Lee Commission puts together 2010 plan

LEESBURG -- Lee County Commissioner Rick Muggridge doesn't mind taking a little heat if he and his colleagues get a good return for their efforts.

Muggridge shrugged off complaints about taxpayer funding going for the day and a half he, other members of the Lee Board of Commissioners and administrative staff members utilized for their recent retreat at the Callaway Gardens Resort near Pine Mountain.

"(Serving on the Commission) is a strange job," Muggridge said Monday. "What's required is that you show up for the meetings and vote on the agenda. That's pretty easy. But what I hope to do in this position is effect positive change that, 10 years or 20 years down the road, will allow this community to thrive. The success any community enjoys at any given time is because someone started making incremental adjustments 20 years ago.

"What this retreat turned into for us was an extended work session, 20 hours of conversation among people who are trying to find ways to make our community better."

Commissioners reviewed and discussed the goals they'd established during their 2009 retreat at the Friday-Saturday meetings and then devoted a large segment of time to going over various county departments' Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax VI wish lists. A SPLOST VI vote is planned for 2013.

If approved by voters, the special 1 percent tax would be in effect from October 2013 to September 2018. And, based on projections, that tax would bring in around $21 million, $18.6 million of which would be used on county projects.

"During the last SPLOST process, due to a number of changes in administration and on the commission, there was not a great deal of time to pre-plan," Lee County Administrator Alan Ours, who got only a brief period of time to work on Lee's SPLOST V referendum, said Monday. "By starting this process now, it allows the Board of Commissioners the necessary time to discuss SPLOST.

"It's an opportunity to provide me with direction."

Not that the process will be a simple one. As Muggridge noted: "We came away with four SPLOSTs' worth of projects."

Included in the discussions were projects that have long been on the personal wish lists of certain commissioners. Muggridge, who is a proponent of recreation and greenspace, favors funding for a recreation complex in the southern part of the county, while Commissioner Dennis Roland has long championed an agricultural center in the county.

Both of those projects are on the SPLOST radar, each coming in with a projected $3 million price tag.

"We didn't come to any kind of conclusion," Roland said, "but I figure a lot of these projects are going to come down to priority. I've said for a long time that we need an agriculture center because that is the No. 1 business in Lee County. We'll see."

Said Muggridge of the possible recreation project: "I plan to work hard to find a way to make it doable."

Commissioner Bill Williams, a CPA who is a member of the commission's finance committee, said the county must continue to deal with budget issues brought on by the recessed economy.

"Largely because LOST (local-option sales tax) numbers have come in lower than projected, we're looking at about a $1 million hole in our current budget," Williams said. "Frankly, I'm surprised it's not more than that. But we'll come up with a way to deal with that problem.

"That issue, plus the SPLOST VI discussion, was what made the retreat valuable for us. I think a lot of good came from it."

Ours said the commission developed a list of 2010 priorities that includes the design of a road connecting Ledo and Fussell roads that will line up with the planned Westover Road extension at the Albany Mall; the paving of Flowing Well Road; completion of work on the Robert B. Lee Drive truck route; purchase of land around Forrester Parkway for a future recreation complex; pursuing Community Development Block Grants to finance the paving of county dirt roads; creating a new Web site, and continuing to support economic development.

"This retreat was very beneficial in developing the overall plan for the future of Lee County," Commission Chair Ed Duffy said. "We've noted all along in this tough economy that we want to bring in a balanced budget without raising taxes or raising the millage rate. But the toughest job is to do that while trying to maintain the level of services.

"We've looked at the wish list of Superior Court, the sheriff's office -- which is vitally important to the community -- the utility authority, the library, the fire department, EMS, parks and recretaion, Public Works and our road projects. We're committed at every point of contact in the county to doing financially what we have to do to survive the next fiscal year."