Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Sportsplex beats Fletcher library, nonprofits for Rescue Plan money

Graphic shows how Henderson County had appropriated ARP money before Monday night. At their regular meeting commissioners voted to spend $2 million to develop a sports complex. [HENDERSON COUNTY MANAGER'S OFFICE]

Choosing recreation programming over requests from the nonprofit community and the Fletcher Town Council for American Rescue Plan money, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday to spend a big chunk of its remaining pandemic-relief money on a sports complex.

“One of the things I’ve learned here is what a great unifier recreation is,” Commissioner Daniel Andreotta said. A major sportsplex has the potential for “serving the most people — the very young, the senior adults and everybody in between.”

The board voted to appropriate the balance that remained of the county’s $10 million so-called standard allowance of its $22.8 million rescue plan grant — the bucket of money that is less restrictive than the ARP-eligible category. Board Chair Bill Lapsley pushed unsuccessfully for a plan to set aside $1.5 million of the ARP cash for a new $4 million county library branch in Fletcher.

Vice Chair Rebecca McCall noted that the board had already committed $3.1 million in ARP money for a new EMS station in Fletcher.

“My concern is this funding should be spread across the county as much as we can manage to do so,” she said.

Andreotta seconded that.

“It’s hard to beat this broad-brush category of recreation” for pleasing the most constituents of all ages across the county, he said. “It keeps people here. I would definitely lean wholeheartedly and only at this moment to something in the recreation category. A multi-use, multi-sport complex is great. I would not only support that, I would be excited about it.”

The board’s vote to spend $2,032,830 on recreation meant that a joint request for $2 million the Community Foundation and United Way made on behalf of the nonprofit community won’t be granted, nor will the Fletcher Town Council’s years-long appeal for a county appropriation to help build a new library on town-owned property next to the town hall.

Asked after the meeting how he felt about not getting his library, Fletcher Mayor Preston Blakely said, “It’s not my library. It’s the county’s library.”

McCall said she hoped the vote would not be perceived as a lack of support for nonprofits.

“We do support them,” she said. “I think it’s important that we note that reporting (of ARP spending) is very critical.” A one-time capital expense like a sportsplex is “where you can keep up with every dime spent, which we have done a good job on. Designating an open-ended $2 million is very loose as far as reporting goes and that just makes me nervous.”

McCray Benson, the Community Foundation’s president, and Denise Cumbee Long, the United Way’s executive director, appealed to commissioners in July to appropriate $2 million to nonprofit agencies that deliver services in the areas of domestic violence, hunger, housing and child care.

“We tried to put out the information that was available and it was their decision as to what they would do with these funds,” Benson said Tuesday. “We feel like the nonprofits serve this community at a very high level and we felt like it would make sense but obviously they chose a different path.” 

Long also defended the nonprofits’ request.

“The commissioners’ decision is disappointing,” she said in a statement. “The ARP funds directed to local communities are intended to help people recover from the impact of the pandemic. Our nonprofit agencies in Henderson County have stepped up to meet increased demand from people who have seen their situations worsened by the pandemic. Those effects are continuing. The ARP funds gave us a unique one-time opportunity to support nonprofits meeting real needs. It is too bad that no portion of the Henderson County ARP funds will be used for this purpose.”

Commissioners had heard passionate appeals in recent months from the youth soccer community and the fast-growing pickleball nation for spending money on playing fields and racket courts. In response, commissioners directed staff to hunt for a 20- to 30-acre site that could be developed for sports fields. Lapsley noted on Monday night that he and McCall had visited some prospective properties and also checked out an $8 million sportsplex in Shelby and commissioners’ vote Monday night seemed to signal the green light for moving ahead on a new recreation facility.

Under Lapsley’s plan for the Fletcher library, commissioners would have appropriated $1.5 million in rescue plan money plus a $1 million no-strings-attached grant from the N.C. General Assembly to match Fletcher’s contribution of $1.5 million — creating $4 million in cash for the new library.

Spending the balance of the standard allowance money leaves the county with around $1.5 million remaining in the ARP-eligible category, which has much stricter guidelines and far fewer permitted projects. Commissioners made no decision Monday night how to spend that.