County Commissioner J.C. Henderson wanted to move forward with purchasing land to expand some existing parks and build some new ones using 2011 SPLOST money, but his fellow commissioners weren’t on board with his plan Tuesday.
Following an approximately hour-long executive session in which land acquisition was only one of the topics, Henderson made a motion to approve a resolution to move forward with purchasing land, creating or expanding parks and giving money to local community centers, but his motion died without a vote when no other commissioner seconded it.
Commissioners didn’t make any comments after the motion, though commissioners John Douglas and Nancy Schulz both expressed concern prior to going into executive session about discussing the agenda item “District Four SPLOST Projects” without any prior knowledge.
When the SPLOST passed in 2011, there was a $1.1 million line item for “District 4 improvements” that was broken down into $545,000 for a workforce development center, $55,000 for an indigent cemetery and $500,000 for various park projects.
The SPLOST language itself didn’t specify the park projects – SPLOST ballots are supposed to have the most specific language possible, but some items are left vague – though according to reports from the time, the original allocation discussed was:
- $200,000 to buy property for a park in the Settlers Grove neighborhood
- $200,000 to buy property for a park in the Dinah Pace neighborhood
- $100,000 for playground equipment for the Victoria's Station neighborhood
However, the resolution presented Tuesday differed significantly, and called for the county to use the $500,000 of District 4 2011 SPLOST money to buy land for six parks – specific pieces of land were not included in the resolution nor discussed:
- Nelson Heights Park
- Victoria Station Park
- Dinah Pace Park
- Oxford Road Park
- Trelawney/Fire Station No. 7 Park
- Trailblazer Park
The resolution said funds could be reallocated as needed among the line items with the joint approval of the county chairman and county manager.
In addition, the resolution called for using any remaining District 4 SPLOST to make improvements (actually create) the six parks.
Finally, the resolution called for any remaining money from the SPLOST line item to go to help local community centers:
- Nelson Heights Community Center – $4,910 computers and audio-visual equipment
- Washington Street Community Center – $4,410 for new appliances and facility improvements
- Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter, off Turner Lake Circle – $12,000 for facility improvements and computers
- New Leaf Center, the workforce development center built in the Walker’s Bend neighborhood - $38,000 audio visual and computer equipment to train for new jobs
SPLOST money can only be used for its designated purpose under state law – in this case, District 4 improvements – though after several years, in at least some cases, unused SPLOST money can be used to pay down county debt instead.
One of the items that upset some citizens was the fact that one of the properties being discussed for potential purchase was land owned by the church Henderson is a member of: Rising Son Christian Church.
According to a “Nelson Heights Community Center Concept Plan” that was circulated via email by citizens ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the county would purchase land owned by the church that was directly adjacent to the existing Nelson Heights Community Center at the intersection of Puckett and Laseter streets. The plan called for the church’s vacant, 2.09-acre property to be purchased and converted into a football field.
Henderson told The News after Tuesday’s meeting that he was told by county staff that the church property would be more suitable for a football field than property behind the center because the land behind the center, which the county already owns, would have to have more grading work done. He said the church was willing to sell the property.
Henderson said he didn’t ask for anything except what the nonprofit groups and citizens asked him for. After the board did not second Henderson’s motion, one citizen in the audience expressed disappointment and said the citizens voted for the SPLOST.
County Attorney Tommy Craig, who told the board he was asked to work with Commissioner Henderson to prepare the list of projects, presented the resolution to the board. He said it was his understanding the board wanted Henderson to present a comprehensive list of SPLOST projects instead of bringing them back up one by one.
When asked after the meeting, Chairman Keith Ellis said he would anticipate the District 4 SPLOST discussion coming up again before the board in the future.