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County eyes takeover of ball fields

The fate of the financially struggling $3 million property for softball in Drifton is expected to be learned next month.

Luzerne County might end up taking over the Jake Kislan ASA Softball Complex in the Drifton section of Hazle Township next year, commissioners said during Friday’s budget hearings.

Kislan said Friday that officials from the Amateur Softball Association of Pennsylvania will meet next month to decide if they want to sign over the $3 million property to the county. The complex has hosted hundreds of regional, state and national softball tournaments.

He had initially hoped the county would allocate about $30,000 a year toward maintenance so the facility could remain under the association’s ownership. However, the county concluded that annual maintenance stipends cannot be made to non-county facilities, Kislan said.

The association’s top priority will be guaranteeing that softball remains at the facility, Kislan said. The newly renovated facility includes 20 acres of land, a large building with a kitchen and four fields, he said.

“We won’t turn it over if they don’t keep softball there and keep it first-class,” Kislan said.

If an agreement does not materialize, the association will be forced to scale back bidding that must be done to land tournaments amid competition from other facilities, he said.

Kislan, who founded the facility nearly 25 years ago, said the complex lost about $18,000 this year.

While area hotels, restaurants and stores benefit greatly from tournament traffic, it’s tough for the facility itself to capture enough revenue to cover maintenance and tournament bidding, he said.

“When people come to the complex now, they want a quick hot dog and soda. Then they go out to eat at a local restaurant,” he said.

The subject of the softball complex came up Friday because county officials said they are not sure how much to budget for county recreation in 2007. The decision will hinge largely on a pending countywide recreation study that will recommend how much the county should get involved in regional recreation sites.

The county is already responsible for Moon Lake Park, Seven Tubs Natural Area and the Forty Fort recreation complex.

Commissioners also agreed to take over the Ashley Planes Park, which is scheduled to be constructed in 2007, county officials said Friday. County-owned riverfront recreation amenities are also in the works, including an amphitheater and river landing that will require maintenance and staff.

Andy Gegaris, Luzerne County’s environment and recreation chief, told commissioners that his only personnel request at the moment is a new maintenance worker who would be stationed at Moon Lake but report to other parks as needed.

In other budget business, the county Election Bureau will need an estimated $252,000 annually to cover maintenance costs associated with the new electronic voting machines. Bureau Director Leonard Piazza said some of the cost is being offset by savings from voting precinct consolidations.

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