Langley, SC – Millions of your tax dollars are being poured into Langley Pond.
Members of the Aiken County Council say they want to clean up the recreation center and make it a dream destination for rowing events, but critics say they have yet to see how this will bring money to Aiken County.
In November, a leak in the Langley Dam brought new attention to the Langley Pond and recreation center.
This is an issue Aiken County has been working to get on top of for 8 months, but with repairs comes big plans to renovate the entire facility, making it “more appealing” to visitors.
Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian says the pond is known nationwide for the rowing events that take place here. “We’ve got money in sales tax to approve the rowing course, to do a start-finish line, a scoring tower, things like that, that will make the rowing events, or the venue, even more attractive to bigger rowing events, which obviously has economy impact,” Killian explained.
We asked what kind of economic impact this improvement would have on the community. Killian says he can’t say what kind of money the project could bring in.
Wayne Jones is a member of the Accommodation Tax Board (A-Tax Board) in Aiken County. He says it scares him that the County Administrator can not give a definitive amount of how much money the project will bring to Aiken County.
The Accommodation Tax Board advises the Aiken County Council on how to spend their sales tax dollars, but Council members have the final say.
“I personally have a problem spending money that’s not mine, that belongs to the taxpayers of the county, on a project that can not be justified in any way shape, form, or fashion,” Jones said.
Jones says the lack of hotels in the Aiken County area reduces the number of “heads on beds”,” a term used to determine the amount of people spending the night in Aiken hotels during an event. “How the money was going to be returned to the citizens of Aiken County was never explained,” Jones says.
WJBF News Channel 6 did some digging and found that in the past 10 years more than $3.3 million in sales tax money alone, has been spent or set aside for Langley Pond.
Killian says the first priority is to fix the Dam, then they will use the money left over to improve the park.
Jones claims that even with this money set aside, County Council has come to the A-Tax Board on several occasions, asking for more money to promote the pond.
“Where is the A-Tax dollars being returned to the county when somebody does an event at Langley Pond? There’s no hotel or motel anywhere nearby,” Jones worries.
Jones is concerned that visitors who come to town for events at Langley Pond are staying in Augusta, North Augusta, or the city of Aiken. None of those give any money back to the Aiken County A-Tax Fund.
Killian says it’s not all about the returned money. “It’s really an investment into the community, not just for a tax or for parks and recreation, but the quality of life,” Killian explained.
Earlier this year, the state approved a $250,000 grant for Langley Pond, but only if it could be matched by Aiken County. Killian says County Council had the $250,000 sitting in a fund and the board decided the best decision was to match the grant. This grant brings in $500,000 to go toward the pond. “When you are encouraged to apply for a grant for a specific purpose doesn’t make a lot of sense to say, ‘thanks, but no thanks,,” Killian explained.
Jones says the A-Tax Board didn’t recommend this grant and still has problems with where the money is going.
Killian says it’s Council’s decision to make. “Council knew about some of the issues that the accommodation folks had, or concerns the accommodations folks had, but as they’ve told you they’re an advisory group, they make recommendations. Council is the ultimate decision maker on what that money is spent on.”
Killian says there is not an exact date on when the project will be complete. He says it depends on the final design as it is approved by the regulatory agencies. Bigger fixes will take a longer time.
Don’t miss our Margaret-Ann Carters WJBF EXTRA report on Langley Dam Park Thursday, July 23rd on WJBF News Channel 6 at 6:00 p.m.