Slow, but steady, year ahead for Dougherty

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- In terms of building construction, the Dougherty County Commission has never been a heavy hitter when compared to the city of Albany and the Dougherty County School System.

In fact, the county rarely has more than a handful of construction projects slated each year.

When it comes to spending tax dollars on construction, county leaders largely still remain true to their original mission issued by the state decades ago -- the commissioners of roads and bridges.

In 2011, Dougherty County Administrator Richard Crowdis said the relatively small amount of money the county has planned to spend on capital or building projects will focus largely on infrastructure and public safety.

Bolstered by the passage of the county's sixth consecutive special-purpose local-option sales tax or SPLOST, county leaders are looking ahead to a six-year plan to complete the projects approved by voters during the November 2010 referendum.

Three of the county's largest individual construction projects all are funded under the previous special sales tax, SPLOST V.

Two of those projects -- new headquarters for both the Dougherty County EMS and Dougherty County Public Works -- will be completed this year, Crowdis said.

The EMS headquarters was budgeted for $2 million in sales tax funds, while the Public Works building was budgeted at $1 million.

The third project, Phase II of the Radium Springs Gardens project, will be let for bids some time in the first half of the year, Crowdis said, with construction expected to start at some point during the summer months.

Like the other two projects, Phase II of Radium Springs Gardens will be funded using SPLOST V funds.

In addition to those projects, Crowdis said that the county intends to continue work on a list of 42 stormwater upgrades that were identified back in 2009 following the flooding of homes near the Radium Springs subdivision and parts of southern Dougherty County.

Once completed, that project, which is being funded through $650,000 allocated for stormwater improvements combined from SPLOST V and SPLOST IV, should help alleviate many of the flooding issues in those neighborhoods.

One of the most promising ventures for the county will likely go online in 2011.

An innovative Landfill Gas-to-Energy partnership with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany will likely go online this year. The $1.3 million program converts methane gas created naturally at the Dougherty County Landfill and transports it by pipeline to MCLB, where it is then converted into energy.

Crowdis said the program not only will pay for itself thanks to the 20-year contract with MCLB, but will add another selling point for MCLB when the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission begins reviewing U.S. military installations.

The program is a first-of-its-kind partnership between local governments and the U.S. military. The program will help the base and the Marine Corps meet a presidential order to reduce the military's overall carbon footprint by using renewable or green sources of energy.

Outside of construction, the county will likely have another tough round of budget negotiations between Crowdis, the department heads, elected and constitutional officials and the commission itself.

While sales tax revenues have started a slow, climb upward from their recession-era lows, property tax revenues are projected to remain close to last year's figures, which will require at least another year of unpaid holidays and wage freezes.

One bright spot could come in the form of the opening of the new East Albany Walmart store. That development is slated to open around May.

Revenues from sales taxes should provide a bump to the city, county and school board coffers, but by exactly how much remains to be seen.