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Nearly half of anti-sports complex petitioners not in city

Posted: September 2, 2011 5:09 p.m.
Updated: September 5, 2011 5:00 a.m.

An examination of a 36-page petition opposing Camden City Council’s proposal to use hospitality taxes to build a YMCA of Columbia-managed sports complex reveals that nearly half of those signing the petition live outside the city limits of Camden.

And that’s just fine with Helen Crolley, who lives outside the city herself near the airport at Woodward Field. Crolley is one of the “primary movers” of the petition, which was turned in to council at its Aug. 22 meeting by friend Mary Beth Schultz. Shultz is a Camden resident who lives in the Sunnyhill subdivision off S.C. 97.

“Helen … couldn’t talk that day, so our little group voted me to present it,” Shultz said.

Crolley said she worked on the petition with Dane Henderson, a Camden native who now lives in Columbia but still owns a Camden business.

“We collected some other people as we went along,” Crolley said. “I walked the streets in Camden and asked store owners to put them in downtown and Dane did Dusty Bend. Dr. Charles King (owner of Atlas Gym) helped us get them in at other fitness centers.”

When Shultz submitted the petition to council, she said it contained 724 signatures. There are actually 737. All but two of the pages are photocopies of a sheet titled “Petition to keep City of Camden, S.C from funding a Non-Profit YMCA.” Its purpose: “To bring attention to the City of Camden, S.C. as concerned citizens, taxpayers and business owners, we are against bringing a taxpayer-funded YMCA to Camden.” The petition then goes on to describe the project details and the petitioners concerns: “On May 19, 2011 the City announced it will partner with the YMCA of Columbia to open a recreation facility on the former site of Boylan-Haven-Mather Academy. The City of Camden has bought the property and plans to build and fund this project at no cost to the YMCA. We believe the City should in no way fund a project that will unfairly compete with local businesses and duplicate existing programs in our area.”

Each page of the petition has a place for 28 signatures. Some pages have as few as three signatures, others have 29, with the last signature in an otherwise blank space at the end of the page.

The C-I eliminated counting one page of 11 signatures after determining that another page contained the same 11 signatures plus four additional ones. The C-I also eliminated counting two additional signatures after finding those two individuals’ names had been duplicated (with different handwriting) on separate sheets.

The city of Camden is in negotiations with the YMCA of Columbia to manage the complex, should it be built. However, city officials continue to maintain that no agreements have been signed. Earlier this year, council set aside $350,000 from $585,000 in existing hospitality tax funds toward pre-construction efforts -- site evaluation, design and engineering. In August, one of the city’s legal advisers, Margaret Pope, concluded that, based on state law, hospitality taxes can be used to fund the proposed complex, even construction. A few days later, council voted, 3-1, to have City Manager Kevin Bronson enter into negotiations with JHS Architecture of Columbia to come up with a proposed design.

Of the 737 people who signed the petition, the C-I determined approximately 230 live at Camden addresses that are actually located outside the city limits. Some 50 other signatures belonged to people who provided no address, provided a post office box or whose address could not be reconciled as being in or out of the city of Camden. Another approximately 55 signatures belonged to people the C-I identified as living in Lugoff.

“I think they’re people who came into the city and saw them,” Crolley said when asked about the Lugoff signatures. “At first, we were only going to use city (residents), but when council decided to use the hospitality tax, we decided that anybody should sign it, and once the city asked the county to partner with them, I didn’t worry one iota who signed it. That certainly involves our total area.”

Crolley said some people called her and asked her for copies of the petition so they could take them to others interested in signing it.

The last two pages of the petition are print-outs of a page on a website called Change.org containing 37 “signatures.” Crolley said Henderson created the online petition. Of the people digitally signing that version of the petition, seven belonged to people from outside South Carolina -- one each from California, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington state.

Other Kershaw County communities represented aside from Lugoff included Bethune (1), Boykin (3), Cassatt (14), Elgin (14), Kershaw (15), Rembert (5), Ridgeway (4) and Westville (4). There were also signatures from people living in Bishopville (3), Columbia (9), Fort Mill (1) and Greenville (1).

In total, approximately 370 of the 737 signatures were from people living outside of the city of Camden.

“We did feel that 700 would give us a fairly good idea of how people felt,” Crolley said. “We are considering asking that we have a referendum -- put this whole thing before the voters -- but sometimes I feel it doesn’t matter what we do.

“We all live together, and we all have to get along, but I have an awful lot of feelings about using this amount of money to do this. I just don’t understand why so many questions are still unanswered.”

Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham said he felt more strongly about the total number of people listed on the petition than necessarily how many are from inside or outside the city.

“It’s important to hear and get information from all folks on what’s going on,” Graham said, “but if you put it in relation to the population of the county -- if you’re talking countywide, that’s just more than 1 percent. It’s, maybe, 10 percent if you’re talking about the city.”

Graham said that, in looking at the numbers, one should also look at the question or, in this case, the statement on the petition.

“If the question was, ‘Do we want a sports complex in the city of Camden,’ then the response might be different,” Graham said, adding that he noticed the people putting out the “YMCA” petition also circulated one concerning property reassessments.

The mayor also returned to an argument he has made before: that a majority of city of Camden voters voted in favor of a Nov. 2010 county ballot initiative for a 1 percent “Penny for Progress” tax. Overall, county voters defeated the measure, 11,591 to 9,376. Within the city limits, however, 60 percent of those Camden residents voting supported the proposal 1,310 to 1,116.

The list of proposed “Penny for Progress” projects included “new and expanded (recreation) facilities in Camden.”

“(They) voted for it, to add an additional tax. They said they were willing to take on an additional tax to have more amenities,” Graham said. “The thing about this is that we’re not asking for additional taxes. We’re saying we can build this amenity with what we have.”

By “what we have,” Graham said he means the hospitality tax, which is already in place. The city is also looking into creating a tax incremental funding, or TIF, district around the proposed sports complex site.

“Even if we create a TIF district, a person’s property taxes don’t change, (especially) if property values  don’t increase. That’s not a direct tax, like a millage increase, which is not what we’re trying to do,” Graham said.

Graham said he recently reread the city’s 2007 10-year Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). He said the most pertinent part of the CLUP begins on page 86, “Parks and Recreation Goals.” Graham specifically pointed out the following action items the city decided it should pursue:

• “Continually monitor and improve existing facilities as needed. Upgrade or replace the City Arena.”

• “Expand recreational programs to target after school students. Provide recreational alternatives to ‘roaming the streets and hanging out after school.’ Offer and promote such programs as Boys and Girls Clubs and other teen directed programs.”

• “Pursue funding to construct additional multi-use community parks for youth sports to keep up with the growing demand for such facilities and pursue the development of a YMCA in the community.”

Graham noted the CLUP was developed by a 20-member, council-appointed ad hoc committee of citizens before he began his campaign for office.

“I just think it’s interesting,” Graham said.

The next chance council has to discuss the proposed sports complex will be at Thursday’s 2:30 p.m. work session. The next opportunity for the public to speak on the matter will be during the public forum portion of council’s Sept. 13 6:30 p.m. meeting. All meetings are held on the second floor of Camden City Hall, 1000 Lyttleton St., and are open to the public.

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