for their city’s recreation programs.

Ellis said Monday, he wants to see a clear picture of the county’s financial picture before casting a vote.

“The No. 1 thing I want to look at is the revenue we’ve received this year and our expenditures to date,” he said. “I want to know how much of our revenue is FEMA funds, how much is sales tax and so on.

“I know my opinion might not get me re-elected, but we’ve been $1 million in the hole each year for the last eight years,” he said. “We start making decisions to spend money like it’s water, and it’s going to put us right back in the same situation we were in. I can’t do that.”

Ellis said he also felt the decision could prevent giving county employees a 3 percent cost of living raise in October.

“We’re never going to be able to fund that if we do stuff like this,” he said.

Elmore said he has three grandchildren who “play ball in Andalusia” but he felt that the $45,000 annual price tag is “a lot of money to come up with.”

“And in the long term, I don’t know how we can handle it,” he said. “I’d hate to see us do it and then have to turn around and lay off employees. Where are we going to be in three or four years we don’t have that money to give?”

However, Elmore said he hasn’t “made up” his mind on how he will vote on the measure when it is proposed again at the next commission meeting on Aug. 30.

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

And while there is no clear solution to the problem, Ellis said he understands the need for playing space.

“We’ve got fields at each of the schools and if some need some improvements, that’s where that money can be used,” he said. “I just don’t think we can afford to do this project.”

Attempts to reach commissioners Bragg Carter and Carl Turman, along with chairman Lynn Sasser were unsuccessful; however, Carter has previously voiced his support for the project.

It is unknown at this point what the city will do if the county elects not to participate in the agreement.