Town Hall audience cautiously favors projects

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- People at a 10 a.m. Town Hall meeting seemed to favor city projects, but wanted to make sure they got value for the sales taxes collected.

"I felt that it is important to make an informed decision at the voting booth when you vote yes or no to SPLOST VI," said Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard, the Town Hall's host at the East Albany Law Enforcement Center.

"Dougherty County representatives were invited, but had previous engagements," Howard said. "We are just going to look over the city's projects."

The projects from the city and the county cost $98 million under a joint agreement. The agreement allows the state to collect a 1 percent sales tax, a Special Option Sales Tax, in the county to fund the projects.

County projects would cost $35.28 million. City projects would cost $62.72 million. Voters would have to approve the entire tax project agenda on Election Day Nov. 2 for it to go into effect next April.

One of the city projects was definitely supported by the about 25 people at the meeting. A new $3-million senior center seemed to be a must for the sales tax money.

"It makes sense to have one senior center and tear down the rest, they are all in bad shape," James Harper said. "A new senior center will save money in the long run over repairs to those other old buildings. Our older people deserve it."

Another city project that captured audience attention was the Broad Street Bridge repair. The city's contribution from the sales tax would be $7 million to build the bridge, said John N. Hudgens Jr., city interim capital development supervisor.

The state Department of Transportation matching cost would be $4 million and the rest would go to moving the power, communication and other cables that use the bridge to cross the Flint River, Hudgens said.

A new air terminal at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport would be funded by almost $4 million from the sales tax. Several people in the audience questioned the need.

"I think it is to attract more commercial air flights," Howard said. "Right now planes can land loaded but the runway is too short for them to load up and take off."

With the addition of a Walmart store to East Albany, $1 million sidewalk repairs and replacement would be needed.

A question on the necessity of about $250,000 in Ray Charles Plaza improvements brought a quick answer from Hudgens.

"People have started using the plaza more," Hudgens said. "They have asked for rest rooms. That is the improvement."

Also planned for residents are alley repaving, storm water pumping improvements, a swimming pool in East Albany and a $2.6 million multi-sport recreational complex. The complex would include softball, basketball new lights, new fencing and playground equipment.

All seemed to meet the approval of the audience if done with sharp oversight to costs and timing.

Timing and the legal aspects of the taxes questions were answered by Nathan Davis, Albany city attorney.

The city has an option to borrow $30 million against the tax money that would be collected to start projects earlier, Davis said. It would be up to the city commission to do that, he added.