WR marks SPLOST funds for building upgrades

chwright@macon.comFebruary 19, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Does Warner Robins City Hall make an visual impact? Does the Civic Center even look like an auditorium in passing?

Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Gary Lee thinks not. That’s why he, with Mayor Chuck Shaheen’s final say, earmarked facade changes and internal upgrades to both buildings in a proposed special purpose local option sales tax.

“We like when people come to your town and want to tour your city hall,” Lee said. “When people go to Atlanta, they go and look at their city hall. They have tours.”

About $4.7 million for renovations and modifications of the two buildings is earmarked in a new category of the proposed 2012 SPLOST, which Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said aims to shift large capital improvement obligations to sales taxes.

“If we had the money now, we’d already be doing it,” Stalnaker said. “If you don’t do it at all, you’re having failures. And that’s unacceptable.”

County officials estimate a six-year renewal of the SPLOST would generate about $155 million for capital improvements throughout the county and its three cities. Early voting on the referendum has begun and will continue to March 2. Election day is March 6.

Spreading responsibility

About $18.9 million has been earmarked for general capital obligations, including projects for Warner Robins and unincorporated Houston County. Centerville and Perry officials said their portions of the potential SPLOST funds aren’t large enough to spread into the new category.

Shaheen described the new category as a catch-all for capital improvements that didn’t fit anywhere else, but Stalnaker said that’s not the case.

Stalnaker said, while it’s true that all projects in a SPLOST are capital improvements, general capital obligations are large projects that must be done to keep the governmental body operating, such as servicing air conditioning systems and public works vehicles.

“It may not be fancy stuff ... but it’s got to be done,” Stalnaker said.

He added that the new category could eventually shift the responsibility of those items from the property taxpayer to all county consumers and free up money in the general fund, from which those type of items historically have been paid.

The chairman said no promises have been made, but paying for general capital obligations with SPLOST funds may allow a millage rate reduction.

Renovations to City Hall, Civic Center

Warner Robins has budgeted about $9.4 million for general capital obligations, including the funds for City Hall and the Civic Center. Other projects include a $300,000 welcome center at Interstate 75 and Russell Parkway, $2.5 million for a city-wide internal network, and $1.8 million for public works vehicles.

Shaheen said International City Builders, the Warner Robins-based construction contractor on the Law Enforcement Center project, gave the city estimates for the work needed on City Hall and the Civic Center.

Documents obtained by The Telegraph, through an open records request, estimates about $1.9 million is needed for City Hall and about $1.8 million is needed for the Civic Center. That leaves about a $1 million cushion.

City purchasing agent Mark Baker and Lee said they understood additional money would be used to renovate the old police building for other purposes after the police department moves to the new Law Enforcement Center.

State regulations say any overages from a SPLOST project can be used on any needed capital improvement within that category. Baker said if the city had to spend the entire amount on City Hall and the Civic Center, the Civic Center could use as much as is available.

“You could pour all kinds of money into that building and still be able to use more,” he said.

The documents City Hall provided did not list the modifications intended for the buildings, but Baker and Lee described them on a tour last month.

In City Hall, modifications will include heating and cooling system upgrades, pouring new concrete in front of the building, removing a fountain and putting in new lights inside and out. The Civic Center modifications will include new auditorium seating, curtains and handicap accessibility updates.

Baker and Lee said one of the leading necessities is new walls. Each man glared at calcium deposits in the creases between the concrete blocks lining the Civic Center walls, visibly fighting the urge to pick away the small yellow globs.

“That costs money,” Baker said. “Every so often I have to get our people out here to scrape it off and repaint the whole wall. And then we have to do it again.”

Both buildings would receive face-lifts, Lee said. He said the facades would be redone to imitate the red brick and gray trimmed Law Enforcement Center, which is being constructed at North First Street and Watson Boulevard.

“We’re trying to create ‘the governmental corridor,’ ” Lee said, using the nickname he has given the area. “You’re trying to create a downtown area.”

Baker said both buildings are energy inefficient, and the modifications would also address those cost-saving measures.

Baker and Lee said the improvements are about ensuring the city gives off a good impression to visitors and the many motorists who visit Robins Air Force Base as they pass City Hall just down the street.

“If you got a dumpy-looking ’70s look, what big company would want to come here?” Lee asked.

In the county

Houston County has listed about $9.5 million for general capital obligations. They also include building modifications but focus more on public works equipment and vehicles, as well as information technology upgrades. About $750,000 was earmarked for roof replacements.

The most costly item on Houston’s general capital obligations list is about $1.2 million in library renovations and improvements. Stalnaker said the improvements would provide books, computers and other materials to the libraries within the Houston County Public Library system.

“None of the items in that category are vertical improvements, such as buildings,” he said.

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

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