City could get a 'twofer' with splash pad decision

City crews are repairing broke pipes and other drainage issues at the Jesse Harmon Sportsplex in West Point.
Staff Writer

West Point residents who want another feature in their [parks will get their wish. And with any luck, they could end up with two of them.

Selectmen Tuesday night ended two months of sometimes caustic debate over where to build a new splash pad, voting 5-0 to stick with the original plan to put it in the Jesse Harmon Sportsplex off North Eshman Avenue. That unanimous decision came after the board failed on a 2-3 vote to approve a proposal from Ward 3 Selectman Ken Poole to put it in Marshall Park and shuffle how the parks director and assistant director are paid to free up money to get around requirements in the city's tourism tax.

Planet Recess provided the low bid of $69,000 and could have the project finished by late spring.

The splash pad, which will have a baseball theme to match the baseball and softball fields at the Sportsplex, will be paid for from the city's 1 percent tourism tax, which generates about $135,000 a year.

When the tax was approved 20 years ago, the legislation required the revenues be spent for Jesse Harmon Park. Although the park is paid for, the language still is in place.

Debate in the last two months has included suggestions the city ask the Legislature to remove the restriction so the money could be spent at any park. The Recreation Committee which consists of Poole and Ward 1's Leta Turner recommended the splash park be built in Marshall Park just off Main Street to increase access and visibility.

They have complained that Selectmen William Binder, Jasper Pittman and Keith McBrayer, who serve on either the Budget or Utilities committees, are usurping the Recreation Committee's responsibilities and recommendations.

That issue came up again during Tuesday night's discussion with Turner making the distinction on the record.

To get around the legislative language about where the money should be spent, Poole suggested using the tourism revenues to pay Director James Crowley and his assistant. Those funds already are used to pay three full-time and one part-time staffer, Crowley said. The switch would free up money in the regular budget to pay for the water park at Marshall Park.

In the end, Mayor Robbie Robinson offered hope the city might end up with two of them before it's all done.

"It's too late to do the money now because of the budget," Robinson said, noting the city has less than five months left in the current spending plan which ends June 30. "I'd rather do whatever the board decides tonight and if it's not Marshall Park, then put money in next year's budget for another plash pad there."

Once the motion for Marshall Park failed, Turner and Poole joined in the vote for Jesse Harmon Park, noting the value the project will add to the city's park system.
In other park news, Cowley said the city had a record high 255 kids playing in the city's basketball league, up from the normal 180.

The director also said the four-year-old skate park at Marshall Park, which has become a major attraction for skaters from the city and surrounding areas, is beginning to show wear and will need work, particularly to address some drainage issues that are creating slick spots on the park's edges.

And he and the Public Works Department are addressing drainage issues at the Jesse Harmon Sportsplex in advance of the spring and summer baseball seasons. He said plastic pipes had not been properly installed years ago and were breaking and collapsing.

"We are trying to fix infrastructure that should have been fixed originally," Crowley said, sidestepping Turner's repeated efforts to get him to say putting the splash pad at the park could make the drainage issues worse.