SPLOST would fix old Warner Robins needs

chwright@macon.comJanuary 29, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Travel time around Warner Robins has greatly improved with funds for road projects through a countywide sales tax, but it’s now time to turn focus on other capital needs, the mayor said.

“They’ve done a good job the last two SPLOSTs to build up our infrastructure,” said Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen. “This SPLOST really affects past, present and future plans for the city of Warner Robins.”

Warner Robins’ cut of a proposed $155 million special purpose local option sales tax renewal would be about $44.4 million. The list of projects primarily addresses buildings and previously underfunded projects.

Houston County voters will cast ballots on the referendum March 6. If passed, the county’s sales tax would remain at 7 percent, and the funds would be spent on capital projects throughout the county and its three cities.

Recreation department off sidelines

Shaheen said the city has put more of a focus on recreation in the proposed SPLOST than the previous two because the department has been neglected for years.

“Since the ’70s, funding for recreation has not kept pace with the growth of the city,” said Recreation Director James Dodson.

Warner Robins has earmarked about $7.8 million for recreation. Perry is the only other government to include funds in that category, with $900,000 to go to recreation.

At $5 million, the most costly item on the city’s recreation list is the latest version of a project that has been discussed for at least 17 years. The sports complex, currently approved to be built just northwest of the intersection of Russell Parkway and Ga. 247, was originally planned to be mostly softball fields for tournament play.

Dodson said new plans would wrap it into a recreation complex, which would include walking trails, playgrounds and administrative offices -- which are currently on Watson Boulevard next to City Hall. A location for the latest plan for the facility has not been selected, he said.

City Council would need to approve a new location, and councilmen had mixed views about such a discussion last year. Shaheen and Dodson have said the currently-approved location isn’t the most favorable, but some councilmen argue the location needs to be used because work already has been done on the site.

Two other new facilities would be built with recreation funds, including $550,000 for an amphitheater and $900,000 for Veteran’s Park and Vietnam Memorial Park. Neither project has concrete plans, but Shaheen said there is a lot of public interest in the latter.

“A lot of people have said, ‘It’s about time,’ ” Shaheen said.

Dodson said the SPLOST funds in recreation also will be spent to renovate existing facilities.

“Even with this SPLOST, it certainly won’t address all of the needs,” he said, noting no new facilities have been built in the newer south and west areas of the city.

Public safety: Number one

Though recreation was given more emphasis this year, Shaheen said public safety is “always the highest priority.” Public safety projects account for about 23 percent of the city’s projects on its proposed list. In total, they would cost about $10 million.

The Law Enforcement Center would receive about $4.5 million to complete its construction and furnishings, Shaheen said.

Construction began on the police headquarters building, at Watson Boulevard and North First Street, late last year. It was started with $5 million budgeted in the 2006 SPLOST. Shaheen said the funds weren’t enough for the structure that was needed. According to a fee schedule the Redevelopment Agency approved this month , construction on the new police headquarters will cost a maximum of $6.98 million, and the architecture fees will cost about $560,000.

“I don’t know how they came up with five million that last time around,” Shaheen said. “This time -- we had it down to a set number” from experts.

If the SPLOST passes, Shaheen said the funds would complete the building inside and outside.

“We don’t want to go to the (property) taxpayer to finish it,” he said, adding possible leftover funds could be used on future expansion of the building or renovating the current police station.

The public safety category also includes $960,000 for three trucks for the fire department, $500,000 for upgrades for the fire training facility, $300,000 for upgrades for the police training facility and $56,000 for thermal imaging cameras.

Spiffing up the old

Another big item on the city’s list is updates for City Hall and the neighboring Civic Center. Renovations and modifications, including new air conditioning, new facades and security features for the buildings, are earmarked for $4.7 million.

“It’s 40 years old,” Shaheen said of City Hall. Both buildings were built in 1972. “We just keep patching problems. This would give us the opportunity to provide a safe work environment for our employees and (one) that’s customer friendly.”

The SPLOST list also includes $6.6 million for water and sewer improvements. The majority, nearly $5.5 million, will be used to pay for a major overhaul of the system, which City Council has been discussing the past few months. The finance department is reviewing borrowing options for the work, which would increase the facility’s capacity.

About $8.1 million would be spent on road improvements. The projects include sidewalks throughout the city, and streetscaping along Russell Parkway and in Commercial Circle.

Shaheen said all of the SPLOST projects would provide better public safety, quality of life and job opportunities in Warner Robins.

“It’s critical to continue to move our city forward,” Shaheen said. “It helps take the burden off the general fund.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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