SPLOST supporters tout senior center

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga.-- Members of the steering committee for a group pushing renewal of a one-percent sales tax initiative enlisted the help and support of local senior citizen advocates who stand to gain a $4 million senior center if SPLOST VI passes.

Citizens for Common Cents, a community group pushing the November 2 ballot initiative that, if passed, would generate $98 million in revenues for the city and county over the next six years, put two of their most well-known faces before the cameras in a pro-SPLOST press conference at the downtown senior center Friday.

B.J. Fletcher, a successful local businesswoman who has long been a cheerleader for Albany and Dougherty County, joined T. Marshall Jones, a well-known figure in the community, in trying to solicit the community's support of the initiative.

"I believe in SPLOST, I believe in Albany," Fletcher said. "This is nothing new, in fact, its been around for 25 years...it helps the senior center, it helps the airport and it helps the Marine Base, which helps the community," Fletcher said.

Holding up a penny -- representing the one penny out of each dollar that is typically collected through the special local option sales tax -- Fletcher urged the community not to stand in the way of progress for Albany.

"It's really kind of simple," she said. "If we support this project, it's like the heads on this penny, we'll get ahead of the game, but if we don't, it's like tails, we will fall behind."

Jones said he's lived in Albany since 1963 and has seen the benefits that SPLOST has enabled local government to accomplish and said that SPLOST VI will help improve the quality of life for local seniors through the construction of a new senior citizens center.

"When we think of seniors and what they have done for the community during their lifetimes, you can't help but feel that they are our country's true heroes," Jones said. "We owe it to them to get SPLOST passed so that they will have a place to go and have a one-stop-shop for services and classes and recreation so they can live with the dignity they deserve."

On the SPLOST VI project list, $4 million has been allocated towards the construction and rehabilitation of buildings that will become the home of the SOWEGA Council on Aging's new Senior Center.

Kay Hind, SOWEGA's leader for the last 40 years, has rebuffed criticisms that suggest that construction of a new center using sales tax dollars will just lead to operational costs being paid for through property taxes, saying that SOWEGA has paid for their own costs without government assistance since she's been at their helm.

"Since 1966 we've never had a usable space that was big enough to accommodate the level of seniors that we see..it's always been about making due," Hind said. "If this passes, seniors in this community will finally have a place that will be spacious enough to consolidate all of our centers into one location."

The new center will occupy roughly one full city block on land near the site of the original Byne church which was largely donated by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

Christine Jenkins, one of the many seniors who was at SOWEGA's downtown center Friday morning said that she loves spending time at the center but agreed with Hind that the facilities are just too cramped to support the demand.

"We just have too many folks for this one little place," Jenkins said. "It's a great place. The food and fellowship is good, but it's just too small."

Voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to approve continuation of a one-percent sales tax on items purchased within the county. Dougherty County has had a SPLOST for more than 25 years and used the funds largely to build government buildings such as the Dougherty County Jail, the Government Center and Annex, the Law Enforcement Center, and resurface miles of roads throughout the county.

The funds have also been used to enhance more controversial projects like the Civil Rights Museum, which has requested a supplement from the city's general fund to operate -- a sore spot for detractors.