Macon City Council members have already set their main general priorities for using a proposed special purpose local option sales tax. Now they’re winnowing specifics on their top priority: recreation.
A council committee has said recreation, stormwater infrastructure and public safety communications should top the list of major projects to be funded by the SPLOST, which will be up for voters’ approval Nov. 8. Finishing the Tubman African American Museum, aiding the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, rebuilding historic Fort Hawkins, improving Second Street and building a new animal shelter round out the smaller recommended uses for a potential $180 million in revenue over the next six years.
The city and county must agree on a list of uses for that money by Aug. 16.
“We need to send a message from council that these are our priorities, from our constituents,” Council President James Timley said.
But “recreation” is a vague term, officials said. Thursday, the council got a detailed list of projects put together by a joint city-county recreation committee.
Timley asked other committee members to parse that list over the weekend and reconvene Monday with their prioritized preferences.
The list calls for $75 million in recreation projects, from building new facilities across the county to extensively renovating existing city buildings.
Councilwoman Lauren Benedict said the sports hall should be dropped from the city’s SPLOST list, as it’s not a construction project.
“I want to see the Sports Hall of Fame open, but SPLOST funds cannot be used for programs,” she said.
Councilman Larry Schlesinger said the county’s top priority is likely to be renovations to the Bibb County Courthouse, according to Commission Chairman Sam Hart. The county also is likely to push for more fire stations, Schlesinger said.
Council members agreed to go through the recreation project list, but several said they wanted more detail, preferably from a member of the joint committee.
Benedict said she wants improvements to all existing city recreation centers and would like to see construction of some new ones. But she can’t determine how that money should be distributed without a breakdown of the scope of work contemplated for each.
All areas of the city should see some concrete progress, she said.
Benedict said she fears that once city recreation facilities are turned over to the county as part of a service delivery deal, Bibb County would forgo repairs there in favor of serving the unincorporated area -- unless the council clearly makes city centers a priority.
Councilman Charles Jones agreed, adding that Macon voters won’t pass a SPLOST that concentrates spending on solely county projects.
Answering Timley, Bill Causey, the city’s engineering manager, said $10 million set aside for stormwater improvements would deal with everything downtown as well as the major drainage problems in outlying areas, but it wouldn’t solve all the issues. Macon Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas characterized stormwater as a perpetual issue to be addressed by the city and county, not “fixed” with one-time outlays.
Councilman Henry Ficklin said there needs to be an oversight committee to keep watch on how SPLOST funds are spent. Money from a previous SPLOST went for a variety of things that local governments never approved, he said.
Timley agreed with the idea, but he and Ficklin disagreed on such a committee’s preferred makeup.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.