Members of the Morehead City Council are enjoying immensely the luxuries of office. And spending taxpayer money.
Because at their Nov. 12 meeting they approved $840,000 to remodel the 22-year-old Shevans Park between Evans Street and Shepard streets.
A cursory walk-through says this is a poor expenditure of taxpayer money right now.
Our Nov. 15 story by staff writer Elise Clouser noted all positives of remodeling the park such as “design reminiscent of the existing castle structure constructed of composite wood, combined with plastic and other materials to last longer than traditional wood, offering a 50-year warranty on composite material to weather the area’s harsh coastal conditions … amenities like a climbable lighthouse, a boat structure geared toward younger children a new swing set with American with Disabilities Act-accessible swings.”
The council vote was unanimous, 4-0, no disagreement. Absent was Councilman Harvey Walker, defeated Nov. 5 for reelection.
Then last Sunday in a letter to the editor, David Horton, who formerly served on the council and who was elected to Mr. Walker’s seat and will take a seat during the council’s next meeting Dec. 12, alerted us to facts of the expenditure, of which we were unaware. Among things he said:
The city did not go through a competitive bid process. No objective assessment was done on the condition of the playground. An assessment of the playground done in March 2017 by Leather and Associates, the same company that is selling Morehead City the new playground, did not recommend tearing down the park. Consequently, the playground has never been closed.
Mr. Horton also said:
“Three reputable area builders who did a site visit for me said the structure is structurally in good condition and could be rehabilitated for a fraction of the cost to replace. The argument that it is at the end of its useful life is untrue and there is no objective study that supports that position. I asked the council and manager to delay the decision to replace the playground, in light of this new information, until the city has an objective, fair evaluation done on the park. They refused.”
Estimated playground costs is $820,000; playground $420,000; splash pad is $274,000; poured rubber surface $105,000; demolition of the existing playground $21,000.
The city, said Ms. Clouser’s story, has “appropriated $300,000 in the current fiscal year for park renovation,” and Nov. 12 it “approved a $370,000 budget transfer for the remaining amount, minus a $150,000 contribution from the Big Rock Foundation.” And the council directed [city manager Ryan] Eggleston “to aggressively pursue fundraising opportunities to reduce the amount the city has to pay out of pocket for the park.”
Pointing out that on this same night the council approved $840,000 for Shevans Park, Mr. Horton ended his letter saying:
“On this same night the council voted to award a contract for the new city hall. It was significantly over budget and the cost is around $6.5 million. Our streets seem to be in poor condition and from what I’ve seen our budget is tight even after the 8.5% increase and the water and sewer rate increases. As a conservative businessman, I do not believe we can spend money like this without further tax increases. …”
Giving taxpayers an 8.5% tax increase in 2019, two council members, both reelected — Bill Taylor and Diane Warrender — favored a higher increase. There is talk of another 5.5% tax increase. Which would give Morehead City taxpayers a 14% increase in property taxes in two years.
A sign posted at Shevans Park says: “Please pardon our construction. Beginning the week of Dec. 2, this playground will close and we will be moving forward with the construction of a brand new playground at this location. We anticipate reopening on or before May 1, 2010. … If you have any questions about this project or during construction please call Morehead City Parks & Recreation at 252-726-5083, Ext. 1.”
Is Shevans Park remodel truly necessary?
Is it a solution in search of a problem?
It’s wonderful to live in affluence. However, for those who question what the Morehead City Council is doing — city hall refused to release their phone numbers which should be public — they are as follows:
George Ballou: 241-0410
David Horton: 504-1966 (not yet seated)
Keri McCann: 499-0890
Bill Taylor 725-3585
Diane Warrender 732-6972.
Agreeing with Mr. Horton that the city should seek competitive bids on remodeling Shevans Park, we also agree that it should be paused right now.