Hopes for a long-sought site for a county fair, horseback riding and other recreational activities took a hit Monday night when the York County Council split on asking firms to develop plans for the project and ultimately deferred any next action for later.
In other action, the council gave the second of three nods needed to allow money previously designated for new fire substations in western York County to be used for building a new fire training center.
David Bowman recused himself from a discussion of whether to approve asking firms to submit designs for the agri-tourism site.
The council was divided on whether the county should promise to pay $50,000 to each of three pre-selected firms submitting plans if and only if the council decides later not to move forward with building the site.
The money would help the firms recoup some of the costs of taking on a more extensive proposal process, which the county has asked the firms to do in order to get a better idea, at the project’s outset, of the costs and possible uses.
Upon hearing that proposal Monday night, Councilman Curwood Chappell erupted, “I didn’t think I was sitting up here with a bunch of fools!” before getting out of his seat and pacing.
Pointing to the sour economy and high unemployment, Chappell said the payments to the firms would be like taking away competition in the private sector, which was what the country was built on.
Expressing support for the center in general, Council Chairman Britt Blackwell and Councilman Bruce Henderson also said they would oppose promising each of the firms $50,000, which supporters say would help secure quality proposals.
“This does not mean this will never ever happen,” Henderson said, adding that there’s “nothing wrong with occasionally backing up and punting” until there’s a more opportune time to undertake such a project, he said.
Blackwell said he would like to wait until after the November presidential election which will “decide which way the economy goes” and also mentioned the possibility of looking at two new sites.
Councilmen Bump Roddey, Chad Williams and Eric Winstead supported moving forward, saying the $150,000 would never come into play if the council intended to build the center.
Winstead said the real question is about whether the council is committed to the project at all. It’s a “simple decision,” he said.
Members of the residents’ committee who helped the county narrow possible sites to two were disappointed after the meeting.
Betty Rankin said the council didn’t say anything about the time the committee spent working on the project, and that the council had led supporters of the project “down the primrose path.”
Bill Steele was slightly more optimistic, saying the vote to defer any decisions wasn’t all bad.
“I’m glad they didn’t can the whole concept,” he said.
Fire training center
With mixed enthusiasm the County Council unanimously gave the second of three approvals needed to allow the county to spend $3.1 million of bond money for building a new training center.
A third vote of approval, preceded by a public hearing, is needed to approve the new training center.
Several councilmen expressed a preference for returning the money to the bank if the council wasn’t going to use it for its original purpose of building new fire substations in rural western York County. But County Manager Jim Baker said the county can’t legally return the bond money.
When hearing hesitation from other council members, Winstead expressed disappointment, saying, “It boggles my mind” that the council wouldn’t support “the one thing” unifying the fire community.
David Jennings, chief of Flint Hill Fire Department, said the existing site on Ogden Road south of Rock Hill is aging, and a new fire training center is necessary to ensure quality training and meet the needs of the county’s growing fire service.
“You don’t have a greater responsibility than training firefighters,” Jennings said.