WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) – Back in 2006, Wilmington voters went to the polls and approved a $35.5 million recreation bond, $700,000 of which was designed to go towards building a natatorium.
The entire project was project to cost anywhere from $10 to $20 million, plus thousands more for maintenance. The city expected private donors and community organizations to join the effort, but that never materialized. Now, five years later, the plan to build a natatorium is essentially a dead issue.
But, because of the broad language in the bond order, Wilmington City Council, led by Mayor Bill Saffo, voted Tuesday night to spend the $700,000 now on finishing the cross-city trail, even though voters approved it for a pool.
Here what the bond order said:
“The Board of Commissioners of the County of New Hanover has ascertained and hereby determines that it is necessary to provide parks and recreation facilities, including the acquisition and development of land, the construction and development of athletic fields, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and recreation centers, and the provision of related library, museum and beach improvements and including the acquisition and installation of machinery and equipment therefor, and to pay capital costs of such improvements.
Mayor Saffo say helping complete the cross-city trail fits that bill.
Wilmington City Council member Kevin O’Grady agrees with Saffo.
“This project can’t work if there’s no private money,” said O’Grady. “Just like many other projects we sort of alluded to tonight that make the city a better place to live a natatorium will make it a better place to live. It may attract businesses, but it can’t be done just with tax money. It’s got to be done with private participation.”
The bond does not specifically say anything about “trails” in it’s text so WWAY asked Wilmington City Attorney Carolyn Johnson to explain how the Wilmington City Council can legally decide to use the money for the cross-city trail. Johnson declined to answer any questions we had for her and told us “she was too tired” to talk specifics about the bond.
We then went to Saffo to ask him to decifer what category the trail falls in for the bond. He said Johnson was the only one that could answer our legal questions about the specifics of the bond text.