Joyce Marie Taylor
On April 16, the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve putting in an application to the Hamilton County Economic Development Authority for funds for a new batting cage at the recreation center.
Hamilton County Commissioner Josh Smith has been trying to get an indoor batting cage constructed at the recreation center and it has been on the county commission agenda for a while. At the April 16 meeting of the commissioners, Smith asked that it stay on the agenda because he didn’t yet have the pricing available to give to the Hamilton County Economic Development Authority. Engineer Greg Bailey, Smith said, has already provided the plans to him, so when he gets the pricing, then the board can submit all the documents together to the development authority.
Smith explained that through a state program, in order to host a major Little League tournament at the rec center field, which he said happens about once every three years, certain criteria need to be met, which includes having hotels available for out of town guests, as well as indoor batting cages, which Smith said was the most important. Hamilton County, he said, is up for tournament consideration next year.
Chairman Randy Ogburn asked County Coordinator Danny Johnson if he had spoken to Susan Ramsey of the development authority about the matter and whether or not it met the criteria for funding.
“I did not get an answer, other than to submit the application and the board will make a decision,” said Johnson.
Smith said about three years ago Hamilton County hosted a 16-team tournament and, although it was difficult to say exactly how many people came for the event because there were no ticket sales, he heard from local restaurants that business was brisk throughout that weekend.
Ogburn asked Smith if other similar tournaments could be held at the rec center aside from just the Little League and Smith said yes. He referenced Lake City and all the crowds who go there regularly for tournaments.
“What do the people who are looking for jobs in Hamilton County do on the weekends and the weeks between this once every three years event?” asked resident Bob Burton. “I think our priorities are very mixed up in trying to put economic development in Hamilton County. I’m all for baseball. I don’t play, but if that’s what you enjoy, that’s great. I’m more interested in using common sense and getting some people some real jobs, like I used to build, like this town used to be before it was a ghost town...before big money came in and pushed all the little guys to the side.”
Commissioner Buster Oxendine stated, “I was the one who brought up the issue about whether we needed it nor not. My position still hasn’t changed. I don’t think it’s needed. We have a batting cage across the street.”
Oxendine said a year ago they asked for new carpeting and netting and it was a disaster. He reiterated that his personal opinion was that it isn’t needed and that he didn’t feel comfortable asking the economic development board to fund it.
“The teams that are going to come to a tournament, I feel like they’re going to come anyway,” said Oxendine. “I don’t think we could build a fine enough batting cage to draw what Columbia County draws. That’s just my opinion. I know it may add points to our score to the people that evaluate it, but to ask the economic development to pay for it with those funds, I can’t agree with that, because I don’t think that’s what those funds are intended for.”
Commissioner Beth Burnam said if the economic development board is willing to provide the funding then she is in favor of it.
“There are very few things in Jasper that do draw people from other counties into the town,” said Burnam. “If we can get tournaments, or if we can get a lot of activities going at the rec department, then I’m all for it. This is a very nice facility like Mr. Oxendine said. It may be no guarantee that it will help us accomplish anything more than what we’re doing, but I will ultimately leave that decision up to economic development.”
Bailey said he based his plans on a facility he did in Lake City and the building costs were about $18,000 just for the metal building. Added to that would be costs for a concrete floor and about $5,000 in lighting.
The board voted 4-1 to have Johnson get the completed application over to the economic development authority. Oxendine voted against the motion.
Johnson said if he can get the application to the economic development board by May 15, it will be heard in June.
“It’s quite a lengthy application,” said Johnson.