A $7 million indoor swim complex dominated the discussion at the final hearing on Houston County’s proposed special purpose local option sales tax referendum.
Several people spoke in favor of the facility, called a natatorium. The only person to question it was Walton Wood, who noted that the $30.6 million slotted for recreation in the SPLOST is more than the $29.9 million going to public safety.
“In the middle of the night, when I need help, I’m not going to call the natatorium,” Wood said. “I’m going to call E-911 and get one of my sheriff’s deputies out there to take care of me.”
Wes Hamborg, head coach of the Warner Robins Aquanauts swim team, said there is no place in Houston County where a sanctioned swim meet can be held. He also said the complex would have a wide range of uses for all ages, including water aerobics and swim lessons.
“It’s much needed,” he said. “I’m glad to see this moving forward in this direction.”
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said the facility is expected to go somewhere on Cohen Walker Drive, most likely on Houston County Board of Education property near the new Freedom Field football field. He said that would give it a central location in the county.
Molly Jones, coach of the Northside High School swim team, also said the facility would be important. She said they have been holding swim meets in Milledgeville but have just learned that facility will no longer be available. They will now likely have to go to Tifton or Albany to hold swim meets.
“This is something we have really been hoping for,” she said. “We are so excited to finally see that this is moving forward.”
The natatorium is listed as a countywide project, although it would be managed by the Warner Robins Recreation Department. Mayor Randy Toms said it would be open to everyone and operational costs could be paid for either by user fees or by splitting the costs between the local governments. There could also be revenue generated by people coming in from outside the county to use it, he said.
Stalnaker said he believes there is a possibility that the natatorium could generate enough revenue to pay the operational costs.
Toms said there is wide support for the facility.
“They are very excited about the natatorium,” Toms said. “We’ve been hearing that ever since I’ve been in office, ‘When are we going to get a swim facility.’”
Although the size of the facility has not been decided, Hamborg said natatoriums typically include a pool for competitive swimming and a smaller pool for lessons and aerobics.
About 60 people attended the hearing. Staff members from the county, Warner Robins, Perry and Centerville outlined projects specific to each governing body.
The SPLOST would extend the current 1-percent tax on retail sales that expires Oct. 30, 2018. The new SPLOST projects $145 million to be collected over six years. Transportation is the biggest category at $38 million, which includes several road-widening projects as well as resurfacing and intersection improvements.
The Houston County Commission will officially vote to call for the referendum in a meeting set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at the County Annex at 200 Carl Vinson Parkway. The referendum will be held on March 21. Stalnaker said the referendum is being held now so that the governments can get an early start on the projects with the assurance that the revenue will be coming.