FACT: Having served for quite a few years on the city of Camden Parks and Streets Commission (now Parks and Trees Commission), the Camden Tree Foundation, Historic Camden Foundation Board, Kershaw County Historical Society Board and Camden City Council and having participated in the development of the 2007 -2017 City of Camden Comprehensive Plan, and now having read a good deal of the draft comprehensive plan being presented to Camden City Council, I have to question the wisdom of adding yet another multi-acreage and very expensive project in both construction and maintenance and potential liability to the city’s inventory of recreational areas. I believe I have requisite experience to question.
FACT: Table 7-9, Parks and Outdoor Recreational Facilities in Camden, of the 2018-2028 Comprehensive Plan shows there are 337.52 total acres available for recreational activities of various types. As I recall, the city of Camden parks inventory exceeded the nationwide average acreage per capita. Other recreational areas nearby Camden are mentioned in the plan, such as the Polo Field, Springdale Training Facility, the County Aquatic Park, Goodale State Park, Wateree Lake and River complex, Lynches River, S.C. Equine Park and the new Camden Tennis Center.
FACT: Absent from the plan is the discussion of the Kershaw County waterfront park on the west side of the Wateree River -- just up river from the site of the city’s riverfront park project, two similar projects. Nor is there mention of the proposed water splash pad, estimated to cost the city about $100,000 plus costs to maintain and staff the facility. Further, with regard to trails in and around Camden as presented in the plan’s Table 7-10 Trails in Camden and Table 7-11 Recommended Bikeways, Walkways and Greenways in Camden, there are 10.67 miles of trails. This does not even consider all of the many miles of sidewalks and other available pathways throughout all of the city’s public spaces. When taken in context with Kershaw County’s parks inventory, there certainly appears to be more than enough public parks and open spaces to satisfy about every recreational need if taken advantage of. And, oh, let’s not forget the Kershaw County School District’s facilities.
Camden and its immediate vicinity are not lacking for recreational opportunities for residents and tourists alike, whether the opportunities are passive or not.
FACT: All of these parks need to be maintained at costs to the taxpayer. Where is the staff to do so and at what cost and what revenue source? The city of Camden certainly is not staffed to do so now and over the past several years there has been a noticeable decline in maintenance to sustain those parks that were renovated several years ago at the cost of several hundreds of thousands of dollars that were funded by taxes, private donations and grant funds.
FACT: Now we come to an unalterable fact which was reported in the Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, edition of the C-I. The city of Camden is embarking upon a “24- acre Wateree Riverfront Environmental Park, as soon as a year from now,” the site of which will be a former waste water treatment plant lagoon. According to the article, a $500,000 Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant, facilitated by the U. S. National Park Service (NPS), is to be matched with $628,252 of city funds (presumably most of which will be from Hospitality Tax) -- a project costing at least $1,128,252. That is the estimated cost of Phase I. So what is the total estimated cost of the project? Someone should know and so should the taxpayers! The article went on to say that “it will be administered through S. C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT). What will be administered -- the grant funding, the completed project, or what? SCPRT in recent memory cannot administer the state’s extensive park system currently in place because of budget constraints. But wait, yet another fact, the article quoted the city manager as saying “the city actually allocated $800,000 as matching funds with the intent of seeking additional grant funding for the project.”
What are the facts regarding the total project costs?
Fact: The article further states that in the spring of 2016 a series of public hearings were held to get input. I attended these meetings along with a number of citizens, including representatives of the Kershaw County Soil and Water Conservation District. The facilitator from the NPS presented several examples of land reclamation projects from communities around the country, many dissimilar to Camden/Kershaw County. As I recall, much of the discussions were about improving the abandoned facility for primary use as a wildlife refuge with limited amenities to begin with. Following these meetings and up to the time that the project was made public in the C-I, no formal contact was made by the city and its consultant to receive input and assistance from the conservation district, which could have brought input and assistance from SCDNR and many conservation groups.
Fact: Once again, the city of Camden and Kershaw County are going off on tangents and not cooperating on projects. Many years ago, there was a functioning, effective Camden-Kershaw Recreation Commission, but that has since been abandoned in its original form and function. Further, several years ago, when I served on city council as the creation of a tourism office was being formulated, I believe it was agreed that the city would staff tourism for the entire county and the county would be the parks and recreation functioning arm of the county. Now, once again, it seems that there are duplications of effort, as evidenced by these activities.
Final Fact: Most of the funding for projects of this type is derived from the 2 percent Hospitality Tax imposed on all prepared food and beverages purchased within the city limits of Camden. This money has been used to fund various projects, as well as being pledged to bond issues, all in the name of tourism. This tax, which has become almost a Pandora’s Box, has been used by all local entities that enacted such tax for work that remotely resembles the original legislative intent of the S.C. General Assembly. It has been recently “liberalized” by the General Assembly so as to allow anything that can be loosely tied to tourism. A question begs to be answered -- when will the goose stop laying the golden egg?
Heaven help us if Kershaw County Council enacts that tax.