There is no public bowling alley in Columbia County. Bowlers would be thrilled if there were.
The county's Recreation Department doesn't offer bowling, but the county owns a big piece of land on Blanchard Road. Wouldn't it be great if the county gave a really good deal on that property so a private company could build a bowling alley?
What if you're a skater? Wouldn't it be better if the county instead gave cheap land to a private company to build a skating rink? Or how about a good deal on land to attract another movie theater, or a restaurant, or a bookstore?
Starts to sound absurd, doesn't it? Fact is, county taxpayers shouldn't be in the business of buying land and giving it to private business. Yet that's just what is about to happen.
Commissioners on Tuesday plan to give a cut-rate lease to the Family Y for 14 acres at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans. The Y would then build a $7 million, 50,000 square foot facility, including an aquatic center, for use by its members.
It's a great deal for the Y. The tax-exempt organization has been searching for a Columbia County campus. Land is pretty expensive around here, and taxpayers just happen to own 150 acres on Blanchard Road.
But should taxpayers, who already pay to operate a recreation department, be asked to subsidize a private organization's program?
The county already provides financial assistance to the private Little League organization. The rationale is that Little League's baseball program is complementary to the county's, which consistently has all the kids it can handle.
That help, along with the deal to bring the World Disc Golf Association headquarters to Wildwood Park, has put the county's foot in the privatization door. A deal to subsidize the Family Y would throw the door wide open.
If Columbia County taxpayers want to end recreation services and turn them over to private companies to operate, it's certainly possible.
Is that where all this is headed? Or is this just a special deal to benefit one well-connected organization? (Commissioner Steve Brown, the prime mover of the deal, is the former site-selection chairman for the Y.)
Make no mistake: The Family Y is a wonderful corporate citizen " but it's still a private organization. This deal would put their facility squarely on public property, yet it would be off-limits to members of the public who bought that property unless they pay a Y membership fee.
At least a bowling alley would pay taxes.
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