By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to accept $500,000 in federal money to help with the improvement of Highway 138, and $272,000 in state money to purchase a new robot for the county Police Department's Bomb Squad.
The $500,000, provided through the Georgia Department of Transportation, will fund the preliminary engineering phase of highway improvements, and pay for landscaping and beautification, according to Commissioner Michael Edmondson.
Edmondson, who recently championed the renaming of the eastern portion of Highway 138 to Lake Spivey Parkway, said the funding fits into the county's plans for establishing the area as a high-quality, medical and commercial corridor.
"A lot of things are coming together to make that area top notch and improve the quality of life and type of jobs we can attract to Clayton County," he said. "Any resources that Clayton can draw into itself, in order to raise the bar ... is money well spent. If everything works out as planned, we will begin planting later this year, during the [fall] planting season," he said.
Edmondson said the board will eventually have to sign another agreement to begin the project's construction phase. The county will have to match the $500,000 in federal funding by 20 percent. It can pay that in cash, or "in-kind services," such as inmate labor, according to Edmondson.
The board also accepted a $272,000 grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) to allow the police department to purchase a "bomb" robot. Police Chief Jeff Turner said the department's bomb-disposal arsenal will contain two robots, rather than one, which will provide the south metro area with better protection in case of multiple threats.
"If there is a bomb scare in the southern metro area, we send our equipment out through a mutual-aid agreement," Turner said. "Both robots are going to be operational, but this will better serve the Region 7 area [south Fulton and the Southern Crescent] with bomb services. In a situation where you have multiple suspicious packages, we would be able to handle dual situations.
"Not only is it a benefit to the county, it is a benefit to the people of Region 7," he continued. "It is at no cost to the taxpayer, which is very significant, because this equipment is very expensive."
In another matter on Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners conducted the first two of three hearings to give the public a chance to voice concerns about a proposed property tax increase of 3 mills. Recently, the board voted to raise the county's base millage rate from 13.453 to 16.453.
Only a few people voiced their concerns, during hearings Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening. William McDonald, 78, a resident of the county for 50 years, said increased taxes will have a negative effect on the county's senior population.
"Everything's tight," McDonald said. "You have a lot of older, senior citizens living in Clayton County. My taxes would go from $400-something to $600-something. It's not that significant in some peoples' eyes. I lost my job after Eastern Air Lines went bankrupt, and I wasn't able to work after that. After 25 years of early retirement, every dollar counts."
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the tax increase is needed to avoid employee furloughs and decreased services. He assured audience members that the board is working in the county's best interest. "We, in our best minds, did the very best we could to have the greatest consideration for our senior citizens," he said.
"This board is not going to stop right here with raising your taxes. We are going to look at ways of becoming more efficient with what we do in the county," he promised. "We're going to be looking for funding sources from the federal government and stimulus funding, and virtually everything we can to make it as easy as we can."
The board will have another public meeting on Tuesday, July 21, at 6 p.m., prior to setting the new millage rate.