Questions of sales tax referendum addressed

Parsons: Project is ‘a leap of faith’ 

By Kevin Spradlin

Previous coverage:
* Keith Parsons’ complete prepared statement
* Sept. 25: Carolina Journal: Use of taxpayer dollars for recreation is ‘bad public policy’
* Sept. 19 – Chamber endorses sales tax referendum
* Sept. 16 – Local, state agencies aiding pro-sales tax group
* Sept. 15 – Campaign signs support sales tax hike
* July 7 – Voters to weigh in on sales tax referendum

ROCKINGHAM — Keith Parsons represented the Committee to Promote Growth and Economic Development at Monday night’s Board of County Commissioners public meeting and addressed questions that many around Richmond County have been asking for months.

The facility would include four baseball/softball fields, three youth baseball/softball fields, four more adult baseball/softball fields, an 18-hole disk golf course, a tennis facility, a soccer complex comprised of five playing fields and an activity center, complete with a miniature train, a splash park, a carousel, a playground and a dog park, among other amenities.

The project has received endorsements from theRichmond County Chamber of Commerce, the Richmond County Board of Realtors and the Rockingham Downtown Corporation, among other groups.

Parsons said it makes sense that it the planned sports complex, funded largely through a countywide quarter-cent sales tax increase, would be a city-owned facility; after all, it’s within city limits and, well, somebody’s got to own, operate and maintain the facility. In addition, approximately 60 percent of youth who participate in Rockingham’s Parks and Recreation Department programs live outside the city limits.

Keith Parsons addresses the Board of Richmond County Commissioners Monday night during the monthly public meeting in downtown Rockingham.

Keith Parsons addresses the Board of Richmond County Commissioners Monday night during the monthly public meeting in downtown Rockingham.

The city, Parsons said, “essentially runs a countywide recreation department now.”

The city’s program now charges a $10 fee for athletes who live outside the city limits. If the sales tax initiative passes, Parsons said, city officials have said that surcharge will be eliminated.

“I imagine that will save a lot of people a lot of money,” said Commissioner Ben Moss.

Moss lamented a mass “misunderstanding in the community” since the commissioners passed the resolution on July 7 to put the referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Moss also addressed the very real rivalry between Hamlet and Rockingham. Enough’s enough, he said.

“With that kind of mentality, we’re never going to move forward with anything we try,” Moss said. “I think it could benefit all of the people in the county.”

As a check and balance, he said, the commissioners wanted to put the issue for the county residents to vote on — but, Moss pleaded, “make an educated decision. Make the right decision.”

The project makes no restrictions on what Hamlet, Ellerbe, Hoffman or any other entity wishes to pursue in terms of parks and recreation.

“I grew up in Ellerbe,” Parsons said. I would like nothing better than to see Ellerbe benefit from something like this.”

The future of programs in Ellerbe and Hamlet, among other places, is “really up to the folks who live there and their elected officials,” Parsons said. “Nothing in the referendum would prevent them from continuing their programs.”

The commissioners are keeping the door open for other entities, including the towns of Ellerbe and city of Hamlet, among others, to approach the commissioners with plans that could have a positive impact on economic development. To date, no other plan has been received.

In addition, Dr. Cindy Goodman, superintendent of Richmond County Schools since Aug. 5, told the Carolina Journal in a September report that she plans to approach the commissioners for some of the funding if voters approve the referendum.

The preliminary cost shows the complex to cost about $12 million. The city of Rockingham, Parsons said, won’t spend any more money on the project to gather a more accurate estimate unless and until the sales tax referendum is approved by voters on the Nov. 4 ballot.

How will the money from the quarter-cent sales tax, if approved, be spent? Parsons said that city and county officials have given him and members of his group the “hope and expectation (they will) allocate a portion of this revenue to pay for a large share of the debt service on the complex.”

The estimated revenue ranges between $600,000 and $700,000 per year. The annual debt service payment depends on, Parsons said, interest rate and other loan terms. Generally, though, it could be approximately $100,000 a month. While that exceeds the expected revenue — at least in the short term — Parsons acknowledged the commissioners haven’t pledged to use all of the new sales tax revenue, if the referendum passes, on the project.

“The county’s not going to fund 100 percent of the project,” Parsons said.

Parsons also clarified, after speaking with city officials, that, no sales tax revenue would be used for the operations or maintenance of the facility.

“The city will be responsible for those,” Parsons said in a prepared statement.

The loan figures to be a 20-year loan; Parsons said the sales tax referendum — which does not include a sunset provision — figures to be at least that long and would remain in place until the commissioners rescind the tax increase by a majority vote.

Parsons highlighted the economic development and quality of life issues — the two are intertwined, he said.

“The recruitment of new businesses and industry is a highly competitive process that concerns many factors,” said the former Associated Press sportswriter turned Rockingham banker. “Anything we can do to set Richmond County apart from our competitors in the process might give us an advantage.”

Parsons acknowledged there is no guarantee that city or county officials use the revenue increase, if the referendum passes, for the complex. He also knows that projections of increased economic activity isn’t a guarantee. He’s taking the elected officials at their word.

Commissioner John Garner said county residents need to consider that there are two factors on such a project — risk and faith. Mange the risk, he said, and “you’ve gotta have faith in what you’re doing.”

If the faith is in question, “you’re going to have trouble getting (the project) off the ground.”

Parsons and County Manger Rick Sago noted that city and county officials have been talking about the project for several years. It was mentioned in the 2004 Richmond County Civic Index “to establish a venue for regional, statewide and southeastern United States youth sports tournaments” and noted again in the 2013 Strategic Plan (pages 9, 27 and 28).


Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors, Sports

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