Thursday night is the last of seven “listening sessions” during which local residents can tell Macon and Bibb County officials in person what they think about a special purpose local option sales tax vote in November and what they’d like to see done with the money.
Seven sessions were scheduled, and the final one will be at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ board room at the Bibb County Courthouse, 601 Mulberry St.
The 1-cent increase, to 7 cents on the dollar, would raise an estimated $180 million. Government officials have talked about a wide range of recreation projects, stormwater improvements, a new Bibb County Courthouse and a Juvenile Court building.
The recently approved city and county deal on service delivery also hinges on voter approval of the SPLOST in a November 2011 vote.
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There’s been a mixed bag of reactions so far, according to some local officials doing the listening. At the first session May 19, about three dozen people expressed little concern for stormwater projects, but some suggested finishing the long-stalled Tubman African American Museum.
At the sixth meeting there were perhaps 50 people, including some who’ve been at the previous meetings, said Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart.
“Attendance is so-so, but a good mixture of the neighborhood,” he said.
Public safety has been among the things people would like to see funded, including some things like police pay to which SPLOST money can’t be applied, Hart said.
Macon City Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said, however, that some people have suggested using SPLOST revenue to pay off public debt, thus freeing up other, more flexible funding sources for public safety.
Infrastructure projects, especially repaving roads and drainage improvements, have been discussed a lot, Hart said.
Macon Councilman Tom Ellington said he’s been to two of the meetings so far, and picked up on some “distrust” of transportation-related projects. People have been unhappy with how previous SPLOST-funded projects have gone, he said.
“That’s been the biggest negative that I’ve heard,” Ellington said. “In terms of infrastructure and capital improvements, there did seem to be a feeling that we did need to deal with some long-term projects.”
Officials said that proposals to spend much of the money on recreation facilities are popular. There’s wide recognition that city and county facilities need work, Hart said.
“Recreation kind of tops the list,” Lucas agreed.
At the last few meetings, there has been acknowledgement that the stormwater system needs millions of dollars in work and not just in downtown Macon, she said.
“We have a crumbling storm drainage system,” Lucas said.
Councilman Virgil Watkins said road projects, recreation improvements and the Tubman museum were the “big three” he heard at a few sessions, but that several people also said they’d like to see a new animal shelter built with SPLOST money.
The possible inclusion of a new Bibb County Courthouse has provoked some opposition.
“At this point in time, we have not put anything on (a definitive project list), and (the courthouse) certainly is one we are going to have to talk about,” Hart said.
He said he’s heard people talking about the need for courtroom safety more than new buildings.
Overall public opinion on a SPLOST vote can’t be gauged until there’s a firm list of project proposals, Ellington said. That’s what he thinks is a major value of the listening sessions.
“I think that the bottom line is ... that this is good for getting feedback for generating a project list,” Ellington said.
Hart said Thursday’s meeting will include a summary of public comments so far, but that Bibb County plans to keep taking comments in a list on its website. That, combined with a detailed list of recreation needs, should be assembled into a final project list sometime in August, he said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.