Fort Mill Times

Everybody’s wondering about weekends – who should get to play?

A close up of the Keck & Wood Inc. illustration shows the entrance to the proposed park from Charlotte Highway, south of Crowders Creek Elementary School, near Crowders Creek in Lake Wylie.
A close up of the Keck & Wood Inc. illustration shows the entrance to the proposed park from Charlotte Highway, south of Crowders Creek Elementary School, near Crowders Creek in Lake Wylie. LAKE WYLIE SPORTSPLEX COMMITTEE

For some residents, the cost of a new sports complex in Lake Wylie is a concern. Maybe, some said, they should pay a little more.

That Lake Wylie needs a park was pretty much consensus at an Aug. 24 public meeting at Oakridge Middle School. Yet residents differed on how to get there and whether the park should be indebted to a county hospitality tax contribution mandating tournament play.

“I’m totally in support of the park,” said resident Ray Stevens. “What I’m saying is , I don’t like the restrictions. That is a big restriction.”

On Nov. 8, Lake Wylie voters will decide whether tax themselves by creating a special tax district to fund construction and maintenance of a park along Crowders Creek, in the Paddlers Cove area. The tax would provide about $400,000 annually in operations money and up to $7 million toward construction. If the tax vote succeeds, York County will kick in another $2.45 million in hospitality tax money.

The county hospitality tax is a 2 percent charge on food and drink in unincorporated areas like Lake Wylie. Funds must be used to generate tourism. The pitch for hospitality tax funding revolved around the park being rented out for tournaments on weekends. Some residents say they want to know how many weekends those tournaments would keep local teams off the fields.

“I really think you’ve got a negative thing here where people are coming in here and renting the fields, when we are paying the taxes and we’re not going to be able to use it,” one resident told the park committee.

Originally the park planning committee asked for $8.5 million in hospitality tax funding. They requested less, then were given only half that amount. Stevens questions why, if only about a quarter of funding now comes from that source, as much emphasis still should be placed on tournaments.

“Why not just tax for the whole thing?” he said.

Ron Domurat, who leads the park committee, said it’s “definitely an option” to refuse the H-tax money and fund the entire park through the new tax district. He even asked for a show of hands Wednesday, though that group remained a minority. The bigger issue may be more details on how play is scheduled for the park - which, as of yet, hasn’t been determined.

“We have the ability to put a tournament there every weekend,” Domurat said. “What I’m hearing is we don’t want to. We don’t have to if we don’t want to.”

Resident Don Long sees value in taking the county up on its approved money.

“I don't see any reason not to take the offer,” he said. “You're talking about $2.45 million. I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to take it.”

LeAnn Lowrey, who serves on the park committee, said it took years of work getting York County to pitch in something and the hospitality tax money could be a now-or-never proposition.

“I believe it will be the last time,” she said. “If we as a community don’t support this, that money will go somewhere else.”

Perry Johnston, who advocated for recreation spending in his time on York County Council and continues working with the park group, said tournaments can have an opposite impact from the one bothering some residents. Tournament revenue could help offset the local tax, he said, and local families who now travel to watch their children play could get the same experience at home.

“This is giving us an ability to stay home for tournaments,” Johnston said.

Domurat said he expects some type of reservation system to be used, but doesn’t yet know how it will operate or how tournament requests will be weighted against recreation play for Lake Wylie Athletic Association or other local programs. A five-citizen board would be set up to make those and other decisions if the tax district passes, similar to the fire tax district set up for Bethel Volunteer Fire Department voters approved five years ago.

So far, the tournament vs. recreation usage isn’t a dead end issue for voters. Stevens still wants a park.

“My concern is the organized sports,” he said. “Can they reserve those spots in advance so we can get our weekend play in?”

His father Mike Stevens has the same concerns, wanting to see his grandchildren have access to the facilities on weekends.

“They need this park,” Mike Stevens said. “I’m just concerned about how it gets used. I would vote for the park anyway, because we need it.”

One resident who has a harder time voting for the park may represent another obstacle for the planning group. John Howard would like a park, perhaps smaller than the current proposal, but doesn’t want it at the expense of new tax money - especially if he isn’t sure how much.

“We’re getting a lot of fuzzy numbers,” he said.

The tax group provided an estimate of the new tax costing residents $16 per year, per $100,000 in tax value. Non-residential taxpayers — businesses and rental units — would pay $24 per $100,000. The county finance director who provided those figures has since retired, and Domurat said his group will reach out to the new director to get an update.

Howard said his calculations put the numbers about $4 higher each.

Other concerns are the five-citizen tax board that will set its millage rate, and property values will change with the next county revaluation.

“I’m concerned with the cost of this thing and not knowing, and how thing thing could escalate,” Howard said.

Planners say they are taking a risk holding the vote during a presidential election when turnout should be high. Some voters who know little of the park plan could see it simply as a new tax request, they say, which is why they are holding community information events heading toward November.

Plenty of residents on Wednesday didn’t need much convincing.

“I'm very much in favor of the park,” Long said. “To me there's no question that we need the park. The site is good. It's central to the population of the community.”

Long looks at the issue not just in dollars and cents, but in community value.

“I hope people will vote for it,” he said. “It's something we need as a community.”

John Marks: 803-831-8166

Want to know more?

Two more public meetings are planned on the Lake Wylie park proposal at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 and Oct. 26 at Oakridge Middle School.