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Rec Centers still stirring up citizens

By Justin Boron

Amid swelling public pressure, County Commissioner Wole Ralph has proposed that the remaining funds obligated in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program be allocated to the construction of six recreation centers.

He asked for the item to be added to Tuesday night's county commission meeting.

The issue has struck a nerve in many of the citizens who approved the SPLOST program solely for the centers.

In its first year, money from the program, which promises to make $200 million in roadway improvements and $40 million in recreation centers, has almost invariably gone toward transportation projects.

Thirty-five million dollars remain from collections, Ralph says in a letter to County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell.

"The request comes in response to the overwhelming support displayed by over 400 Clayton County citizens in favor of the immediate construction at (Thursday night's) town hall meeting," the letter says.

Frustrations about the slow progress on the centers peaked when Bell announced that a state legislative bill limiting fuel sales tax collections could force the removal of recreation centers from the program.

He has since said he would build the centers but has given no timeline and said he is adamantly opposed to borrowing money for the centers.

At Thursday's town hall meeting, organized by Ralph, citizens directed fiery comments at Bell, who was absent and had faced a citizen group's demand for his resignation a day earlier.

Bell said the demand was based on "flawed, factless, and misinterpreted information."

Mario Wozniak, 48, said at the town hall meeting, the centers were critical to making a safe community.

"You're doing a complete dis-service to your (community)," he said.

The meeting was not without opposition to the move to build recreation centers immediately.

Terry Baskin, the county tax commissioner, said he wouldn't support borrowing money to build the centers.

"Let's use common sense," he said. "Don't dig us into a hole."

Clayton County NAACP President Dexter Matthews, who has backed the recreation centers initiative, asked for all of the people attending the meeting to show up for Tuesday night's county commission business meeting.

He said a formal vote on the issue would clarify "who is on (the community's side) and who is not on their side."