N’hampton pitches plan to politicians

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 28, 2005

JACKSON – In a reconvened meeting of the Northampton County Commissioners here Monday, representatives from the General Assembly pledged their support for a proposed recreation center.

With enlarged plans draped over easels on both sides of the room, Commissioners listened to comments from Representative Michael Wray and Senator Robert Holloman along with Dollie Burwell who attended on behalf of Congressman G.K. Butterfield.

&uot;The Congressman has been working hard on this project,&uot; Burwell said, adding that despite his advocacy there might be some added challenges.

&uot;The President’s budget zeroed out any community development funds,&uot; she said, &uot;but that doesn’t mean it will eliminate the possibility of you being able to seek other funds from the government.&uot;

Although she wasn’t certain, Burwell said she would check to see if the cut would extend beyond community development block grant funds.

For that reason, she advised Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins to consider leveraging the county for funding by using a health and human services angle as opposed to that of economic development.

The proposed recreation center will be completed in five phases. It includes a baseball field, three softball fields, two soccer/football fields, five-six tennis courts, a picnic and concessions area, restrooms and a gazebo (Phase I).

Additionally, it features an administrative building (4,400 sq feet- Phase II) a gymnasium/weight room, indoor walking track, indoor swimming pool and support facility (35,200 total sq. ft-Phase III) two handball/racquetball courts, classrooms and multi-purpose hall (13,300 sq ft-Phase IV) and a museum, library, community theatre and music facility (24,200 sq ft-Phase V).

&uot;Most programs are self supporting and operate from registration fees,&uot; said Northampton County Recreation Director James Roberts, who projects the same method of operation with the proposed facility which will was originally estimated for completion by 2017.

Representative Wray, who recently visited a YMCA in Vance County, said it opened his eyes to see the number of Vance citizens involved in programs at the facility.

&uot;It was a very nice facility,&uot; he said, making light of the outflow of young people to Roanoke Rapids in search of similar recreational activities and programs. &uot;I think Northampton County needs something like this to keep the kids off the street and I would love to see that take place here.&uot;

Senator Holloman also expressed his support for the endeavor and commended the county for its leadership.

&uot;I am most impressed with what you are trying to do for the county with regard to economic development,&uot; he said, &uot;This is another milestone for us.&uot;

Being a pastor as well as having worked for the Department of Corrections for in excess of 10 years, Holloman spoke to the importance of keeping young people engaged in activities.

&uot;I believe in prevention of crime,&uot; he said, &uot;and if we can keep young people in recreational activities and out of the courtroom, we have done a good thing.&uot;

Holloman said, despite likely opposition from some members of his constituency, a bill was currently in the process of being discussed to increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

&uot;I’m not going to pull any punches,&uot; he said, &uot;if we have to place higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to continue to fund programs like this, we’re going to do it.&uot;

He continued, &uot;Nobody likes taxes, but alcohol and cigarettes are items you don’t have to buy and we’re not looking to increase personal taxes or anything like that.&uot;

&uot;Even if the county cannot secure funds from the federal government, you may be able to solicit help from Billy Ray Hall at the Rural Center,&uot; he said.

Members of the Recreation Steering Committee were also present at the meeting and reaffirmed their support for the proposed facility citing its many benefits to the community.

&uot;We’re not asking for the federal government to support the operation of the facility, we just need the seed money so we can get started,&uot; said Elaine Grant, who serves as Chairman of the Recreation Finance Committee.

According to Grant, if the county were able to secure federal money towards the project, it would be eligible to receive subsequent matching funds from other sources.

&uot;The citizens of Northampton are hard working people, but we’re not too proud to ask for help when we need it,&uot; said Floyd Grant of the Recreation Steering Committee.

&uot;When people look at this area, they can see we’ve taken a big hit to our peanut and tobacco programs, but there’s no reason to duck out and not pursue this effort,&uot; said Recreation Steering Committee Chairman Merrell Gay. &uot;We can do it.&uot;

Robert Wilkins of the Northampton County Planning Board agreed. &uot;Working with the planning board, we get to see a lot of things,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve been around the county from one end to the other and there is no where for people to go for recreation.&uot;

Wilkins said when the project first came to the table he thought it was the best thing he had seen in 20 years.

&uot;Talk to the kids and the grandkids, they’ll tell you there’s nothing for them to do. This is one project we need. I think it would get a lot of the kids off the streets and keep them from visiting our courthouses,&uot; Wilkins said.

&uot;I sense a challenge,&uot; Jenkins said, &uot;but in the spirit of teamwork and growth and this project, we need to continue working with our representatives to let them know our needs and work together towards a solution, especially when so much rides on federal appropriation.&uot;

Northampton County Chairwoman Virginia Spruill thanked the representatives for their persistence and dedication stating, &uot;Your service and advocacy mean a lot to the citizens of this county.&uot;