By Ashley Vansant

Helena council in ‘heated debate’

By Fred Guarino/Reporter Staff Writer

A resolution to borrow money to complete a recreational park prompted a heated debate between members of the Helena City Council at their Jan. 21 meeting.

The council passed a resolution to borrow $246,000 from the First National Bank of Shelby County to pay for lights at the new Helena Sports Complex on Ruffin Road.

The park, which is estimated to cost more than $1 million, will include four baseball fields, three soccer/football combination fields, eight tennis courts, a walking track and concession stand.

The resolution, the final item on the agenda, was not passed without conflict, however.

Councilmembers Paul DeCarlo and Mathew Pope initially raised questions about borrowing the money, an action recommended by Parks and Recreation director Brian Hayes.

Reading from a prewritten statement, Hayes told the council that the city’s original $800,000 allotment was &uot;not enough.&uot;

&uot;We need to quickly update our facilities,&uot; Hayes said.

Several audience members said they were tired of having to travel outside of Helena for their children to participate in youth sports.

Hayes reinforced the idea of immediate action, citing low interest rates as an additional reason to act quickly.

DeCarlo acknowledged the need to complete the park, which he called &uot;good for the city&uot; but objected to borrowing more money for the project.

&uot;I personally would like to see us use the money we’ve already got aside,&uot; DeCarlo said.

Pope also raised concerns about the loan.

&uot;I would like to see some projections about what kind of revenue could possibly be created from this,&uot; Pope said.

DeCarlo made a comparison of the city’s financial obligations for the park to those of a municipal golf course, frustrating other members of the council, particularly councilmember Lonny Bearden.

&uot;I don’t see how you could possibly compare what we’re trying to build for these kids to a golf course,&uot; Bearden said. &uot;I thought we were doing this for the kids.

&uot;If this breaks even, then I think we’ve done a good job.&uot;

Further dissension was created when the resolution was brought up for immediate consideration.

The council voted 5-1 in favor of an immediate vote, with DeCarlo opposing.

Mayor Charles &uot;Sonny&uot; Penhale called for a five-minute recess to consult city attorney Butch Ellis’ opinion after DeCarlo questioned whether the motion required unanimous consent.

Ellis said unanimous consent was not required because the resolution was not of a &uot;permanent nature.&uot;

The council then voted 5-0 to pass the resolution to borrow the necessary money, with DeCarlo abstaining.

&uot;Helena citizens should know that the city is financing more money while money allotted for the project exists,&uot; DeCarlo said by e-mail on Friday.

&uot;The city has a surplus that covers the additional cost but instead chooses to finance a loan. I wish they would show as much concern for the infrastructure and highway improvements.&uot;

When the budget surplus was mentioned at the council meeting, Penhale emphasized that some of that money must be put aside for upcoming grants in which the city would have to make a financial match in order to qualify.

He further noted that some of the money in the surplus could be transferred while some could not.

While debate remains on how the park should have been financed, Penhale and DeCarlo agree its completion is important for Helena residents.

&uot;Helena needs this park now,&uot; DeCarlo said. &uot;We have waited over four years and paid interest on a $1 million bond instead of building this park. The residents are tired of waiting and deserve the park.&uot;

Hayes said he is excited about the council’s decision and that the ballfields should be complete some time this year.

&uot;I think the youth of Helena will win,&uot; Hayes said