What's that old consumer-alert saying - if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is?
The deal to give away county park land to a private organization has hit a snag - not because county officials are coming to their senses, but because the Family Y board is worried that parts of the deal may not be generous enough.
To recap, the proposal to give the Augusta Family Y a piece of land at the county's still-under-construction Blanchard Woods Park came up in October 2003, and it was quickly shot down.
Members of the county's Recreation Advisory Board were rightly worried that the Y would compete with programs run by the county, especially soccer.
The idea soon faded, thanks in large part to opposition from the Advisory Board's chairman, Bobby Waters. Sadly, eight months after the idea first surfaced, Waters died of a heart attack - and six months after that, County Commissioner Steve Brown, a former member of the Y's site-selection committee, said he called Y officials to report the county was ready to renew discussion of the idea because of a "change of heart."
That tragically poor choice of words preceded the county commissioners' decision to offer a deal to the Y, giving the private organization 14 prime acres at Blanchard Woods. The county and the Y have since been working out the details.
Now, however, it's the Y board that may be having a change of heart as they consider the county's deal.
If it all went according to plan, the Y would build a $7 million recreation project at the park, and operate it as a members-only facility. In return, the county would charge just a token $1 rent for the maximum-allowed 10-year lease. And, if the county doesn't renew, under the terms of the proposed contract the facility would revert to county ownership.
Not surprisingly, the Y is balking at such a deal; why pour millions into such a big facility if, in just 10 years, a different set of county commissioners could simply opt out of the contract and take over the property?
But guess what: These kinds of deals don't happen when a private business buys its own land, rather than relying on a government giveaway. If the Y wants property with no strings attached, 10 years or ever, let the members find their own land and buy it.
The Family Y is a wonderful organization, and no matter how its facility is eventually built in Columbia County, it will unquestionably be an asset to the community. But it is a basic matter of principle that land should not be paid for by taxpayers and then given away to a private entity.
Whether given land or buying property on its own, the Y will eventually come to Columbia County for the same reason other businesses are doing so: Because this is where the customers are. Like those businesses, the Y should be expected to make it on its own, without taxpayers subsidizing its move.
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