Parents want recreation projects on SPLOST list

JESSICA GREGORY :::

County commissioners spent the first hour of their regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 21 listening to parents, coaches and former coaches of swim and soccer teams lobbying for the May 2014 special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) referendum to include recreational projects.

Though only seven spoke during the public comments session of the meeting, there was standing room only due to the number of parents and children there to show their support for the speakers, many who heard “through the grapevine” that the SPLOST would include only transportation and infrastructure projects.

Near the end of the meeting, Commissioner Raymond Ray admitted that he believed the turnout was because of an earlier conversation he had with a parent regarding SPLOST.  In a later interview with The Grip, Ray said, “I told him I doubt parks and rec projects are going to make it [onto the SPLOST].  If we don’t have roads for children to ride the school bus or for public safety to get out to your house, we are failing our citizens.”

Presidents of the Griffin Youth Soccer Association (GYSA) and Griffin Swim Team (GST) both cited increased tourism and revenues that would come with the tournaments that could be held if facilities were updated.  Both also expressed ultimatums to the commissioners:  include recreational projects or we will not vote for SPLOST.

GYSA President Baron Cumming told the commissioners, “If you see fit to add recreational projects to the SPLOST, you can count on the support from several local sports associations to actively campaign to help pass the SPLOST.  However, without recreational projects, you quite possibly will disenfranchise the very people whose vote you will likely need to help pass the SPLOST and face the very real risk of it not passing at all.

David Horne, president of the Griffin Swim Team, echoed Cummings’ words: “It was told to us that it was going to be a transportation and infrastructure SPLOST, through the grapevine we heard… We will fight for you if you put parks and recreation on this SPLOST, but if there’s not any recreation on this SPLOST we are going to fight against it.”

Horne and several other speakers cited the original plans for Wyomia Tyus Park, which included six lit soccer fields and a swimming facility.  James Marcoux, parent and coach, said in his address, “Fifteen years later, we have one field that’s lit… As a grandparent, I’m a member of the senior center here in Spalding County.  I had a senior center prior to that… that was actually newer than Tyus Park, and now we’ve built a newer one. So as a senior, I’m taken care of in Spalding County… As a parent and grandparent, I would like to see money spent for youth in our county that is consistent with quality of life…  Our future earnings potential in the tax digest doesn’t need to be put toward incarcerating people because it was more important to pave dirt roads rather than provide for a quality of life for our young families.

The SPLOST project list should be created by January 15, and the Spalding BoC has notified all county departments and the cities of Griffin, Sunnyside and Orchard Hill to prepare project proposals. The board of commissioners has final approval of which projects are included on the list.

In his interview with the Grip, Commissioner Ray further explained his reasoning for telling the parent that he anticipates the SPLOST including only transportation and infrastructure projects by breaking down the mathematics of SPLOST revenues.

Ray said that in a meeting last week with fellow commissioner Chipper Gardner and County Manager William Wilson it was estimated based upon current SPLOST revenue that the 2014 SPLOST would collect roughly $50 million.  Also based upon current SPLOST fund divisions with Griffin, Sunnyside and Orchard Hill, the county would receive roughly $23.5 million.

“From that standpoint, we talked about what we could do to have the biggest impact for citizens and get a voting block,” Ray said.  Priority factors for projects the commissioners will consider include not requiring bonds to complete the project, items that need to be done quickly, and be countywide projects from which everyone will benefit, he continued.

Paving and resurfacing roads, intersection updates and improvements, and updating the computer system were among the projects identified during this preliminary meeting.

“We have been told during the millage increase hearings, ‘We don’t want to hear about a wish list, we want to hear a requirement list,’” said Ray.  “Most people in Spalding County don’t think of parks and recreation as a requirement.

However, Ray said he is glad the soccer and swim associations came to Monday’s meeting.  “I’m glad the other night happened, because parks and recreation needed to be heard on that.”

As to whether he now believes SPLOST will include parks and recreation projects, Ray commented, “It [lights at the soccer field] has been identified as a priority.  We need to hear from all groups on what their main priority is.”

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