Officials adjust SPLOST projects

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Local government officials with both the city and county met Wednesday to discuss each other's proposed special sales tax projects as the process for calling the November referendum took its next step.

If passed by the voters, the renewal of a 1-percent sales tax is expected to generate nearly $98 million for capital projects over the next six years.

Wednesday, the city and county commission met in a rare joint session to review the projects and sign off one of the last remaining steps before the project list shows up on a ballot for a November referendum.

But before the 2 p.m. joint meeting, the city commission met to finalize their list of projects, which in total tally around $62.7 million.

In an abrupt change from previous discussions, the commission reviewed an amended list of projects initially offered up Wednesday by Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Pike.

The list reallocated money away from infrastructure improvements and shifted it more to community projects such as alley paving, and projects at Albany State University, Darton College and Albany Technical College.

"After speaking with my constituents and fielding phone calls about it -- which we're supposed to do by the way -- I believed that the list should be a little more balanced," Pike said. "The community should be able to get some of the things they want as well as what they need."

But the abrupt change, which caught some at the commission table by surprise, didn't sit well with some.

The move, which was described in some shape or form as clandestine by Ward 6 Commissioner Tommie Postell at least 11 different times, nearly prompted him to back out of the process all together he said.

"I'm going to be emphatic, anything that comes across this table that is clandestined to me ... I'm going to be against it," Postell said. "I may end up being anti-SPLOST because of the way this is being presented."

The issue, according to Postell, is that Pike reorganized the list with the input of only a few commissioners and without the input of city staff who have become intimately familiar with the projects.

Mayor Willie Adams said that the meeting got off to a "rocky" start because of lack of communication prior to the meeting about the changes in projects, but said that he largely agreed with Pike's list while reiterating his position on the importance of infrastructure.

"Infrastructure is something you don't see with the naked eye and may not be as appealing as the Civil Rights Institute or other community projects, but it is very important to keep up our infrastructure so that we can support growth and economic development which translate into jobs," Adams said.

"Even though the public may want to see these other projects, we as commissioners have to show them; we have to explain to them how infrastructure promotes job growth and economic development," Adams said.

Obviously the biggest beneficiaries of the change to the SPLOST list are the three institutions of higher learning and public safety entities.

Albany State will now receive $1.2 million and Albany Tech $830,000 to build pedestrian bridges over the main arteries flowing near both campuses while Darton will keep $1.2 million to extend Meadowlark Drive and enhance sewer systems.

The senior citizens center being built by the SOWEGA Council on Aging will get a boost to $3 million while Thronateeska Heritage Center's allocation for the construction of a new building on site was increased to $2 million. A $1.7 million allocation to the Parks at Chehaw and $1 million swimming pool complex in East Albany round out the community projects.

For public safety, Fire Chief James Carswell, who also oversees the 911 Communications Center, will get a $2.8 million allocation for upgrading antiquated equipment.

The Albany Police Department will pick up $2.5 million to enhance their technology and another $304,000 to buy a mobile command center.

The biggest loser following Wednesday's developments will again be engineering and public work's projects replacing decades-old sanitary sewer systems throughout the city.

That one line item was cut in half from $10 million to $5 million.

Street resurfacing also had its budget cut from $5 million to $4 million. Street reconstruction and storm water improvements got a $600,000 increase to $1.6 million.

Now that both bodies have met, the city and county will enter into an intergovernmental agreement which will finalize the split of the sales taxes between the two and will specify that the tax is to be carried out for the next six years with no cap in revenues, which has to be signed by both bodies by July 30.

At 10 a.m. on Aug. 2, there will be a special-called county commission meeting during which the board will pass a resolution calling for an imposition of tax.

The same day, there will be a special-called meeting of the board of elections to call for a special election for a Nov. 2 referendum.

Early voting will begin on Sept. 17, during which time voters will be able to vote yes or no on the referendum.

Beginning Oct. 5, Election Superintendent Ginger Nickerson must publish an election notice once per week for four weeks preceding the election on Nov. 2.

The election will be held on Nov. 2, with the election results tabulated and certified by the board of elections sometime later.