ColaDaily.com - 5.13.14 - Rachel Ham
The work of the Penny for Progress Commission is coming to a close as the appointed residents soon will submit their final project rankings for ballot placement. Voters then will get a say on whether the penny sales tax should be enacted and which projects the revenue should fund.
Much of the discussion at Monday’s commission meeting revolved around a proposed $12.1 million sports complex near the State Farmers Market. The project, submitted by the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission, includes seven soccer fields and eight indoor volleyball courts.
The commissioners during a prior meeting batted around the idea to elevate the project’s ranking if they thought it would have a significant economic impact. After hearing from LCRAC Executive Director Randy Gibson, Congaree Rapid Soccer Association Executive Director Kevin Heise and Eric Shick, director of Magnum Volleyball Club, the commisioners voted to move the project’s ranking up and give it more support for voter consideration.
Commissioner Lee Bussell suggested splitting the complex into two projects — one for the soccer fields and one for the indoor court facility — and the rest of the group agreed. Instead of being ranked at No. 91 on the lengthy list of submissions, the sports complex now is ranked No. 77 (soccer fields) and No. 78 (indoor courts).
The project was switched with a selection of dirt roads that were submitted for paving; the road repaving now is ranked No. 92.
The commissioners voted in May that a first tier of high-priority projects total between $260 million and $270 million in case the tax generates less than the estimated $290 million. They also agreed a secondary set of lower-priority projects totaling approximately $90 million be ranked and placed on the ballot in the event more revenue is generated.
The sports complex currently falls in the lower-priority tier of projects but is scheduled to be listed on the ballot.
“I feel like this project will not only improve the lives of citizens but will also have a positive economic impact,” Gibson said.
The complex is designed to draw large soccer and volleyball tournaments to the area. In advocating for the project to the commissioners, Heise said out-of-town players, coaches, spectators and parents would contribute to Penny for Progress funds by way of spending money in Lexington County.
The complex also is expected to generate money from each tournament it hosts. Instead of being used primarily for recreation as other sports complexes in the area are, Gibson said the new facilities would be “pay to play” and dedicated to revenue-producing tournaments.
Local teams must travel to cities with large complexes when they play in tournaments. Heise said the US Youth Soccer National Championship generates $3.5 million annually in Rock Hill and that the Aiken Soccer Cup produces $500,000.
“Those are dollars that could be staying here,” Gibson said. “Why not Lexington?”
Shick said the proposed indoor court facility would be the first of its kind in the Midlands and agreed with Heise that the county’s central location in the state makes in an ideal candidate for events.
“Volleyball is one of the fastest-growing youth sports,” he said. “This is an opportunity to bring people who we are missing to Lexington.”
Commissioners earlier in the project ranking process questioned why the complex was so large. Heise said Monday that the seven recommended fields would make the site a “destination” and more of a draw to tournament planners.
The Congaree Rapid Soccer Association estimates that $100,000 annually would be generated from field fees and 30,000 visitors would come for the regular matches alone.
More than 100 emails in favor of the sports complex project were submitted by residents through the Penny for Progress website. But not everyone is on board with the idea of the sales tax.
West Columbia resident Mike Green is one vocal opponent of the tax and has started a “Stop Penny Tax in Lexington” Facebook page.
Green said his disapproval of the tax stems from skepticism over job creation and revenue production numbers predicted by the entities that submitted projects.
“The government overpromises on what it will deliver,” he said. “No one taxes themselves into prosperity.”
Green agreed that area roads do need repairs and more funding. If the tax does pass, he is concerned that non-transportation projects like recreation and municipal buildings will take up too much of the revenue.
“If a project like a sports complex is profitable, why isn’t the private sector doing them?,” he asked.
There has not been much opposition of the tax during the public comment portion of the Penny for Progress meetings. Green attributed that to the timing of the meetings, which typically are held in the morning during workdays.
Green said that after talking with other residents, he thinks the referendum will fail with only 40 percent of the vote. If it does pass, he predicted it will be renewed in the future as has happened in places like York County, which is in the third round of its Pennies for Progress program.
“People get used to the tax,” Green said.
The Penny for Progress Commission will meet for the final time at 3 p.m. Thursday in Lexington County Council Chambers. The commissioners will review and approve their final project rankings and ballot question.
The latest ranking from the Penny for Progress Commission can be found online.