The city of Macon has started setting its priorities for spending special purpose local option sales tax funds, leaning heavily toward funding the Tubman African American Museum among the first city projects.
Hammering out the list is expected to take a week or so.
City Finance Director Dale Walker, also serving as interim chief administrative officer, brought three proposals for SPLOST spending before a non-voting work session of Macon City Council on Tuesday evening.
One envisions selling $18 million in bonds to “jump-start” projects; another proposal would sell $9 million in bonds; and the third would plan completion of the $190 million project list with no bonds, using tax revenue as it is collected over the six-year life of the SPLOST.
“If we want to complete a project quickly, then we need to do the bond issue,” Walker said. “If we’re not concerned about that, then we don’t need to worry about them at all.”
Early on, though, Councilman Henry Ficklin asked Walker and Mayor Robert Reichert to address rumors that Walker has been asked to remain as CAO indefinitely, as well as finance director.
Walker did not reply, and Reichert did not reply directly. Reichert said he said he planned to address that at the annual retreat for the mayor and council, scheduled this weekend in Athens.
With that, Walker plunged on into the SPLOST plans. The final priorities are for the council to decide, and any of his proposals could change with economic and political conditions, he said. Walker’s scenarios all start with the first SPLOST tax receipts near the end of this fiscal year.
“We should start to get our revenues around April, May and June,” he said.
Topping his lists are an initial payment to the firm chosen as planning the revamping of Second Street. The total SPLOST budget for that project is $8 million, but the up-front payment would be $300,000 to $500,000.
Walker figured about $2 million for paying off high-interest city debt in the first year, then funding replacement of the 800 MHz emergency radio system used by police and firefighters. Motorola is willing to install that immediately -- finishing by June 2013 -- and take payment over three years, Walker said.
Along with that would be some spending on items that would quickly generate revenue of their own, like improvements to the City Auditorium and convention center, he said.
Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said she doesn’t blame Reichert for pushing “his baby,” the Second Street project, and agrees that debt reduction should take precedence, but then the Tubman should be added to the list of revenue-generating projects to be funded quickly.
Ficklin, who favors selling bonds, said voters need to see the results of their SPLOST approval quickly. That means getting projects under way soon, and there’s no better example than the Tubman, which has sat unfinished in downtown for 11 years, he said.
The project proposals showed the Tubman not getting SPLOST funding until 2017, Ficklin said. But he said there should be enough money to pay for several projects at the same time.
He blamed that timeline on unnamed opponents resenting the Tubman’s inclusion, though its completion drew more votes than any other project during public meetings on the SPLOST. Critics said including the Tubman would “kill” the SPLOST, but voters passed it overwhelmingly, Ficklin said.
“There is an ugly gremlin in this community; it won’t show its head, but it continues to say there’s something wrong with the Tubman Museum being funded,” he said. “And so I don’t understand what’s going on. I hope that it is not what it appears to be.”
Walker said the Tubman was only far down the list in the option without any bonds. In both the $9 million and $18 million bond versions, the Tubman gets its $2.5 million much sooner; and the council can set priorities to put the Tubman up first, if members choose.
Reichert said it makes no sense to give the Tubman money before construction is ready to begin, and his “preliminary conversations” with Tubman Executive Director Andy Ambrose -- who was in the audience Tuesday -- indicate that the museum has money on hand to begin work without SPLOST funds, as long as those funds are sure to come.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.