Originally created 08/08/06

Commissioners plan to vote on list of projects



A proposed Capital Improvements Plan in Columbia County was given a stay of execution Monday, a reprieve that will last at least until today but could possibly last much longer.

"I really couldn't in good conscience not allow this to go to a commission vote,'' said Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross. Until Monday afternoon, he had pondered whether to pull the plug on the plan and an accompanying bond issue by not placing the issue on a meeting agenda because of eroding support among elected officials.

"I do have some reservations and concern about the support and about the total agreement of the commission, but I think they'll probably come together.''

The next step for the plan is a commission meeting at 11 a.m. today at the Evans Government Complex auditorium, where the commission will vote on whether to send a current list of proposed projects to voters on the November general election ballot.

Friday is the deadline to have the list and accompanying bond of more than $40 million added to the November ballot.

If the issue were to make it to the ballot and voters approved it, the county's tax rate would be increased by 1 mill for a 12-year period to help pay on the bond issue, which would fund the list, to include stormwater, transportation, recreation and public safety projects.

The 1-mill increase would equate to about $40 a year on the average $100,000 home, officials say.

In a work session Monday, elected officials, including some commissioners and constitutional officers, continued to disagree about the list.

"If you aren't together, how do you expect us to come together, too?'' asked Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle. "As it sits now, no, I'm not for it.''

Sheriff Whittle withdrew his support of the plan in a July 26 work session after Commissioner Steve Brown questioned Probate Court Judge Pat Hardaway about the need for new software.

Grovetown City Council also recently voted not to support the plan or the bond issue, saying a primary straw poll vote showed more people opposing the idea.

County commissioners say they feel the straw poll question was premature in that a list of projects hadn't been completed.

Grovetown leaders say they feel they're not getting their fair share of the bond money based on their population.

County officials say they feel it's fairer to base the amount Grovetown should receive on tax digest figures instead of the city's population.

At Monday's work session, commissioners also had disagreements about one Capital Improvements Project item in particular - that of $1 million for a Bowen Pond sedimentation project bordering West Lake subdivision.

Mr. Brown said he is against having the money allocated to the pond if it is not accessible to the public.

"I can't do it,'' he said about whether he would support the improvements plan if it involved the Bowen Pond project as it is. Still, he said he feels the matter should go before voters.

Mr. Cross said the county has previously agreed to conduct work at the pond and should stick to its word, saying Monday that he "wholeheartedly'' disagrees with pulling Bowen Pond from the list.

In the end, three of the commissioners - Diane Ford, Tommy Mercer and Mr. Brown - said they support sending the issue to the ballot to let voters decide. Commissioner Lee Anderson disagreed, saying he wanted to put the list on hold.

"I believe we need these projects, but at the time we can not all come together and agree,'' he said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Columbia County Commission will meet at 11 a.m. today at the Evans Government Complex auditorium to vote on whether to send a Capital Improvements Plan and accompanying bond issue to the November ballot.