Macon’s Filmore Thomas Recreation Area may already be an early casualty of the rift between city and Bibb County officials about a proposed special purpose local option sales tax — regardless of whether the tax passes in July.
And it wouldn’t be the first time Durr’s Lake was a loser in a SPLOST debacle.
Bibb County residents defeated a proposed SPLOST in March 2004, which would have raised about $160 million to retire debts and upgrade parks and recreation. The $60 million earmarked in the 2004 SPLOST for recreation would have created a new park at Durr’s Lake, which was renamed for community leader Filmore Thomas in 2007, as well as a new softball complex at Central City Park, an Ocmulgee Heritage Trail extension and Fort Hawkins renovations. That SPLOST failed by fewer than 600 votes.
This year, Bibb County officials are pushing for a $183 million SPLOST to pay for an $83 million courthouse with the remaining money being used for other projects. In early talks, the city of Macon proposed using its share of the money, if the SPLOST passes, for projects such as upgrades to city parks, stormwater drainage improvements and a 800 megahertz radio system for public safety.
Among the specific projects city officials proposed: a new community center for the Filmore Thomas Recreation Area, the dredging of Durr’s Lake, new nature trails and a basketball court among other amenities. But Mayor Robert Reichert refused to sign off on a SPLOST agreement with the county without first getting a new service delivery agreement.
Reichert and City Council suggested the county wait until November for a vote on the SPLOST so the two governments have time to iron out a new service delivery agreement.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart has long contended the two issues are separate, and the county commissioners voted to move forward without the city for a SPLOST, placing the tax vote on a July 20 ballot. While the mayor said he isn’t going to campaign against the SPLOST, he has called the county’s move “ill-advised” and doesn’t appear interested in campaigning for the tax.
Even if the county’s SPLOST passes, the city wouldn’t get any money from it for almost three years because state law says the primary SPLOST project — the new courthouse — must be paid off first when there is not a SPLOST agreement in place beforehand.
Regardless, residents of the Bellevue neighborhood near the Filmore Thomas Recreation Area are tired of waiting.
A lifelong resident of Bellevue, Merritt Johnson heads the Bellevue Concerned Citizens Community Organization, which he took over from community leader Filmore Millard Thomas.
While he has been involved with Durr’s Lake since 1996 when he stepped in because of Thomas’ declining health, Johnson said the community group has been trying to revive the park since the 1970s. He’s seen one setback after the other.
“The Filmore Thomas Recreation Area is extremely important for the entire neighborhood,” he said, adding that it could be a crown jewel for the city. Aside from Councilmen Charles Jones and Larry Schlesinger, Johnson said he hasn’t gotten much help from the council.
He said the council is too large and that the members fight too much among themselves to see the project through.
City officials say they’re trying to find the money to complete the project, and until it comes through, they’re using resources already available to the city.
In 2008, the city applied for a $4 million Section 108 loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Part of that loan would be used for the Filmore Thomas Recreation Area.
Macon Economic and Community Development Director Wanzina Jackson said the city is still waiting to hear about its loan application.
Johnson said he has spoken with U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., about trying to find federal money to spur the project.
To aid Johnson’s effort, the mayor’s office is preparing a formal letter to Marshall asking for his help getting money to complete the Filmore Thomas Recreation Area.
Macon Public Works Director Richard Powell said he has crews working in and around Durr’s Lake.
But the Public Works crews have only been working at Durr’s Lake when they aren’t busy with other work.
If he had a crew working full time at Durr’s Lake, Powell said, the work could be done in about three weeks.
Then, he said, his workers could — with the help of the Department of Parks and Recreation — start on the nature trail that has been proposed for the park.
Other than the time his family rented the facility for a reunion, Johnson said he doesn’t have many fond memories of Durr’s Lake because it was always segregated.
“But that doesn’t take away from that beautiful property now and what it means to the community,” Thomas said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.