'Make or break' time for TOP Trails park
by Jim Smothers
Dec 08, 2013 | 1072 views |  0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s been a tumultuous year for TOP Trails park, which saw development come to a standstill when funds dried up, and one of the board members actually loaned the park enough money to cover expenses last summer. The contract with the park’s developer was severed by mutual agreement, and last month the board hired a new consultant to try to get development and operations on solid footing.

Board Chairman Tommy Spears said, “I think everybody is fully aware it’s make it or break it time.”

TOP Trails board members heard a presentation from their new consultant, Kelley Taft of the Kelley Group, at a work session Friday afternoon in which Taft reviewed the board’s position with its grants, and offered suggestions for cutting costs and improving grant reimbursement procedures.

She also gave TOP Trails board members a homework assignment for December: take a hard look at the park’s profit and loss statements for the past three months, where the money is being spent, and form their own ideas about where cuts need to be made. In addition to reducing costs, she said the board needs to work toward forming partnerships with volunteer groups, thinking about future projects and generating funds, safety and emergency plans.

Taft was hired as a consultant last month at on a six-month contract to help the board refine its operations and development plan, and had some general suggestions about how the park could save money on expenses related to personnel, security and its website, but said she needed to see an audit before she could complete work on a cash flow plan for 2014.

Her partner and husband Bart Taft, a civil engineer, reported on a meeting he and Park Director Wes Pope had with the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify what needed to be done to proceed with development of a campground and an access road to it. The next step in the process will be to hire a wildlife biologist to examine the proposed areas and submit a report detailing if and where the work can take place. Bids of $1,700 and $8,300 were quoted.

Part of the current park’s development plans call for the creation of at least one lake on the park property, but Pope said they appear to be in areas considered wetlands, which cannot be disturbed.

Kelley Taft said the board will need about $250,000 in matching funds to fully utilize grants that have already been awarded to the park. Board employee Richard Naff said the board has between $80,000 and $100,000 available. Pope said there is another $30,000 in in-kind services from the value of volunteer hours at the park that can be used in the match.

The board also used half of a $72,000 grant reimbursement payment to pay down its line of credit at Talladega’s First National Bank. That leaves the board with a little more than $100,000 available on the line of credit for use on development.

Taft emphasized the need to cut back on expenses until the park can generate revenue.

Spears said of Taft, “Just having someone with knowledge of the punch list is going to be invaluable.”

Board member Mack Ferguson commented that a period of nine or ten months when the board did not receive grant reimbursement checks just about killed the park, which had to spend proceeds from timber cutting to stay afloat. The timber money was intended to be used as the grant matching funds to see the park’s development continue.

Spears said the interruption in the grant funding was because there were “a lot of ifs, ands and buts about the whole situation that were questionable.”

Taft reminded board members, “You have $100,000 in the bank now, but if you do not reduce your spending, it’s not going to be there.”

She also suggested adopting a practice of filing grant reimbursement requests on a monthly basis.

The meeting had been called for two purposes, to hear Taft’s presentation, and to review a preliminary audit that was originally supposed to have been completed in September. Ferguson asked about the audit, and was told it still isn’t ready.

Dale Fowler of the Fowler Group had gotten permission from ADECA to extend his deadline until the end of November, but he still had not completed the job. Naff said he expected Fowler back at the park Monday. The delay in the audit is also holding up the appointment of two new board members by the Talladega City Council, which decided to wait until the audit was complete before appointing members to replace Ferguson and Spears, whose terms of service would have expired at the end of August.

The board’s next regular meeting is Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

Contact Jim Smothers at jsmothers@dailyhome.com