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Lovejoy narrowly makes SPLOST deadline

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The city of Lovejoy narrowly avoided missing out on $3.3 million worth of funds, assuming that the county's next Special Local Option Sales Tax is approved in a special election in February.

On Tuesday night, the cities of College Park, Jonesboro, Riverdale, Forest Park, Lake City, and Morrow submitted finalized project lists and consented to the intergovernmental agreement with the county required to put the SPLOST on the ballot.

Of the seven cities to benefit from a potential SPLOST, Lovejoy was the only one not to submit its project list by the county's Tuesday night regular business meeting.

According to Lovejoy City Clerk Marie Burnham, city officials had an emergency meeting at 11 a.m., Wednesday to approve the list, which included line items for the purchase of land and equipment for public safety, parks and recreation improvements, and a pedestrian walkway at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and Lovejoy Road.

The final list was faxed to Clayton County attorney Michael Smith at 11:30 a.m., according to Burnham, just one day before the Nov. 8 deadline set by the Georgia Secretary of State, for Clayton County to submit the proposed SPLOST to the State Election Board for consideration of a Feb. 5 special election.

Keith Martin, city attorney of Lovejoy, said the city needed time to revamp its project list, after the county had changed SPLOST revenue projections. Martin said that, only as of Tuesday afternoon, had he learned "that we were under $305 million" for total projected SPLOST revenues throughout the county, and that Lovejoy's portion would be "reduced from $3.5 million to $3.35 million.

Smith said the $305 million SPLOST revenue projection has been available to all parties since Oct. 16, but said that Lovejoy had completed all the necessary paperwork and would be able to participate.

If the new SPLOST is approved, seven cities will divide $72.9 million, with Forest Park receiving the lion's share of 9.8 percent, followed by Riverdale with 5.6 percent. College Park, Jonesboro, Morrow, Lake City and Lovejoy will receive 1 percent, 2.1 percent, 3.4 percent, 2.1 percent, and 1.15 percent respectively.

Lovejoy Mayor Joseph Murphy said he was relieved that Lovejoy was able to make the deadline. "We have to go out there and sell it, but I think it's going to be a program dedicated to recreation and public safety, which is really needed," he said.

Currently, Lovejoy does not have its own police force and contracts the work to the Clayton County Police Department. Murphy said the main priority would be to create a police force for the city by "the second or third quarter" of 2008.

The intergovernmental agreement for the SPLOST, as well as the language for the Feb. 5 ballot, was approved in Tuesday night's Board of Commissioners meeting, despite the fact that Lovejoy did not submit their final project list until Wednesday.

The county only needed the majority of the cities participating in the SPLOST to sign the intergovernmental agreement in order to move forward, and passed the two resolutions, each with a 3-2 vote.

Commissioners Wole Ralph and Sonna Singleton voted against the resolutions, citing a need to delay the SPLOST until the county could make good on its promise to build three more recreation centers with funds from the current SPLOST.

"There was angst from all sides of the county," said Ralph. "[Citizens] wanted to see evidence that the six rec centers were done before they agreed to the new SPLOST."

Ralph believed that it was better to delay the SPLOST referendum until July and rally citizen support in the meantime, rather than rush into a February election and run the risk of the SPLOST being voted down.

"If this SPLOST fails, then we can't have another vote on a SPLOST for a year and a half, and I felt that it was important for us to take time to talk to the citizens who have a problem with the SPLOST and galvanize their support," said Ralph. "It's too important an endeavor for the county not to be successful."