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FLAT ROCK — The Flat Rock Village Council, in its first public discussion reacting to a proposed park at the Highland Lake Golf Course property, indicated conditional support of the idea while raising questions about the yearly maintenance cost.
"I'm in favor of pursuing this," said Vice Mayor Nick Weedman. "The initial capital investment and initial development of the park can be handled within our existing financial structure."
The ongoing cost, he added, is another question and one that the council needs to try to answer. Council members focused on two main options for park maintenance: contracting with Henderson County or hiring a private contractor.
In a 41-page report it drafted after three months of research, public input and cost projections, the Highland Lake Park Exploratory Committee recommended that the Village Council buy the 66-acre golf course land and develop it for passive use in phases. Counting a purchase price estimated at about $1 million, the capital investment would be about $2.5 million. The committee was unable to get a quote from Henderson County on how much annual maintenance would cost, in part because the advisory panel could not say in detail what improvements would be on the grounds.
"I think that's one of the thing that really needs to be understood before we ever make a commitment because, it's not so much the development as it is the ongoing costs that will continue forever I guess," Weedman said.
The council has not ruled out a tax increase to cover the cost, suggesting an higher levy of 1 to 2 cents could be used. A 1-cent increase would raise about $81,000 a year, and would cost the owner of a $400,000 home $40 a year. The village has a fund balance of $4.9 million, which council members say could cover the purchase without the need for new taxes.
Mayor Bob Staton said the council has some time to research and deliberate. The council set a public meeting for 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, to look in more detail at the plans, the annual operating costs and options for handling that.
The golf course is preparing now for the spring-summer season, he added. The Village Council also will be pushed to an up or down vote on the purchase if it gets word, around June, that it will receive a $475,000 grant for the acquisition.
"We're not about to rush into a decision but we can't delay it a lot because they need to continue to operate the golf course," he said. "If we get approval of that grant application of almost $500,000, at that point we will have to have a contract and be close to a closing."
Councilman Jimmy Chandler questioned the park committee's recommendation for a new entrance and parking lots right away, at a cost of $434,000. That could wait, he suggested, until more is known about traffic.
Maybe not, Councilman Don Farr said. The state DOT could require the new entrance for safety reasons, he said.
Councilman Ron Davis praised the committee's report broadly but took issue with its suggestion that volunteers could run it.
"Flat Rock has enjoyed a wealth of volunteers," he said. "But volunteers can only go so far in my opinion and we need to think about that carefully, particularly if we set up some sort of non-profit foundation."
In a 1,600-word letter articulating opposition to the park, Flat Rock resident Bob Demartini, a retired business owner, said the idea was a "want and not a need."
Weedman said that's clearly the case.
He added, "If we're trying to do things to improve the Village of Flat Rock, is this one of the things that can do it, and to me that answer is yes."