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Forest Park declines to help bail out SRMC

FOREST PARK — Council members in Forest Park agreed Monday to keep $3.3 million in anticipated SPLOST funds rather than help bail out Southern Regional Medical Center.

Mayor David Lockhart told council members that the Clayton County Board of Commissioners agreed to spend $50 million from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund to help the ailing hospital. Commissioners were apparently counting on the municipalities to kick in a total of $10 million toward the effort, he said.

Forest Park, the county’s largest city, would be expected to cough up $3.3 million in SPLOST funds from an expected $19 million.

“The county will be giving $50 million with or without city participation,” said Lockhart. “I don’t see a financial benefit to the city or Southern Regional to cut into our $19 million. No other cities plan to help.”

Forest Park particularly would feel the pinch since its original $30 million expected SPLOST share was slashed by $11 million by county commissioners, he said. That reduction wasn’t lost on Councilwoman Linda Lord.

“If they wanted money from the city, they should have left it the way it was,” she said.

Councilman Tommy Smith agreed.

“If we help them, that will cut us down to $16 million,” he said. “We could do a lot in the city with that much money. I think the county needs to do it.”

Lockhart told the board that the county is financially on the hook because it guaranteed a loan for the hospital.

“We have no such obligation,” he said.

The bail-out issue was debated during a discussion on whether or not to approve the SPLOST projects list, which had to be revised based on the reduction of expected funds. The measure was approved.

Lockhart said because the money is based on sales tax proceeds, the amount of the city’s share could easily change.

“The economy could pick up and we could fully satisfy the list,” he said.

Council also voted to renew the city’s contract with Waste Management Inc., a surprise to residents who’ve heard Lockhart speak negatively of the trash pick-up company since he took office in May. Residents also have complained regularly for months during meetings about trash and recycling issues.

Public Works Director Jeff Eady said the five-year contract remains the same with the exception of an amendment that is favorable to residents.

Lockhart agreed.

“There is nothing hidden in the contract, but the terms make it advantageous to the city,” said Lockhart.

Smith said he knows residents have been “disgruntled” with Waste Management’s service.

“I’m one of them,” Lockhart said.

Eady said one of the additions include giving residents who don’t recycle a second container for trash. Another allows residents to use a company of their choosing for roll-off containers typically used for construction debris — another point of contention raised over the last year.

“Residents can call whomever they want,” said Eady.

The best aspect of the contract?

“The cost to residents is unchanged,” he said, which means they will continue until 2019 to pay the same $260 annual fee they have since 2012.

In addition to getting the concessions residents wanted — and not seeing a fee increase — the city saved $8,000 to $12,000 by negotiating the contract instead of bidding it out, said Lockhart.

“There are real costs involved in just putting it out to bid,” he said, in response to Councilman Dabouze Antoine’s query about the process. “It would take $8,000 to $12,000 in man-hours. In looking at past bids, Waste Management was so far beyond anyone else in competition, we weren’t wanting to spend $8,000 to $12,000 to end up with Waste Management.”

City Manager Frank Brandon said the cost-savings are even greater when Waste Management is compared to the city being in the trash pick-up business.

“It’s better now than when the city did it,” he said. “Waste Management does a much better job with garbage pick-up and recycling.”

Councilwoman Maudie McCord agreed.

“What we’ve had has been working so far,” she said.

The contract renewal passed 3-2 with Antoine and Councilwoman Latresa Akins dissenting.

Antoine also voted against transferring land to Downtown Development Authority for transfer to Atlanta Gas Light Co. The city negotiated a $39,000 sale of the land last year and required the property transfer of property to complete the deal. Antoine didn’t discuss his reluctance to approve the transfer, which Lockhart criticized.

“The city is committed to transfer the property and this step is needed,” said Lockhart. “It would be ill-advised and directly against your fiduciary duties as a council member to not make this transfer.”

Antoine also failed in his third attempt to get a resident appointed to Urban Redevelopment Agency. The three-member committee was formed last month to help with the city’s purchase of the former Army base, Fort Gillem.

Antoine was rebuffed several times by Lockhart when he sought to question the city attorney for clarification on the issue from the dais.