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Study of rare bats' mating habits delayed Church Hill's park

Jeff Bobo • Updated May 18, 2017 at 11:53 AM

CHURCH HILL —  Church Hill's $1.6 million park development project off Holliston Mills Road was held up in 2016-17 until it could be determined if two rare species of bats were using the property to mate.

A recently completed study revealed that the bats have chosen to mate elsewhere, and the construction of a gymnasium and other projects planned at the park should be able to proceed in 2017-18.

As a result of the delay, the $1.6 million marked in Church Hill's 2016-17 fiscal year budget for the park's Phase 1 development will carry over into the city's 2017-18 budget.

That budget was approved on first reading by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday night.

City Recorder Mark Sandidge told the Times-News on Wednesday the city should soon be cleared to move forward with the park's Phase 1 projects, including construction of a gymnasium and parking lot, estimated to cost about $800,000; as well as building a new road into the park, and constructing a new public crossing over the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

"We had to get a biologist over there in just the past few weeks to go in and see if the bats were mating, if there was a habitat where those bats would be," Sandidge said. "That study was a requirement of our $500,000 LPRF (Local Parks Recreation Fund) state grant. It came back clear, so we should get our LPRF contract pretty soon."

Of the $1.6 million budgeted for development of the park, $1.1 million is local funding.

The long-term plan for the 65-acre property is to build a total of four gyms, a soccer field, two baseball fields, four softball fields, walking trails and two fenced playgrounds.

At the far eastern end of the property, there’s even a riverfront campground planned, but that would likely be among the last things completed. City leaders have said the park development could take 20 years or more to complete in phases.

Overall, the BMA is using $1.2 million in savings to balance the 2017-18 budget, including the $1.1 for the park.

But the tax rate will remain the same at $1.1034 per $100 of assessed property value.

The city's $4.911 million budget is projected to end the 2017-18 fiscal year with about $287,000 in reserve.

Church Hill's expenditures will be down in 2017-18 by about $550,000 from the current fiscal year, partly because the city purchased five new Chevy Tahoes for the police department in 2016-17.

There's also substantially less locally funded paving in the 2017-18 budget. The city will be paving two sections of Loyds Chapel Road and a section of Harper Avenue.

The only other major capital outlay project this coming fiscal year is paving Kingsport Press Road, although 80 percent of that $350,000 project is being paid by the state.

The local match for Kingsport Press Road paving is projected to cost $65,000 to $70,000.

The BMA also approved a 2 percent pay increase for city employees.

The budget was approved unanimously on first reading and will come up for final approval at the BMA’s June 20 meeting.                                                                      

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