Politics & Government

Warner Robins seeks to speed up SPLOST projects

WARNER ROBINS -- City Council members agreed Tuesday to prioritize sales tax spending for a new recreation complex and a renovated City Hall.

However, they also appeared to agree to building projects in phases, a piecemeal approach made necessary because the current funding won’t cover everything discussed Tuesday.

Nowhere was the shortfall more apparent in Tuesday’s work session than in recreation. The city is obligated to build a recreation complex and pay for other big programs with money from its 2012 special purpose local option sales tax, originally estimated to bring in $44.4 million for the city.

The recreation complex alone was budgeted at $5 million, and council members were worried the initial plans -- five baseball fields, five softball fields, a walking trail, a splash pad and other amenities -- would blow through that budget. The park would be built near the intersection of Houston and Elberta roads.

James Dodson, the city’s recreation director, also described a major expansion of Memorial Park and the need for a new recreation headquarters, projects that have no SPLOST funding.

“Either way you look at it, we’ve gone from $5 million to $20 million, just like that,” Councilman Tim Thomas said.

SPLOST revenues are coming in about 12 percent below projections. Mayor Randy Toms said in some ways it’s already been worse, when SPLOST revenues were 14 percent below projections.

To try to deal with the shortfall, Toms and council members agreed Tuesday to seek better-detailed plans for a site that could allow them to build facilities in phases. After those plans are in, they can think about how -- or even whether -- to trim initial construction costs. They agreed to prioritize City Hall renovations, the recreation complex and two passive parks. Work on the site of a Ga. 96 fire station already is underway.

SPLOST upgrades for City Hall and the adjoining Civic Center originally were budgeted at $4.7 million. With budget cuts and a costly air- conditioning upgrade, about $3.5 million remains for that project.

International City Builders, hired by the city for project management, said options for the Civic Center range from tearing it down for $350,000 to renovating and converting it into 30,000 square feet of office space for about $3.2 million.

Councilman Chuck Shaheen was incredulous and suggested the city could buy a nearby bank building for $550,000 and renovate it for $100,000 to get needed office space. Not long after that, the City Council spent an hour behind closed doors to discuss acquisition of real estate.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.