MANSFIELD, Ga. – In a special called meeting Thursday night, the Mansfield City Council approved moving forward with the City Center Project in a 3-2 vote. Councilmembers Bret Dunn and Bryan Hale were the two dissenting votes.
The project, which is two years in the making, will improve infrastructure and beautify the city’s commercial center. Bids for the project nearly doubled the original estimates initially, but Mayor Jefferson Riley said members of the council worked with the lowest bidder to remove items to get within budget.
The lowest bidder, Ricky Bruce, has agreed to do the project at cost and will receive no profit from the city. He lives in the city, plans to use local contractors and has an interest in the project’s completion.
“The bulk of this project, it really has moved significantly away from what we had originally anticipated,” Riley said. “Originally, it was mainly a project that was going to be centered in the railroad portion of the downtown area. Now the bulk of the project has moved more towards the roads. The bulk of the money is going to be spent on water and sewer revitalization, grinding up the streets on both sides, paving the streets on both sides and putting curbing on both sides.”
The project will now cost a total of $385,000, which is being paid through special purpose local option sales tax funds, electric operating fund, water and sewer operating fund, Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant funds, and funds from a previous lawsuit settlement.
Councilman Perry Lunsford made the motion to approve the project and Councilwoman Ashlan Troutman seconded the motion. During the discussion portion of the meeting, Dunn and Hale raised their concerns about the project and how the money was being spent, while Lunsford, Troutman and Riley spoke in favor of the project's approval.
Dunn said he was under the impression the city had an obligation to use the SPLOST money by June 30 or it would be returned to the county. He has talked with county officials and was told otherwise, so he changed his mind on the project, hoping to not make a quick decision.
“There’s no need to approve it hastily this evening,” he said. “Which is why I have moved from a vote where we had that belief – you had to use it or lose it – it is no longer the case.”
Dunn suggested using the money allocated for the project to repair roads citizens drive on more frequently.
Hale said he agreed with Dunn. He also talked with county officials and was assured the money would not be taken away from the city.
Riley presented SPLOST referendums, which state the money could go back to the county June 30.
“This is the law,” he said. “Because one or two commissioners individually says ‘The county’s not going to take the money back,’ that might be so, but the legal document says if they want to they can.”
Dunn said he agrees it would be nice to have a “pretty downtown center,” but also feels there are more pressing issues the city should worry about first.
Lunsford said he has worked on this project for years and it is time for its approval.
“We’ve reached a point now where it’s time to vote,” he said. “Now, I’m a little bit different than Bret, I don’t think the looming end of the period is that critical. I think it’s just now time to do it. We have reached the end of a long, two-year process and it’s ready to be voted on.”
Riley said Blackwell’s Grocery, which is currently located in the city center area, is only a few weeks away from relocating. Once the relocation is final, the city will be down around $2,000 per month in power revenue.
“It would be very beneficial for us to get our downtown looking better and as quickly as possible so we can have some new business come in and we’ll be able to provide them water, sewer and electricity,” he said. “That makes it easier on everybody in the entire community that buys power, water and sewer. If we have less income from them then, you know, that burden is going to be pushed back to the citizens and I really don’t want to see that.”
Troutman said prior councilmembers intended this money to go to the City Center Project and it was time for it to be approved.
“I truly believe for the long-term sustainability for our community, we have to do something about that area of our town,” she said. “There’s no doubt that replacing that infrastructure in the center of town won’t be beneficial for our entire infrastructure system that serves every person in this community and those are things that are going to have to be done now, while its planned and we have the funds available, or five years from now when we have a water main bust in the middle of town and its an emergency.”
She said voting this project down would be a “disservice to the community.”
“It’s so much more than a park,” she said. “It’s going to provide the infrastructure that will support a commercial area of our city that we don’t have and if we don’t develop a commercial area in our city, it’s going to put a huge burden on the rest of the citizens and residents.”
Troutman, Lunsford and Councilwoman Helen Robertson made up the majority to approve the project.