Warner Robins council looks to move forward on new fire station, recreation

wcrenshaw@macon.comApril 2, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- At its annual planning retreat Wednesday, City Council seemed determined to begin moving forward on several long-awaited projects, including a new fire station and recreation complex.

Other priorities include cleaning up blighted areas, developing parks and creating an overall recreation plan.

The recreation projects can be funded with sales tax dollars, but the new fire station might be the trickiest issue because it involves the ongoing cost of personnel to staff it. Chief Financial Officer Bill Hart estimated the 10 firefighters needed would cost $600,000 annually with salary and benefits.

“There’s a possibility you are going to have to raise the millage rate,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do without being able to pay for it.”

However, Mayor Randy Toms, a former firefighter, said fire Chief Robert Singletary has a plan to fund the positions that won’t require a tax increase.

Part of that plan includes a potential partnership with Houston County, in which the county could help fund personnel at the station, to be located on Ga. 96 at Cartwright Drive, and the station could respond to areas outside the city limits.

Whether the county will agree is a big if, Toms acknowledged after the meeting, but even without the county he thought the city could still come up with the funding without raising taxes.

The widening of Ga. 96 is expected to generate much growth along the road, Toms said, and that would create revenue that could pay for expenses.

Regardless, there seemed to be sentiment to go forward with construction, which is expected to take about a year. Singletary said the station is much needed because response times to that area are 12 to 20 minutes, and that could be cut by more than half with the new station. Those few minutes, he said, can be the difference in whether a home is saved or destroyed.

“I think we need to break ground on that fire station because I think there is a need there,” he said.

Councilman Chuck Shaheen said the city is required to build the station because it was listed in the special purpose local option sales tax, so council might as well move forward.

Singletary said the physical size of Warner Robins has doubled in the past 15 years, but the number of stations has remained the same.

The facilitator for the meeting was Langford Holbrook of the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute for Government. He asked council members to name their top goals.

Councilman Mike Davis said he would like the city to get started developing plans for a proposed recreation complex on Houston Road at Elberta Road.

“The first thing we need to do is decide what we want to do and get an architect,” he said. “We need to get with the local community to see what they want in a complex.”

Councilman Keith Lauritsen said he would like for the city to develop a comprehensive plan for recreation, including construction of the complex and development of parks.

Councilman Tim Thomas said he would like to see recreation plans focus on youth ages 12-18 because that seems to be the age when they begin going in the wrong direction.

Councilman Clifford Holmes, who represents the North Davis Drive area, said he would like to see the city do more to clean up blight in that area. He specifically mentioned Tabor Drive, Bargain Road and Shi Street.

“If we clean those areas up over there, we are going to open up some room for growth,” he said.

Toms said after the meeting he expects residents could see work on some of the projects beginning very soon. Development of a park at Walker Pond, including a walking trail around it, could begin within two months.

Holbrook said coming up with a list of priorities is easy, but the important thing is follow through and especially funding.

“In the end, every bit of work that y’all do really comes through that budget,” he said. “What you decide to put in the budget is your priorities.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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