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County ponders how to spend rec impact fees
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How Effingham County will spend more than $230,000 on recreation is not just a matter on which projects the money will be directed but also how soon.

First District Commissioner Forrest Floyd reiterated his call to spend money on turning the Atlas Sand property into something usable for county residents. The $230,000 for recreation comes from impact fees, and that means the uses for it are limited.

The former Atlas Sand and Gravel site, owned by the county, comprises nearly 350 acres, and about 36 acres were preserved under a state conservation program.

“People want to go fishing,” Floyd said.

Interim county administrator Toss Allen said the projects funded through the impact fees have to increase capacity. Work that maintains or improves existing facilities, without adding more capacity, isn’t eligible for impact fee funding. That includes the improvements slated for the Effingham County Recreation and Parks’ complex off Highway 119.

“We can’t play any more games because of it,” Allen said.

The county has money from impact fees it has to spend, and the revenues from roads, public safety and water and sewer impact fees have been earmarked. Roads impact fees will go toward the Effingham Parkway, public safety revenues to the new jail’s construction and water and sewer impact fees are geared toward retiring the Georgia Environmental Financing Authority loans.

County public works engineer Steve Liotta said the issue in spending the remainder of impact fees lies within parks and recreation.

“Projects in the original study aren’t projects anybody is interested in spending money on,” he said.

Liotta explained that if the county was going to put in lights where lights did not exist, rather than replacing old lights, that could be considered a capacity addition.

Allen said the plan for the ECRP’s Highway 119 complex includes widening the existing gym to accommodate more basketball courts. But doing so would encroach on the county annex, which is still in use.

Commissioners previously approved spending $50,000 in the short-term work program on the Atlas site, and they also approved $350,000 for parking improvements around Ulmer Park.

Constructing the Highway 119 gym, Ulmer Park in Springfield and the Atlas property could cost $1.3 million. Impact fees could provide $484,000 of the needed funding, and the remainder could come from special local option sales tax proceeds.

Based on studies, the county needs 20.5 acres of parks and 5,380 square feet of recreation building space to accommodate growth expected in the next 10 years.

“This is a little bit of money to get started,” Floyd said. “I want to see something happen.”

An estimate that is several years old pegged sloping the banks between $250,000-$300,000, Allen said, and he was not sure how accurate those numbers were today.

“We can’t just start mining sand, though,” Allen said. “That is not what our permit is for.”

Allen said closing out the mining permit was just one issue. Another was the banks of the pond at the Atlas property weren’t properly sloped. Commissioner Steve Mason said another problem at Atlas Sand may be the pond coming up to the property line.

“There is definitely going to be a challenge,” he said.

Effingham County Recreation Commission chairman Craig Johnson said his board members would like to have a workshop with county commissioners.

“Atlas could be something ‘mega’ down the road,” he said.

The recreation department’s south end complex is Sand Hill, which has five ball fields, three soccer fields, a playground, a pond and space for kite and remote control-airplane flying.

“Our focus is getting an area on the north end similar to Sand Hill,” Johnson said, referring to the Highway 119 improvements.

But the rec department also needs additional land and is continuing to pursue acquiring the property it needs.

Johnson said there are resources that fall under recreation many people don’t realize are part of that department, such as the public boat landings.

Commissioner Phil Kieffer asked if any money could be spent to upgrade the field at McCall Road near the intersection of Highway 21 South, pointing it out the field is used for recreation team practices.

Johnson said the McCall Road facility also has been used as overflow for Rincon Rec practices and for practices by travel teams, which pay to use the fields. He added the recreation commission could have a package of its recommendations for the impact fee money use by the commissioners’ next meeting.

“We would love to bring some ideas,” he said.

The impact fee revenues, though, need to be spent soon, county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler urged.

“We need to get this expended now,” he said. “Atlas is not going to be a quick fix. We are under a time constraint. We need to encumber this money.”

To do so, the county needs to have a contract and set dates for completion, the chairman added.