About 80 attend Houston SPLOST hearing

chwright@macon.comNovember 18, 2011 

PERRY -- Two residents made suggestions to Houston County leaders Thursday at the last of two public hearings about a proposed renewal of a Houston County special purpose local option sales tax.

Those suggestions including designating money to upgrade the county’s animal shelter and removing politicians’ “wants” from the list of projects to be paid for if the tax is approved by voters.

About 80 people gathered at the Houston County Courthouse to hear County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker and other city officials detail the proposed project list for the 2012 SPLOST renewal. Only about a dozen of those people don’t work for a government within the county, which Stalnaker said points to overwhelming support of the measure.

“What I’ve seen and heard from talking to people around the county -- many of them are pleased with what they are seeing in the proposal of these projects,” Stalnaker said after the meeting.

Residents will vote March 6 whether to approve the SPLOST, which was originally approved in 2001. The six-year SPLOST was renewed in 2006.

If approved, the penny sales tax would generate about $155 million, Stalnaker said, that would be used for projects in the unincorporated area of Houston County, Warner Robins, Perry and Centerville. If it passes, the county sales tax would remain at 7 percent.

At Thursday’s public hearing, Stalnaker once again provided detail from the proposed project list and allowed department heads and administrators from across the county to explain why those projects are needed. The first such hearing was held Tuesday, but no residents commented afterward.

After Thursday’s presentation, Perry resident Scott Griffin said he would like some funds to be allocated to animal shelters. He said he volunteers for the Perry animal shelter and has seen overcrowded and underfunded facilities.

“That’s the kind of thing we want to hear,” Stalnaker said. “The final project least has not been decided.”

Stalnaker said county leaders have until Nov. 28, when county commissioners plan to officially approve the call for the SPLOST, to finalize their project lists.

Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said he, too, would like an upgrade at the city shelter.

“I have to be honest; it’s not on the ‘needs list,’ ” Faircloth said. “It’s on the list. It’s just not high on the list.”

Walt Wood, a Perry resident who frequents government meetings, read a six-page prepared statement about the SPLOST. He called into question the notion that the proposed list includes only necessities.

He said he wonders whether $1 million for streetscape improvements along Russell Parkway, $8.1 million for extending Lake Joy Road and nearly $8.5 million for recreation projects in Warner Robins and Perry should be on the list at all.

“Personally, I cannot support such tax-and-spend mentality,” he said. “Should our officials rethink the proposed SPLOST expenditures and remove the ‘wants’ from the mix and dedicate those monies to the encroachment issue, upgrading public safety, roads and utility systems, then, yes, it would get my ‘yes’ vote,” Wood said.

Stalnaker said all wants have been “scrubbed from the list.”

“Everybody is entitled to their own opinions,” Stalnaker said. “Everything on the list needs to be completed.”

Wood, Stalnaker and several people in the room agreed encroachment at Robins Air Force Base is the top priority for the SPLOST money.

“If that base closes, we may all have to live in the Welcome Center the city of Warner Robins wants to build at I-75 and Russell (Parkway) -- that would be the only real need for such a center,” Wood said, of the project earmarked for $600,000.

Wood wondered if more funds are needed to address encroachment, but Stalnaker said the earmarked $7 million was adequate for the county’s contribution to the problem.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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