Athens’ mayor and commission are still trying to give the Classic Center $34 million of public tax money. It’s time to tell them not to.
Contact the mayor and your commissioner (or all of them) at:
Mayor Kelly Girtz: email@example.com
Patrick Davenport (District 1): firstname.lastname@example.org
Mariah Parker (District 2): email@example.com
Melissa Link (District 3): firstname.lastname@example.org
Allison Wright (District 4): email@example.com
Tim Denson (District 5): firstname.lastname@example.org
Jerry Nesmith (District 6): email@example.com
Russell Edwards (District 7): firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Herod (District 8): email@example.com
Ovita Thornton (District 9): firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Hamby (District 10): email@example.com
Athens-Clarke County has been working on a list of SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) projects for 2020, with a citizens advisory committee helping to direct the process. The mayor and commission was supposed to vote on the final list of projects on July 2 but delayed doing so, holding a last-minute work session on July 10 at the Water Resources Center (and due to its location was not filmed, making it much less accessible to the public). In the course of that meeting, which included a special presentation by Classic Center executive director Paul Cramer, they decided to expand the tax collection to run one more year and add the proposed Classic Center arena back to the list of projects, at a cost of $34 million worth of SPLOST money.
Other projects were also added back in. Lee Shearer writes, in the Athens Banner-Herald:
The new list commissioners will vote on Thursday includes several additions to the list the citizen advisory panel submitted in May, including an $826,000 green space acquisition fund, $5.3 million to upgrade the Bear Hollow Zoo in Memorial Park, $5.3 million for a mental health recovery facility, $750,000 to create “water trails” on the Middle Oconee and North Oconee rivers, and millions for “improvements” at Bishop Park and other parks.
A number of project budgets would be cut by varying amounts from the citizen advisory estimates, and a few would be combined into one, including renewable energy and sustainability programs.
Improvements to the Holland Youth Complex are now budgeted at $5 million vs. $14.7 million originally, but other cuts are smaller.
An eastside library budget is trimmed by 5% to $13.7 million, for example, while a public safety vehicle replacement program is reduced by 25% to about $8 million.
The “space modernization” project budget is also cut by 5% to $77.9 million. That budget would cover building a new courthouse for judicial functions, then converting the existing courthouse into offices for other government departments.
We also don’t like the “space modernization” project, which looks like expanding the reach of the carceral state, but at least the citizens advisory committee vetted and included it on its recommended list. The Classic Center receives approximately $2 million of ACC hotel-motel tax every year to subsidize its operations (more than half the total hotel-motel tax generated). Yes, it generates economic impact and provides jobs, but if it is economically successful, it should be able to fund this project itself, whereas other projects on the potential SPLOST list are less able to do so. Other arenas are already being developed in the Athens area without receiving a $34 million gift to do so. There are many good projects on this SPLOST list, and adding the Classic Center expansion back in endangers them all.
Changing this list at the last minute without providing an opportunity for the public to have input is anti-democratic. Did other SPLOST projects that didn’t make the list have a chance to present their case to the mayor and commission repeatedly (you can see the full list here)?
The mayor and commission will vote on the final list of SPLOST projects (which is not yet listed on the website) at City Hall on Thursday, July 18, at 6 p.m., in a special called session, the agenda for which is also not yet posted. Citizens should have the opportunity to speak for three minutes during the time allotted for citizen input. Free parking deck vouchers for citizens attending the meeting are available on the 2nd floor of City Hall.by