Bibb County starting SPLOST upgrades, but commissioners want different recreation system

mstucka@macon.comJanuary 25, 2013 

Bibb County commissioners struggled Friday to find the most efficient way to invest in recreation centers they don’t really want.

At the heart of the problem are small, decades-old recreation centers located in neighborhoods that have become expensive to run but offer few amenities.

Voters approved a special purpose local option sales tax referendum -- with a project list backed unanimously by commissioners -- that ties spending to the small parks. During a work session Friday, commissioners supported a long-term move to fewer -- but bigger and better -- parks.

Parks and Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty told commissioners, “We’re kind of stuck in this time warp, if we’re looking at master planning of what we could have and should have, and our hands are tied to what we do have.”

Commissioner Bert Bivins said the county made a promise on how the SPLOST money would be spent.

“Well, what you have now is going to be enhanced in some way,” Bivins said. “If we go back on what we said, we have a problem.”

Commission Chairman Sam Hart said the law may allow some leeway, such as building a block away from a current park where there’s more land to work with.

The county is thinking about long-term maintenance costs, such as trying to replace several recreation center roofs at the same time to get a discount. Lighting upgrades could pay for themselves within several years. Many of the centers are getting scoreboards, pool renovations and air conditioning replacements.

Dougherty told The Telegraph that the small neighborhood parks were mostly built in the 1970s, without expensive air conditioning and with volunteers running many programs.

Now they’re pricier to run, and the county still doesn’t have modern amenities, such as a rock climbing wall or a competitive swimming pool.

A large regional park planned for “sub south” Bibb County, to be built with $8.2 million in SPLOST funds, could become a model for the county’s future. Commissioners decided Friday that they want a consultant to help them find property for that park.

In other cases, the SPLOST funding won’t cover all the work that community members want. Commissioners asked staffers to see whether the planned Filmore Thomas Recreation Area -- once known as Durr’s Lake -- has been titled to the city, and what kind of environmental and damming work would be needed to refill the lake.

Hart said the SPLOST money will have to go toward a first phase of work there, rather than complete all the projects sought.

“I’ve got some sense of what the community wants, and it’s beyond what we can do, to be honest,” Hart said Friday during the work session at Lake Tobesofkee’s Claystone Park.

The county is gearing up for other SPLOST pro­jects outside of recreation. Between bonds and direct SPLOST proceeds, the county has $21.4 million saved up. Some of that money will begin going out the door faster, with a groundbreaking for a Juvenile Court building expected in early March. The new courthouse, budgeted at $7 million, is one of the biggest single items the SPLOST will pay for.

Commissioners hoped Friday that construction there -- on a spot not far from downtown, near the Bibb County Law Enforcement Complex -- will make SPLOST progress more visible.

SPLOST-funded work also continues on Fire Station No. 109 on New Forsyth Road, while plans are advancing for another fire station.

Work on a new animal shelter may launch around August, with construction expected to last about 10 months. County officials are still trying to organize a long-discussed plan to tour several other animal shelters in Georgia to learn how to make Bibb County’s shelter work at its best.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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