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Officials wrap SPLOST VI meet

ALBAN, Ga. -- Members of the community who attended a meeting Thursday to discuss the upcoming 1 percent sales tax referendum, quizzed city and county officials over a broad range of topics, including maintenance costs and the necessity for some of the projects on the $98 million list.

Organized by Ward IV Albany City Commissioner Roger Marietta, the meeting was set to inform the public of the various projects on the Nov. 2 referendum, answer questions and get feedback.

Of the 20 or so people who attended the meeting -- not counting the city and county employees or elected officials in attendance -- the majority of questions came from a small group that challenged government officials on topics ranging from the cost of ongoing operation and maintenance associated with various building projects, the need for some of the projects and the impact on jobs they would have.

"What is the O&M (operation and maintenance) cost of all the five SPLOST projects?" one man asked. "And what is the O&M for this SPLOST?"

While government officials answered that those specific numbers had not been tabulated but that they would work to compile it for him, Marietta did say that very few of the projects planned for SPLOST VI will require ongoing operational costs for either the city or county.

Marietta mentioned by name the $1 million pool complex slated to be built in east Albany which he said would likely cost about as much to operate as the Carver Pool Center at $300,000 per year.

Marietta also mentioned a controversial youth sports complex planned with facilities for baseball, tennis and soccer which will have operational costs taken on by the city. But he said officials hope to mitigate costs through usage fees, concessions and rental agreements.

The sports complex has come under fire by critics of the SPLOST initiative who say that it is unnecessary given the number of existing sports parks in the city and will be expensive to operate after it's built.

Another in the group raised that very question.

Suzanne Davis, head of the city's recreation and parks department, said that the Paul Eames sports complex is currently being used by pony league, Dixie League and American Legion Post 30, but the planned new sports complex would be for youths in the 12- to 13-year-old age range.

"There are a lot of families who leave the city nearly every weekend headed to some type of sports event that their kids participate in," Davis said.

If passed, SPLOST VI will renew a 1 percent sales tax that is set to expire March 31, 2011. Over the next six years, the sales tax is expected to generate $98 million, with as much as 40 percent of that coming from out-of-towners who come to Albany and spend money, officials said.

Another individual at Thursday's meeting questioned that figure, saying that officials were using the penny to mislead the public.

"It's not one penny, its 1 percent and ... over a year it adds up," he said. "And what happens next year with this transportation sales tax, are y'all going to charge us 2 cents?"

County Administrator Richard Crowdis countered, saying that it wasn't misleading to say a penny because that's how most people can understand it, given that, in Georgia, people tend to understand that for every dollar spent a consumer spends 7 cents in state and local sales taxes.

The transportation sales tax is an initiative approved by the General Assembly that will allow clumps of counties throughout Georgia to vote in 2012 whether to asses a 1 percent sales tax to support road and bridge repairs throughout the entire region.

If approved for the Dougherty County region, which encompasses much of Southwest Georgia, a 1 percent sales tax would be added, meaning Dougherty County residents would pay a total of 8 cents in taxes on every dollar spent.