Talks on new penny sales tax in Bibb to begin in July

The Bibb County Commission plans to schedule a July work session to discuss projects that could be funded by a new penny sales tax.

Commission Chairman Sam Hart said Tuesday he would tell Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and City Council that they may want to do the same.

“I think it is probably time to start thinking about it, to start a discussion,” Hart said.

Commissioners plan to call for a special purpose local option sales tax to pay for courthouse renovation and construction costs. But the penny tax is expected to raise more money than the project would cost, so officials are looking for other projects eligible for the funds.

Commissioner Lonzy Edwards already has some ideas, including storm water upgrades and recreation improvements.

“There’s nothing in south Bibb County,” he said, noting that a recreation facility in east Bibb needs repairs and the Rosa Jackson Community Center doesn’t have a pool.

City officials likely have their own ideas as well.

“We’re gonna need the cooperation of everyone,” Hart said. “We’re hoping some of their priorities are very similar to what ours are.”

The earliest a referendum for a new penny tax could go before voters is November, but realistically, Hart said, one won’t occur until July 2010.

Atlanta-based Cooper Carry and Macon-based Brittain, Thompson, Bray, Brown Inc., the architects selected to conduct a needs assessment of the current courthouse, have said they would need about four months to complete the study, Hart said.

Until that’s done and cost estimates are complete, the commission won’t know how much money it will need for the courthouse nor how much money will be left for other projects.

A previous estimate, which is several years old, put the cost of building a new courthouse at about $80 million. Some commissioners now say the study that produced that estimate was flawed and may overstate the county’s future judicial needs.

The last SPLOST, approved in 2005, expired March 31 and raised more than $105 million.

The current sales tax rate is 6 percent.

Also Tuesday:

Ÿ The commission approved new camping rules and rates at Claystone and Arrowhead parks at Lake Tobesofkee.

The new rules limit camping to 14 consecutive nights at any one site. After that time, campers must move to another site.

On waterfront sites, campers are limited to a total of seven nights within a 30-day period.

The rule is to prevent people from “homesteading” on any one site, said Doug Furney, the lake’s director.

Previously, campers could stay for 30 consecutive nights, then they could petition to stay longer, he said.

“The longer a group stays on one site, the longer things are accumulated,” he said. “We want a camping area, not a trailer park.”

The rule also gives more people the opportunity to use some of the better camp sites, Furney said.

Rate changes range from no change for tent camping at Claystone to a $7 increase for recreational vehicle camping at Arrowhead.

The new rules and rates are consistent with those at state parks, Furney said. They will go into effect when Arrowhead opens, which is expected to be about Aug. 1.

Ÿ The Engineering Committee discussed a program that would allow for the installation of speed tables on residential streets in the county. It is the same proposal Macon City Council currently is discussing for city streets.

Speed tables are traffic calming devices that are broader and flatter than speed bumps.

The program would allow residents to ask for speed tables to be put on their streets if at least 70 percent of homeowners on the street agree with the request. If approved, residents would be responsible for the cost of installation plus major maintenance and repair.

The proposal was deferred to give commissioners and the county attorney more time to review the ordinance.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.