Proposed civic arena and admin building fuel SPLOST debate

ClaytonCounty SPLOST Citizens Review Committee Chairman DeMont Davis presents the group’s report on the proposed 2015 tax to county commissioners Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

ClaytonCounty SPLOST Citizens Review Committee Chairman DeMont Davis presents the group’s report on the proposed 2015 tax to county commissioners Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

JONESBORO — Debate over a proposed $35 million sales tax-funded civic arena continued this week as a citizens committee presented its report that listed the facility as a high priority for Clayton County.

The county’s special purpose local option sales tax citizens review committee is leaving the decision about what to cut from the county’s SPLOST wish list up to county officials. However, the committee did rank projects into high, medium, low and non-priorities for the county commission.

Among the high priority projects are costly facilities, such as the civic arena and a $36.2 million county administration building. At the same time, some public safety vehicle requests, such as a new helicopter for the police department, got lower priority rankings.

That rubbed some officials the wrong way.

“Different SPLOSTs we’ve had have been very good with addressing needs with recreation and helping us out in transportation, especially when we were in the rough, rough down period financially,” said Commissioner Sonna Singleton. “It seems like that has been put on the back burner, except within the cities.”

The county appears on track to have a six-year SPLOST that would collect about $272.3 million. Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day told commissioners the mayors were ready to sign an intergovernmental agreement for a SPLOST that would last that long.

However, Day said the county would have to make some concessions to get the agreement.

“We do not need a level 1 or level 2 project at a cost of $35-plus million when so many of our citizens are struggling with unemployment, transportation problems and general financial strain,” Day said.

Level 1 projects are those countywide projects with help the county carry out its services to citizens. A county administration building, or a courthouse is such a project. Level 2 projects are those projects which are also countywide but do not help the county carry out essential services to citizens. A civic arena is an example of such a project.

Inclusion of such a project cuts down on the amount of money available to split up between the county and the cities. In a letter to the commission, the county’s mayors said the county should include funding for those projects in its own allocation instead of letting it cut into the cities SPLOST pots.

Citizens Review Committee Chairman DeMont Davis said the committee did not have information about some projects to justify a higher priority ranking. He added the group also felt it was time for Clayton County to take a leap forward.

“We basically feel now is the time for Clayton County to take a risk,” said Davis. “We are at that stage in our county where we are beginning to see development, and we believe we need to begin considering projects that have an extremely strong return on investment.”

There are some non-facilities projects that the committee felt were high priorities. One such project is a plan to spend as much money on sidewalks in unincorporated parts of the county as would be spent on the civic arena.

Between the $35 million the county is asking for sidewalks, and sidewalk requests from Jonesboro, Riverdale, Lake City and Lovejoy, about $40 million would be allocated for sidewalk projects in the county.

County officials have set three dates for public hearings on the project. The forums will be held Jan. 7, 14 and 21. The commission is expected to vote Jan. 24 on adopting a final project list for the SPLOST vote. The issue is expected to go before voters May 20 for approval.