Senior center moving forward

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- A multimillion-dollar senior citizens center is forging ahead after local elected officials have agreed to allocate $3 million in special sales tax dollars to the project.

The funds are contingent upon voters approving a November sales tax referendum that would pump an estimated $96 million into local projects over the next six years, but SOWEGA Council on Aging Executive Director Kay Hind said she's confident voters will look at the big picture and approve the measure.

"Really, it's too much of an opportunity to pass up," Hind said. "And I'm not even talking about for us. We'll benefit, of course, but think about all the infrastructure --the roads, the bridges, the sewer lines -- that are going to be paid for with this. And those are things that will have to be paid for with other money, like property taxes, if it doesn't pass."

Still, the uncertainty surrounding a referendum isn't keeping Hind and her group from moving ahead with the project.

Even though many aspects of the senior center are still moving targets, with some changing daily, Hind said the basic premise remains unchanged: to provide a state-of-the-art facility for senior citizens in the 14-county area served by SOWEGA to have access to the services and recreation they deserve.

Currently, plans are to refurbish and rehabilitate a 34,000-square-foot building at Jackson Street and Third Avenue and use it to create a one-stop shop for all of the vital services that seniors currently have to go all across town to access. Additionally, Hind said it's important to provide a safe, secure place for seniors to find social, educational and recreational activities.

Hind said she will meet with architects this week to go over designs and schematics and hopes to have a rendering to show the public very soon.

Stemming from past SPLOST projects, some voters have expressed concerns that the senior center will become yet another brick-and-mortar project built with sales tax dollars that will have to be supported by property tax dollars.

While she says she understands their concerns, Hind said that those fears are unfounded.

"We've never had to go to the commissioners, city or county, for operational funding since I've been here, and that's been 40 years," Hind said. "We know how to manage our money and, believe me, we've gone over our books enough to know that we'll be able to run this facility without tax dollars."

If the referendum passes, Hind said the sales tax allocation will cover about half the price tag of the project, with the remainder to be generated through private fundraising efforts, sale of the organization's existing properties and federal and state grants. The current price of the project is estimated to be around $6 million, although that too is a moving target, depending on different variables.

"We just really appreciate the efforts of our commissioners, both city and county, who know the value and contributions of our seniors to the community and want to see them have a place where their needs can be met," Hind said.