City seeks more 'splash' from tax dollars

The West Point Board of Selectmen discuss the proposed splash pad at its work session on Monday.
Staff Writer

Stick with current plans, change the law, build two of them or some combination. Those are the options West Point Selectmen face with a proposed $80,000 splash pad that has been discussed for more than two years and now is on the verge of becoming a reality.

This week, Great Southern Recreation and Planet Recess offered bids on the project which, as drawn, is planned for the Jesse Harmon Sportsplex on North Eshman Avenue on the city's northeastern edge.

Selectmen decided on Tuesday to table the bids in favor of letting the Parks and Recreation Committee, made up of Ward 1's Leta Turner and Ward 3's Ken Poole, decide what action to take.

Great Southern bid $79,950 while Planet Recess was $10,000 less. The difference in the cost and the designs -- both had baseball themes since the park focuses on baseball and softball but included different water features and structures -- prompted more than an hour of discussion among Selectmen and the two companies, not only about the design but also about the location and the future of how the city funds recreation projects.

Selectmen discussed the pad last year but shelved it for budget reasons. City leaders included it in the new budget that went into place July 1 and at the urging of Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer and Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman, began putting together plans. The bids were opened Nov. 20.

It will be funded from the 1 percent hotel/restaurant tax originally put in place in 1996 to build the Jesse Harmon Sportsplex. That tax generates about $130,000 and $135,000 a year.

Another 1 percent hotel/restaurant tax approved two years ago generates the same amount annually for the Clay County Growth Alliance.

The original law dictates the money from the tax must go for projects at the sportsplex. With that in mind, the splash pad would be built there.

That's the rub for some Selectmen.

"We'd get more and better use out of it at Marshall Park. We want it used, we want it to get worn out," Ward 3 Selectmen Ken Poole said.

McKee, Parks Director James Crowley, Building Inspector Jeremy Klutts and others cited a variety of reasons Marshall or Zuber parks would be better locations if the city's hands were tied by the law.

Safety is one factor, especially with the splash pad's planned location at the rear of the complex where a road behind the complex allows unsupervised access. Other objections included the sportsplex's limited use many months of the year and its location away from the center of town.

"Baseball starts in March and finishes by June. Parents aren't going to take kids to a splash pad when it's cold in March or April. It doesn't make sense to put it out there," Klutts said.

"For safety and convenience, I've always thought Marshall Park would be better," added Crowley, noting the city recently had a Kaboom playground built in Marshall Park, added a skate park and disc golf course there that have become popular, and upgraded the park's pavilions. "We could put it next to the skate park. That whole park area really is coming together."

Poole and Ward 1 Selectwoman Leta Turner said they've already talked to some of the region's legislators about getting the city's recreation tax changed to allow broader uses, especially since things have changed in the city in 20 years.

"It still would be for recreation, but changing the law would give us more flexibility," Poole stated.

Turner agreed, noting legislators already had suggested which lines in the law needed to be changed to meet the city's needs.

While changing the law is a long-term option, city leaders suggested with some help from private citizens and companies, they might be able to build two splash pads, one at the sportsplex and the other at Marshall or Zuber parks. Building two water features would allow both bidders to get work in the city and avoid selectmen having to make what they admitted is a "really tough choice."
"You have two very reputable people and companies here," City Administrator Randy Jones said as Selectmen struggled with how to make a decision between the two designs.

"We can stick with the law or get it changed or we could build one at the sportsplex and then try to get some help and build a second one," Mayor Robbie Robinson said.

In the end, Selectmen tabled a decision on which design to accept but did agree to proceed with trying to get the Legislature to change the recreation tax when it convenes in January.

Splash pads have become popular additions to parks and town squares in the last decade with Columbus, Starkville, Tupelo, Saltillo, Amory, Pontotoc, Booneville, New Albany and other towns building one or more.