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Forest Park leaders OK grant to catch copper thieves

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

The Forest Park City Council, Monday night, approved the upcoming fiscal year's SPLOST Capital Project Fund, and got a status report as the collection of the special tax enters its fourth year.

Councilmembers also held a public hearing on a $17,306 law enforcement grant that will help Forest Park police officers catch suspects in the widespread problem of copper-and scrap-metal thefts.

City Manager John Parker said the 6-year SPLOST collection of about $59 million for improvement projects is nearly on track. "It's been slow because of the economy, but we're satisfied with the progress," said Parker.

The city will open bids, Friday, on new sidewalks near Forest Park schools.

"Some of the items on the budget, the city has already accomplished," Parker told the council. "Others are in process. For some of the others, we will get the money first, and then determine which project goes next."

For example, a $1 million project to improve the HVAC system and roof at the recreation department has been completed. The city also spent $2.5 million to bury utility lines along Main Street.

Should a proposed train between Macon and Atlanta be approved, Forest Park has $3 million to build a transit station for passengers.

"If it comes to fruition, we're ready to move forward," said Parker. "If it doesn't happen, we won't spend the money."

Other projects on the total budget include about $6 million for property acquisitions for street improvements, recreational areas and greenspace; $2.3 million for a City Hall expansion and parking; $1.2 million for a pedestrian bridge over Forest Parkway; $3.4 million for road paving; and $6.5 million for miscellaneous recreational projects to include a skate park, a walking trail and miniature golf.

The city has budgeted $700,000 to buy police cars; $1.5 million for fire equipment, and $3.5 million to build fire Station 3.

Mayor Corine Deyton and councilmembers will meet again with Parker Wednesday at 6 p.m., for a project planning session.

Forest Park Police Capt. James Reynolds took questions on the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. "This grant will enable the police department to buy surveillance equipment to identify people stealing copper and metals," said Reynolds. "I can't go into much detail without giving away what we will be doing."

Reynolds said the equipment is mobile and will be moved around the city as hot spots are identified. He told the council that the thefts are a problem not unique to Forest Park.

"The problem is not isolated to Forest Park, and as the economy worsens and the prices of copper and other metals go up, we will continue to see the thefts," he said.

Thieves tend to target vacant houses and apartment complexes. Bill Piper told councilmembers he is in the real estate business, and is familiar with the widespread theft problems. He favors pursuit of the grant.

"To me, it's a no-brainer," Piper told the council. "If we can get money from the federal government to catch these thieves, I'm in support of it."

Monday night's meeting was the first without ousted Ward 2 Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams. Her name placard was covered over in white paper. The council voted Williams out of office, July 28, for ethics violations. It is not known if she will appeal the decision.