ALBANY -- Only a handful of Dougherty County residents attended a public informational meeting Thursday night to learn about various aspects of a special local option sales tax referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot.
But those who did bother to come to the meeting, were outspokenly critical of everything from how the process was being handled to whether projects they had asked for were receiving the proper levels of funding.
Nov. 2, Dougherty County voters will decide whether to renew a one-percent sales tax which is set to expire March 31, 2011. If passed by a majority of the voters, SPLOST VI will go into effect April 1, 2011 and remain in place for the next six years, generating an estimated $98 million in revenues for local projects.
To see the SPLOST VI list of projects, click here.
Thursday's meeting is the first of three meetings planned this month by local elected officials to discuss the proposed projects with the public.
After more than 40 minutes worth of information given out by Dougherty County Administrator Richard Crowdis -- who covered county projects -- and City of Albany Engineer Bruce Maples -- who discussed city projects -- Commissioner Gloria Gaines; who along with Commissioner John Hayes sponsored the event; opened the floor to questions from the seven people who showed up at the event.
Former state representative John White was the first to offer his comments and questions which were critical of various aspects of the SPLOST.
To start, White criticized the procedure that the local elected officials had used to get the projects on the ballot saying that they had failed to hold a public hearing on the matter until after the projects were set to be voted on by the public which he believed could be a violation of the law.
"We've kind of put the cart ahead of the horse now haven't we?" he said. "I've supported the five previous SPLOSTs but it's going to be hard for me to support this one with the way you have gone about this without public hearings."
The portion of Georgia law governing SPLOST -- O.C.G.A. 48-8-111 -- doesn't require any public hearings, merely that municipal and county governments, through an intergovernmental agreement, vote to have a resolution calling for a referendum for a SPLOST and that the elections supervisor advertise the election in the legal organ of the county prior to the election.
To see the law, click here.
Additionally, the city government alone met no less than three times -- June 8, June 22, and June 30 -- each time discussing SPLOST VI projects and opening the floor to the public for comment.
Additionally, White criticized the need for a pedestrian bridge over Radium Springs road at Albany State University, saying that he designed the underpass at ASU under Radium Springs Road specifically to avoid the need for a pedestrian bridge over Radium Springs road.
Lastly, White said he objected to any of the SPLOST funds going to the Albany-Area Chamber of Commerce because he believed that a private business shouldn't receive public tax dollars.
"I'm object to the fact that the chamber is to get these kinds of funds when they are essentially a private entity...a lot of people think its a part of the government, but it's not. They get their support from their members who are private businesses," White said.
If the referendum passes, the chamber is set to receive $85,000 for what is described on the project list as "historic building facade stabilization."
Rev. Lawrence Knighton also asked why certain projects that had been passed by voters in previous SPLOSTs -- like storm drainage improvements -- had yet to be completed and why more money in each of the SPLOSTs hadn't been dedicated to recreation items like renovating or expanding inner city gyms that he believed would help keep kids out of gangs and away from crime.
The response was that SPLOST V and previous SPLOST's did fund recreation improvements and that SPLOST V had several recreation improvements in it by itself. According to the SPLOST V budget reported presented to city officials earlier this year, $3.5 million in SPLOST funds had been set aside for renovating the Gordon Sports Complex and $1.8 million was allocated to fund the development of the city's recreation master plan and implement it.
For storm drainage, Maples explained that massive projects like the Holloway Basin -- which would separate the city's storm water and sewer system and alleviate much of the flooding that central Albany experiences -- are expected to cost around $50 million and to justify shutting down roads and digging up concrete it would have to be done all at the same time.
SPLOST V includes $10 million towards that $50 million pricetag. Other storm water improvements -- $4.3 million -- are scheduled for SPLOST VI and some have been completed through past SPLOSTs.
Melvin George, head of the South Dougherty Community League, asked about a multipurpose building that is on the list to be built in Robert Cross park, asking Crowdis and county officials if $550,000 will be enough to build the kind of facility they had requested with rooms for various hobbies and an indoor walking track.
Public Works Director said that the initial preliminary plans call for a 3,500 square foot building which likely wouldn't meet George's ideal, which George compared to the building at the Parks at Chehaw.
Crowdis said that it would have a meeting space or assembly room, a kitchen and restrooms and porch area outside, but that it likely wasn't going to be what he envisioned.
Another meeting has been set for Monday, October 18 at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center. It is free and open to the public.