Bibb balking at helping with ballfield

A ditch runs through it.

That’s the basic problem with Liberty United Methodist Church’s plan to bring the first recreational fields to south Bibb County.

The church turned to the county for help, offering in return to allow the public and athletic leagues to use the fields.

But commissioners worry they can’t close up the ditch without opening up a Pandora’s box.

Commissioners fear if they help Liberty United Methodist clear the way for a baseball field, they could be deluged with calls from other property owners wanting their drainage ditches piped. But if the county can make it work with the church — with a bill of about $163,000 — Bibb County may ironically find a way to save tax money.

Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said such partnerships could become a model for the county, stretching tax money much further. Edwards thinks helping the church wouldn’t set a bad and expensive precedent.

“I’m sure there’s lots of ditches over all of Bibb County, but I doubt seriously that there are others like this one, where the need is being addressed to provide recreation in an underserved area,” Edwards said.

But a counterpart on the board of commissioners, Elmo Richardson, says plenty of other nonprofit organizations could step up with expensive requests.

“It’d be all over the county,” he said. “We’d be inundated. It just really opens up way, way too much. It’s a church, and I know what they’re trying to do is good for that community. But at the same time, number one, we don’t have the funds to pipe it, and number two, our current policy doesn’t allow us to do that.”

During their meeting last week, commissioners seemed to like the idea of partnering with the Houston Road church and getting recreational fields in south Bibb. But the holdup was the piping.

County Engineer Ken Sheets said about 350 acres drains water through the ditch on the church’s property. Church representative Terrel Green said the church would need about $32,000 worth of piping — four 48-inch wide pipes, each 330 feet long.

“We plan to add a soccer field behind the baseball if we can get the green stuff,” he told commissioners.

But the commissioners are worried about their own money, because the labor and equipment to install the pipes would cost more than the pipes themselves.

Commissioners, worried a partnership planned to save money could instead cost money if more ditches need to be filled in, are thinking of a Plan B.

The drainage system routing through the church’s property leads to 50 county-owned acres, less than half of which became a drainage pond. The rest could become fields, Sheets said.

“There’s some areas around the detention pond, once the dirt’s moved, we could use for ballfields,” he said.

Commissioner Bert Bivins, whose district includes the church and detention pond, thinks the county’s best option is to build on the county-owned land behind the church.

“I think that’s the most practical solution that won’t set a precedent we can’t live up to,” he said.

The county-owned land is far behind Heard Elementary School, with access off Liberty Church Road.

County officials are trying to determine the next step. County government laborers might be able to lower installation costs.

Bibb County already faced a tough budget crunch this year.

More money for recreation could be sought in a special purpose local option sales tax vote planned for next year.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.