Effingham County commissioners have re-designated $750,000 in special purpose local option sales tax revenue from a specific recreation project to a less specific category.
In draft version of the county’s special funds budget, the county had $750,000 set aside for renovations at the Effingham County Recreation and Parks gym on Highway 119. But proponents of the Springfield Ulmer Park promenade project lobbied commissioners to back that work financially.
“We went into the promenade project wanting a park built for the betterment of Springfield and the betterment of Effingham County,” Jamey Stancell, a member of the park promenade committee, said.
After being told at a previous commissioners’ meeting by Commissioner Reggie Loper that the project was on the “backburner,” “I would like to know what is on the front burner,” he said.
Craig Johnson, a member of the county recreation board, implored the commissioners to push forward with work on the aging gym.
“I don’t have anything against the park project,” he said. “It shouldn’t leapfrog a project already on the books.”
Johnson said work on the 40-year-old gym has been postponed for five years already.
“We have not spent the money, trying to save up for a bigger project,” he said.
Johnson also said the improvements to the rec gym are part of the current SPLOST, which is set to expire. He questioned when work on Ulmer Park was placed on a SPLOST ballot. The extension of the penny sales tax passed last year will go into effect in 2012.
The current SPLOST was targeted to take in $50 million through the one-cent sales tax. But it looks like it will be closer to $40 million.
“That’s a significant decrease,” County Administrator David Crawley said.
Said county finance director Joanna Wright said there also have significant decreases in the amount of local option sales tax receipts, and the county has to regroup.
“I don’t want to do away with the park,” said Loper, whose district includes Springfield. “But I don’t think we have the money to do it. We’ve got to sit down and figure out where we’re going with the money we have.”
In urging commissioners to support Ulmer Park, Stancell said in an earlier meeting that initial talks that the city was willing to up its stake in the share from $200,000 to $440,000, reducing the county’s share from $1 million to about $800,000.
“I don’t see another project out there where there is another governmental body out there willing to work with you,” he told commissioners.
“SPLOST needs to impact a community,” Stancell said. “How many people will the park impact?”
Stancell also proposed that the park could help buoy falling property values, increasing the county’s tax digest.
“I don’t know if my home value will go up if you build a new gym,” he said. “But if you start building a nice park with a community center the city has agreed to pay for, I think we’re looking at something that will increase home value, that will increase the number of people living in the county.”
Johnson said the rec department has the use of gyms at local schools and those facilities are in use, often five nights a week.
But they can’t always use those gyms, if the schools have events planned there, for example.
“We do use every available gym that we can,” he said.
Commissioners said it may take a while to come up with an answer on what to do with the $750,000 now not dedicated to a specific project in the recreation SPLOST budget.
“We’ve got several issues to decide on in the next few months,” said Commissioner Bob Brantley.
Commissioners also espoused their support of the Ulmer Park project.
“A lot of energy and effort has gone into that project,” Chairman Dusty Zeigler said. “Everybody up here wants to see some motion, some turning of the wheel.”