Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb committee asks for changes to water park plan

The man behind a new water theme park at Lake Tobesofkee told a Macon-Bibb County Commission committee Tuesday that his enthusiasm for the project caused him to overestimate how soon he could build it.

Jeff Franklin, president of Spirit of America, is asking Macon-Bibb County commissioners to amend part of the agreement to open the $2.7 million park.

Franklin is asking for some park features to be delayed or eliminated from the agreement. Among those changes are using temporary bathrooms/showers for the first five years the park is open instead of building permanent ones; delaying construction of a wading pool and third water slide until after the first two years; and pushing back construction of the front entrance to the park until after the first year.

The park was supposed to open this month but won’t open until June.

Commissioner Al Tillman, a member of the commission’s Community and Economic Development Committee, was critical of the delays and the requests.

“I don’t think Mr. Franklin has been candid with us,” Tillman said. “The delay is because Mr. Franklin keeps changing the plans week after week after week.”

Franklin, who has never before built a water park, noted that adjustments had to be made to the park’s original plans. Originally, the park was going to be located in Peach County, but that deal fell apart. Franklin made a deal with Macon-Bibb soon after. However, because of the switch to Macon-Bibb County, plans for the park doubled in size to accommodate about 1,200 people.

Franklin said water parks usually take about a year to build, but he tried to push construction in order to open for the summer. Construction began in late December, he said.

Franklin addressed various concerns from commissioners, including refunds for people who had bought season passes with the anticipation the park would open this month. Franklin said about 63 families bought season passes, and only 10 families asked for refunds so far. The company is offering a full refund to any season pass holder, he said.

Commissioner Elaine Lucas expressed concerns about using temporary bathrooms and showers. Franklin said the company is buying specialized modular facilities that are equipped with bathrooms and showers. He said he asked for a five-year delay as a conservative estimate of when the permanent bathrooms and showers would be ready, but he said he hopes it will be done sooner. Lucas and the commission amended his request to change the time frame to three years.

The resolution will now be referred to the commission’s Facilities and Engineering Committee, the original committee to oversee the project.

In other business Tuesday, the commission’s Economic and Community Development committee approved a resolution to allow the Bragg Jam Festival attendees to consume alcohol on designated streets during the July festival. Bragg Jam is responsible for security and clean-up for the festival.

The commission’s Operations and Finance Committee approved an ordinance to allow Jointly Owned Natural Gas, a partnership of the cities of Byron, Cochran, Hawkinsville, Perry and Warner Robins, to provide natural gas service within Macon-Bibb. Macon-Bibb will charge the same franchise fee as it does to other natural gas providers.

Also, the committee once again deferred a proposal from Commissioner Mallory Jones that would give local businesses a local vendor designation if the business itself is located in a contiguous county but the owner/operator is a resident of Macon-Bibb. Currently, local vendors -- companies that operate within Macon-Bibb and pay taxes here -- can get a leeway of 5 percent when they bid on a county project. Jones argued that business owners who live here but may have to operate in another county should get similar consideration, since they pay taxes here.

The committee also received an update about potential retirements for the proposed fiscal 2016 budget. Julie Moore, who is overseeing the budget process, told commissioners 483 employees are eligible for the voluntary retirement package, and so far, 60 people have informed officials they intend to retire. Officials are estimating about 100 retirements, and have built next year’s budget on that assumption. Moore said she expects the figure to be closer to 150. Employees have until July 31 to accept the package.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.