By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
A proposed venture between the city and the Gainesville Independent School District may link the city’s economic development corporation to a baseball field now in development on campus grounds.
Tuesday’s city council meeting included first reading of a consideration that the Gainesville Economic Development Corporation (GEDC) offers $200,000 toward the school district’s new baseball facility, set to be called “Locke Field” in tribute to the city-owned field located near Interstate 35 and scheduled for demolition during the coming year.
On Feb. 18, Gainesville ISD officials approved a contract with Heartland Park and Recreation to construct a baseball field at a total cost of $810,000. The field project is set to begin during March, weather permitting.
GEDC board members approved an expense of $200,000 of corporation funds during a recent meeting. And city approval, still pending, would allow the GEDC to pass along that sum and “adopt” the new field as an economic development project, providing the school district with roughly 25 percent of the field’s cost.
Tuesday’s discussion yielded dissent. Councilmember Vince Rippy questioned the propriety of using city funds to help fund a school — a separate taxing entity.
“With their tax base, why can they not afford their own athletic facility?” Rippy said. “Why are the city and GEDC participating in meeting their budget?”
Councilmember Ray Nichols argued that the funding would be wise as an investment.
“I think one of the biggest indicators of growth in a community is the school district, and I think the city and GEDC have to be a partner in that progress,” he said. “I think it helps the overall impact since we have new people coming into our community and looking at our facilities.”
Mayor Jim Goldsworthy explained that the GEDC’s $200,000 has been on standby for three years, earmarked for a park project or development related to an athletic field.
He also said financial coordination between the city and the school, in the case of Gainesville, is very fitting.
“It’s hand-in-glove,” he said. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in north Texas and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, and we have to get folks to live in our community. It’s a benefit to our school.”
Goldsworthy added that a question often asked from incoming residents to city officials is, “What’s the school system like?”
Gainesville officials, he said, currently have an opportunity to help keep their school district at a competitive standard.
“It’s simply entities working together for the betterment of the community,” Goldsworthy said.
Rippy said he understood the “betterment” concept, but added that from a pragmatic standpoint, cities and schools should remain separate entities that tend to their own financial needs.
“It sounds good,” he said about the investment. “But when the city needs to do something, we’re in the business of appropriating taxes to do what we need to do.”
Rippy also said the GEDC offering would seem to be a controversial first for the City of Gainesville: one local taxing system using its own funds to enrich another.
GEDC Executive Director Kent Sharp corrected this. He said in 2008, the GEDC arranged a contribution of $250,000 toward the North Central Texas College Career and Technology Center, a sum that provided that facility with “a wealth” of new equipment.
“In my opinion, there is a precedent for it,” he said to Rippy. “But I hear what you’re saying.”
A second reading of the consideration is set for March 19.