TIMES EDITORIAL: County should have taken free land

Posted on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm

It is decisions like the one made last week by the Coffee County Commission to reject 107 acres of free land to use for recreation that make us shake our heads.

Then again we shouldn’t be surprised.

It’s ironic that the same commission that voted to spend $20 million to erect a palatial jail on 40-plus acres of land to incarcerate more of our troubled and misled citizens voted to reject an opportunity for recreation to benefit its citizens and help shape its youth to potentially avoid that brand new jailhouse.

Some, if not most, of the arguments made by opposing commissioners were either poorly thought through or half-hearted.

One commissioner argued that a recreation facility – keep in mind a recreation facility could consist of anything from a walking trail to baseball fields or a driving range – would compete with Manchester and Tullahoma’s athletic programs. This train of thought quickly derails. No matter what facility could have been built on the land, are we to assume the county wouldn’t work hand-in-hand with Manchester and Tullahoma to use the area for co-op purposes? Perhaps that commissioner doesn’t understand the way local leagues work. Organizations such as Little League, youth soccer or youth football do not belong to any one city – they simply play their games there.

Another commissioner argued that the revenue would only benefit Manchester. While it is true that Manchester would benefit, commissioners and Coffee County citizens alike are glad to ride Manchester’s coattails when it comes to parks and recreation, using open park facilities at will while the county doesn’t make contributions to the recreation budget.

We do understand that funding such a venture could be burdensome to the taxpayer. But we aren’t suggesting that the county should have taken the land and immediately broken ground on a full-sized dome. The only stipulation in the deed offered by Sam McAllister that put a time constraint on the county was that progress begin within one year.

But that limitation did not define progress and it did not dictate what should be built. The county would have been wise to accept the free land and quickly formed a committee to look for development options. The worst case scenario for the county at that point would have been the land reverting back to McAllister after one year if progress wasn’t made without a single penny of taxpayer dollars spent.

But who is to say the county couldn’t have built a handful of backstops to use as baseball and softball practice fields and opened the remainder for local football and softball teams to hold practices. Perhaps a few volleyball nets would have been appropriate? Unlike some projects, this didn’t have to be the Rolls Royce of recreation facilities.

The local soccer league worked to raise over $100,000 to match a state grant to begin building Manchester’s soon-to-be soccer complex. The county is eligible to apply for grants, too.

The county fumbled this decision – right onto the turf of a football field that could have been.

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