Supervisors give tentative nod to ball field memorandum

Published 12:46 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Without a completed usage plan, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors was hesitant to approve a new draft of a MOU relating to its promised financial contribution to the Joseph Luter Jr. sports complex.

After some expressions of frustration with the process, the Board ultimately voted to sign off on the Memorandum of Understanding with the town of Smithfield, with the caveat that it must also approve of the site’s completed use policies and procedures, which town and county parks and recreation staff are still working together to finalize.

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The Board agreed last year to contribute $250,000 overall to the sports complex project, roughly 6.25 percent of the $4 million endeavor.

“I’m not going to agree to a MOU until I know all the things that’s going to be stuffed in behind it,” said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty during the meeting, stating that there is still no clear outline for how the county will be able to utilize the facilities once they’re completed. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The new draft of the MOU before the Board eliminated mention of the Smithfield Recreation Association, a private non-profit which is slated to provide maintenance services for the sports complex in exchange for hosting its tournaments there and having first dibs on scheduling. SRA has also pledged $300,000 to the project through the sale of its current ballfields at Beale Park.

Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson also disagreed with signing the MOU based on the lack of a completed usage plan for the county to view.

“What are we signing? We’ve got no clue,” Jefferson said.

The MOU states that the impending Use Policies and Procedures “shall be developed, implemented and/or modified by the Town following good faith discussions and negotiations as to the terms contained therein with the County.”

The county’s use of the facilities is “subject to availability,” according to the MOU, and scheduling is done through the town.

“It’s not that we don’t trust anybody,” said Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree of not yet signing the MOU. “But you just don’t leave a blank check out there with our signature on it.”

The MOU has been a growing source of some tension between the two municipalities, the Board members deeming the first draft to be too vague and Smithfield Town Council member Milton Cook motioning in June to rescind the town’s draft and let the county submit its own MOU to the town for approval. The motion did not receive a second.

McCarty motioned Thursday to deny the MOU, citing a lack of clarity on the county’s utilization of the park.

McCarty also took issue with the structure of payments to use the ballpark, stating that it appeared that the county, despite its financial contribution, would have the same fee structure as someone who “doesn’t have any skin in the game.”

County Administrator Randy Keaton noted during the meeting, however, that the town and county were working on a discounted fee structure for the county.

Exactly what that discounted percentage would be has yet to be determined, according to Smithfield Parks and Recreation Director Amy Musick, who has been developing the policy with Isle of Wight Parks and Recreation Director David Smith.

The primary Level 1 user of the fields, according to a May draft of the use policy, will be SRA.

Acree suggested agreeing to the MOU pending the completion and approval of the usage policy.

Keaton said that such a motion would send the right message, noting that the town has already made a number of adjustments to the original draft of the policy at the county’s request.

“It is a brand-new facility, it’s a lot of unknowns,” said Keaton. “I’m sure they’re going to learn things as they start operating it.”

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice said that the ballfields would be a benefit to all localities involved and urged the supervisors to create a motion for the MOU that keeps the peace.

“We’ve been through it, we’ve massaged it, we said we were committed to the project,” said Grice. “I think we really need to have a motion where it is perceived as we are positively supporting the other governments who are in the community

“We’ve come a long way in developing and improving relationships, I would hate to see this as something that moves us negatively.”  {/mprestriction}