BRADENTON -- At Manatee's BOCC meeting Tuesday, it appeared the boys of summer might soon have a play field north of the river again. The county says it is ready to go (well, almost). But there are just a few wrinkles to iron out, so the commission agreed to send County Commissioner Michael Gallen and Manatee Administrator Ed Hunzeker across the river to meet with Palmetto Mayor Shirley Grover Bryant to seal the deal. Does any of this sound familiar?
Rewind to a year ago -- it was back in February of 2012 when Palmetto Mayor Bryant took an $800,000 check to the Manatee BOCC hoping to reconfirm what seemed to be a forgotten pledge by the county: to bring baseball back to Palmetto. But Deputy County Attorney Bill Clague quickly called foul ball and persuaded Manatee County Commissioners to send Bryant home, check in hand.
The reason City of Palmetto Commissioners decided to send the Mayor south of the bridge and give Manatee the check, was to end the county's floundering wait game to see who would flinch first. The property the new fields are to be built on was acquired from a complicated land swap with the the Manatee School Board, who was developing a site for the new Palmetto Elementary school on the old Little League grounds.
Possible ground contamination from grapefruit grove operations was just one of the problems that dogged the project and pushed most of the weight onto the city, who had neither enough funds to rebuild new fields alone, nor felt totally responsible for the county actions that invited the predicament. But the county said then, and they just said again, they are waiting for Palmetto to send a contract and break ground.
On Tuesday, the BOCC passed Resolution 13-020, circumventing the $300,000 rule that requires private sector bids for any county project that exceeds that amount. The purpose is to free the use of county equipment and personnel to construct the fields. Manatee County's plan is to borrow from the General Fund and find a way to return the funds at a later date.
Mayor Bryant said she will have comment as soon as she gets all of the county's paper work and is sure of their intentions. As it now sits, the sound of the crack of the bat hopefully nears. County Administrator Hunziker said the design and ground breaking should be this year, and that the fields should be ready in 2014.
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