Alabama lawmaker raises questions over spending on Etowah County sports complex

Local News

ETOWAH COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama State Senator Andrew Jones is raising concerns over spending and oversight for a new sports complex near Rainbow City.

Plans for the future Etowah Mega Sports Complex have been in the works for several years. Funding comes from a handful of lodging taxes in the area and has been used to buy bonds for the project.

Jones is questioning the project costs as the board for the project waits on a judge to validate a bond for more money to complete the work.

“We’re concerned because this is public dollars, $6 million has been spent, the board has spent more than they had. All of the money on these fields, it doesn’t look like $6 million worth of project to me,” said Jones, who represents Etowah and Cherokee Counties.

When CBS 42 went by the project site, there was no active construction. Supplies and materials are scattered all over the property.

Jones said he’s received communication from an architecture firm’s representative suggesting the general contractor and subcontractors are waiting for additional funds and could consider a lawsuit in the future.

However, the chairman of the Etowah County Mega Sports Complex Authority said that there aren’t any issues.

“We have talked to the GC and there’s no need to run around saying the sky is falling. What we need is to get the validation signed on Friday and then move forward and get this project done,” said Ralph Burke.

Burke said leaders always planned to return to the bond market for additional funds.

“We always knew that when we got our original bond of $5.5 million, it probably was not going to cover the cost of construction and get us where we needed to be in phase one,” said Burke.

According to Burke, the authority receives around $480,000 each year from the various taxes. Money has been used to obtain bonds for funds that can be used on the project and paid back later as debt.

The authority has asked a judge to validate a bond with Stifel out of Montgomery for up to $10 million to complete the work. However, Burke told CBS 42 they are seeking $8.5 million; an additional $3 million from the original $5.5 million.

Burke blamed increased construction costs on rising labor and supply costs during the pandemic. He also said they encountered more than $1 million in unexpected expenditures.

“We had to replace all the soil, which was $315,000. After we replaced the soil, we had to do a lime stabilization process, $303,000. Then, Rainbow City utilities required us to pay one third of the cost of laying of the water line from Kinzie to Lindsey Road, which was another $314,000. Then we had to build a road outside the perimeter of the park so the cranes would not destroy the work that had already been done on the fields when they install the light poles and the lighting. Then, the paving was not exactly what we wanted in the original bid, so we had to totally redo that and that is another $345,000,” Burke said.

State Senator Jones questioned the need for a quick decision and hopes leaders will consider pressing pause to review the details on spending and progress.

Jones is also questioning the oversight from the board, citing a recent email that authority member Jeff Overstreet sent to other members.

“We need to make sure we are not throwing money down a hole. That public dollars are accounted for and that this $6 million and these debts that are being called and the threat of lawsuits, that all that is rectified before we give more tax dollars to this project,” said Jones.

Burke said if a judge validated the new bond, that work could be completed by the middle of February 2022.

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