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County wants to hear from you on revised SPLOST projects

Grady County commissioners will host a public hearing/open house on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 6 p.m. to hear from the citizenry about proposed projects to be funded with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proceeds.
The event will be held in the main courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse.
Originally, an aquatic center featuring a lap pool was contemplated in the 2008 SPLOST referendum. County and city officials had agreed to jointly fund the project and $900,000 was earmarked for the aquatic center.
However, county leaders are skeptical of investing the money in a new pool, which would require money to operate and maintain for the life of the pool.
Instead, county commissioners are contemplating the construction of scaled down aquatic center at Barber Park that features a splash pad and an outdoor fitness center.
The county was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Department of Natural Resources for the Barber Park project improvements in March of this year. Carlos Tobar, Grady County’s administrator, is planning to use the $100,000 grant, plus between $275,000 and $325,000 of SPLOST proceeds in addition to private donations to finance the construction of the splash pad facility and new public restrooms.
In addition, $58,000 in playground equipment and outdoor exercise equipment is to be installed at Barber Park as part of the project.
Tobar noted that the project would be for county residents of all ages.
The county administrator earlier this year reported the splash pad would feature approximately 12 elements including sports themed fountains. The new playground equipment would include a rock climbing element as well as slides, monkey bars and more.
For adults, the outdoor exercise equipment would include a recumbent bike, exercise bench, chin bar, bench press, shoulder press, elliptical cardio walker and wobble board.
“The adult exercise equipment is ADA accessible, so someone can pull up with their wheelchair right to the equipment and begin working out,” Tobar said in April of this year.
The county intends to reimburse the city 39 percent of the $900,000 that is not invested in the scaled down aquatic center. According to Tobar, that would be approximately $200,000.
Tobar has recommended spending up to $325,000 for the scaled down aquatic center and spending $370,000 of what was originally earmarked for the aquatic center on four county volunteer fire department substations and firefighting equipment in an effort to lower the cost of fire insurance paid by rural Grady County residents.
In April of this year, County Fire Chief Richard Phillips estimated that a reduction from an ISO Class Nine to a Class Six would save county residents approximately $637,000 annually in fire insurance premiums.
Tobar told county commissioners this week he had surveyed a dozen people and all were supportive of his recommendation.
Commission Vice Chairman Elwyn Childs responded that he had not surveyed anyone, but said he had been surveyed and what he was hearing from the public was a “split decision.”
Chairman Charles Norton questioned whether the county could legally use the money not spent on the aquatic center for the VFD without putting the question before the voters.
Kevin S. Cauley, attorney for Grady County, said that it was permissible, if there was additional money, to spend it on another project that was approved on the SPLOST ballot. Cauley also reminded the board there is a procedure for abandoning a project.
“Let’s just put all the options out there and see what we hear,” Norton said.
Vice Chairman Childs said that many local residents are “not beating around the bush” and have told him they would not support another SPLOST if the county does not do what the voters approved.
According to Chairman Norton, special interests pushed the lap pool and he said the turnout for the 2008 SPLOST was only about 1,200 voters. “What do the other voters feel about it? This is the closest way to finding out,” Norton said.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland cautioned commissioners to watch what they say and predicted the board will be hit from the left and the right.
Chairman Norton said this would be more of an information gathering session. “I don’t think we will need to say a whole lot,” he said.

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