The Warner Robins City Council on Monday agreed to a priority list for spending $20 million in sales tax dollars for recreation, with the list favoring basketball gyms over new ballfields.
After intense debate on the issue at the previous council meeting and in Monday’s pre-council meeting, the measure passed unanimously. The plan is a rough one with some uncertainties, but it follows a priority list outlined by Recreation Director Jarred Reneau.
Reneau had presented five options, including one “Cadillac” option of up to $32 million. Although the $20 million figure could mean that some of the projects on the priority list won’t get done, Reneau said after the meeting he was happy with the decision. When the council finally came to agreement in pre-council, it drew applause from the audience.
“This is awesome,” Reneau said. “We now have a plan of action. We have a road map to get started.”
Whether the projects toward the bottom of the list get done will depend on how economically the city can build the projects higher on the list. At the top of the priority list is a new recreation administrative building at Memorial Park along with a senior citizens facility and basketball gym.
Second on the list is a basketball gym at a tract on North Houston Road, possibly with up to four full-size basketball courts under one roof. The tract would also get a programs facility, which would be for classes such as ceramics.
Third and fourth on the list, respectively, are basketball gyms for Deloris Toliver Park and Tanner Park. New baseball/softball fields, which Reneau said the city doesn’t need at this time, are at the bottom of the list.
Councilman Mike Davis had lobbied for a previous plan to put up to seven baseball/softball fields at the Houston Road tract, with the aim of luring travel ball tournaments as an economic boost. He argued in a prolonged pre-council discussion for the city to commit to spending up to $25 million, but Councilman Tim Thomas said he did not support going over the amount city is getting in sales tax funds.
The city will have approximately $20 million in sales tax dollars dedicated to recreation, but the collection of $15 million of that will take place from 2018 to 2024. The city intends to borrow the money to get the projects started and pay it back as the tax comes in.
The council discussion centered almost entirely on money, not the priority list, and whether the city should borrow money over the amount it will get in sales tax funds. For a time it appeared the council might not be able to agreement, but they finally did.
The city finance department will now move toward borrowing the money through a bond issue, and Reneau will work with a construction manager, architect and engineer the city has already hired to get started with preliminary work. He said he expects construction will get started at least this year.