Our View: Ballpark estimates not enough

Talk about your ballpark estimates. Gwinnett County was way off base, announcing this week that it will dip into the county reserve funds to pay for overruns and upgrades of the stadium it is building to house the Gwinnett Braves minor league baseball team.

Commissioners approved taking $19 million from reserve funds, a 50 percent increase to the budget for construction of the stadium, located on Buford Drive. The money will pay for upgrades to the design, including architectural improvements and improvements that will allow the stadium to use treated wastewater for irrigation and toilets.

In today's economy we all understand that prices are spiraling and costs increasing. But going over budget by 50 percent is unacceptable. You can be sure that Gwinnett Braves players who miss their target by that much won't be around long.

We expect more due diligence from our County Commission. Richard Tucker, board chairman of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau, says "this happens every day in the real estate business" but it seems to happen much more in the public sector.

Because of the need to increase the budget, the commissioners are drawing from the reserve fund at a time when the county is tightening its belt. The county has implemented a hiring freeze, has asked police officers to not leave their cars idling and has switched schedules at some offices to make for four-day work weeks.

We don't believe the commissioners care more about baseball than they do the county government, but with the way they've gone about getting this stadium it's justifiable that some residents feel hoodwinked. The commissioners have turned a baseball stadium into a political football.

Though there have been bumps in the road on the way to getting the stadium built, we still believe the stadium and the Gwinnett Braves are an important addition to the county. Bert Nasuti, the commissioner who was the major impetus behind Gwinnett landing the team, insists the investment is worth it.

But at what cost? That's what Gwinnett taxpayers are asking. And the answer, for now, is $59 million, or $19 million more than expected.

The commissioners should have a better grasp of those numbers. Like the players who are coming to Gwinnett next year, we expect them to keep their eyes on the ball.

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