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Rec centers get $4.4 million

By Justin Boron

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night chose to allocate only $4.4 million toward the construction of recreation centers instead of the $25 million in bonds proposed by a commissioner motivated by the demands of a frustrated citizen base.

The wide-ranging dollar amounts generated from two sides of the debate over the six recreation centers promised in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax initiative, which passed in a 2003 referendum.

On one side, citizens advocated ensuring the centers' future immediately. On the other, county officials recommended gradually reallocating money for them.

Funding for the centers has become a tenuous issue in the community since uncertainty arose about the county's ability to collect sufficient funds to complete them.

One year into the SPLOST, with no recreation centers built or planned, the public honed in on the topic after county officials said a proposal in the Georgia General Assembly could force the government to abandon some of the promised centers.

The proposal, which aims to help a struggling Delta Air Lines by limiting fuel sales tax collections, also led the county to acknowledge that a disproportionate amount of the SPLOST money had been allocated to roadway projects in the program.

Tuesday night, Dan Martin, the county finance director, listed a series of scenarios in which the county could remedy the recreation center problem.

He recommended handling it internally by reallocating money currently devoted to road projects.

By taking $15 million in 2005 and 2006 from the road program, Martin said five of the recreation centers would be completed.

The money taken from the road projects would be replaced with collected SPLOST funds in 2010 and 2011, he said.

County Commissioner Wole Ralph, who proposed the $25 million in bonds, pointed out that Martin's scenario would fall short of what was initially promised.

"We need to see the money set aside for the centers to make sure it isn't spent on something else later," he said.

Eldrin Bell, the county commission chairman, said he adamantly opposes borrowing the money and received the backing of the other commission members when none of them motioned a second for Ralph's proposal early in the meeting.

Bell said the gradual approach was the most financially sound option to build the centers.

Despite his emphasis on fiscal discipline, a string of citizens took to the podium one-by-one to demand action.

Bobby Simmons, the economic development chief for the Clayton County NAACP and a member of the SPLOST committee, said $4.4 million was insufficient.

Xavier Ross, 14, the freshman class president of Riverdale High School, gathered with fellow students at the podium.

"We the youth are indeed in need of our recreational centers," he said.

Ross also warned the commission of his parents' power, if the county's youth is neglected.

"We the youth will leave it to our parents to decide who is in office next," he said.