Bibb commission bans smoking in parks, recreation centers

rmanley@macon.comOctober 16, 2012 

The Bibb County Commission approved a measure Tuesday that bans smoking in all parks and recreation centers.

The smoking ban would not affect Lake Tobesofkee, where patrons camp and often stay overnight.

The ban was proposed after recreation director Dale “Doc” Dougherty said during committee meetings Tuesday that he saw people smoking in the bleachers at Freedom Park during Little League games and realized that no smoking policy existed.

“If people want to smoke, they can get in their cars and go somewhere else,” said Commissioner Joe Allen. “Don’t do it around kids.”

Commissioner Bert Bivins voted against the proposal in committee and at Tuesday night’s commission meeting, suggesting that parks include designated smoking areas.

“I’d like to take time to take a more discriminating look at it,” Bivins said.

Commissioner Elmo Richardson voted for the ban but expressed some reluctance.

“I think that maybe that’s going a little too far with this,” he said, saying that some parks are so large that smokers could find isolated areas to light up. “I agree smoking around youth activities should be banned.”

Daugherty said after the committee meeting that the policy breaks no new ground, noting that smoking is banned or at least restricted in most parks and recreation facilities around the country.

“If anything, we’re a little behind,” he said.

The subject resurfaced later in the day during a presentation by Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Executive Director Pam Carswell, who called cigarette butts the community’s “No. 1 litter problem.”

The commission also adopted new policies and guidelines for renting park and recreation facilities. The county took over management of the city’s recreation centers July 1 as part of a service delivery strategy.

The new policies include a more detailed rental agreement and new park hours that are now from dawn to dusk. Rental fees are set at $100 for an 8-hour period, rather than the smaller fees for shorter hours that required paying staff overtime to hang around to clean up.

The policies also prohibit the use of inflatable water slides. “Bounce house” inflatables are still allowed, but users must pay a $50 fee and provide their own generators for electricity to keep them inflated.

“Disc jockey systems” will not be permitted, but “limited music” is allowed through battery-powered players. The policies also put more restrictions on “special events” such as carnivals, parades, block parties and concerts.

Also Tuesday, the commission authorized County Attorney Virgil Adams to structure a purchase option for a county-owned building at 3575 Fulton Mill Road that would allow River Edge Behavioral Health Center to pursue a grant to build housing for patients.

The property is tied up in a 1990 bond issue that has since been refunded twice to get better interest rates. The Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority has control of the property and “leases” it to the county, with bond payments designated as lease payments.

The county could pay off the bonds connected to the property for about $400,000, but the bond agreement is worded to prohibit paying off the bonds early. However, Adams said he believes a way around the issue might be to have River Edge pay the county the owed amount, which could be held for the lease payments, as long as the authority signs off.

The deal also gets tricky in that the bonds prevent the building from being sold for less than fair market value. The building is estimated to be worth about $2 million.

River Edge CEO Shannon Harvey had asked that the building be given to her organization, after it’s paid some $1.5 million for upgrades and about $2.9 million in rent over the years. Commissioners noted Tuesday that another loophole exists in that River Edge provides a service that the county might otherwise be required to provide.

In other business, the commission:

• Approved a citizens committee’s recommendation of county-owned property on Fulton Mill Road as the site for the county’s new animal shelter. The commission also voted to name Dunwody Beeland Architects/Tevis Architects as the architects for the $3 million shelter.

Allen, who said he has fielded phone calls from residents concerned about the Fulton Mill Road site, plans to hold a town hall meeting to address those concerns.

• Appointed attorney Nancy Terrill to the Civil Service Board.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.

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