By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Branch of the NAACP held a press conference on Monday in front of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners office to oppose what they believe is a rushed referendum on a six-year, Special Local Option Sales Tax.
Today, residents will decide whether to support a new $305 million SPLOST, which has the potential to fund a plethora of public safety and infrastructure improvements around the county. Of the most notable promises are a new Juvenile Justice Center, three new police precincts, a new multi-purpose Fire Department training facility, and two new libraries.
The NAACP has urged residents to vote down the 2008 SPLOST proposal, largely based on the county's inability, thus far, to build additional recreation centers promised in the 2003 SPLOST.
"When we started this process, we thought the recreation centers would give our children a place to go," said Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County NAACP. "It's is better to focus on prevention ... rather than to build more police stations to get to our children sooner."
"Let's focus on the community first," said Danny Hayes, the local NAACP's third vice president. "[The children] really just don't have anything to do. What is the message that we want to send to the kids? That we want to lock them up?
"We're not saying that we're against a Juvenile Justice Center," Hayes continued. "It's not an either or. [The BOC] should just do what they said they were going to do in the 2003 SPLOST."
While collections for the current SPLOST are expected to cap by the end of August 2008, the county has, so far, only built three recreation centers with SPLOST funds.
The civic organization has also butted heads with the county on the number of recreation centers slated in the 2003 SPLOST. BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell has argued that the language of the 2003 SPLOST ensures five recreation centers, and that the promise of six was misadvertised.
The NAACP has argued that the number of recreation centers has always been six. Those assertions fall in line with the Parks and Recreation Department's 10-Year Master Plan, laid out in the county's 2003 SPLOST handbook.
The 113-page document, revised on March 12, 2004, lays out a plan for six recreation centers. Each center was to be built to approximately 30,000 square feet with two gymnasiums, a dance room, an aerobics room, an art room, a game room, a registration arena, three meeting rooms, two pools, and outdoor basketball areas.
"There was a reason to have six" recreation centers, said Lou Hisel, a former mayor of Morrow and co-chair of the 2003 SPLOST Committee. "The goal was to have a recreation center within 10-15 minutes of anywhere within Clayton County.
"That book was given to us at our first meeting," Hisel. "This was developed before the committee was formed. It was very, very detailed."
Bell has argued that a 2008 SPLOST is desperately needed and that county improvements would suffer without the funds it would generate.
"It is inconceivable how any organization, group, or individual could opt to spend taxpayers' money ... on capital improvements, and not use the instrument provided to us by the state to raise money to do capital projects," said Bell on Friday. "No right-thinking person could do such dastardly wrong to so many people who are in need."
The NAACP argued that the 2008 proposal lacks the details of the 2003 SPLOST, noting a lack of specific project locations and completion dates. Members say the county would be better served by delaying the SPLOST for a year.
"The majority of that money is still in the bank," said Hayes. "We don't have to rush to do this. They can do that next year."