The Valdosta Daily Times
The SPLOST committee embarked on a tour Wednesday to show the local media the past successes of previous SPLOSTs and the potential of SPLOST VII.
The trip consisted of touring Downtown Valdosta, Norman Drive, the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant, Old Quitman Highway Bridge, the Lowndes County Animal Shelter, the Mildred Hunter Community Center and the Ralph Harrington Park & Pool, and Vallotton Park. The tour concluded at the Judicial and Administrative Complex in Downtown.
Hosting the tour was SPLOST Chairman Suzan Prince, Valdosta Mayor John Gayle and City Manager Larry Hanson, Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter and County Manager Joe Pritchard.
— Hanson discussed the downtown Streetscape project which began in the 1990s with a combination of special purpose local option sales tax dollars and a loan guaranteed and paid back by downtown merchants and property owners.
— The tour traveled down Norman Drive to see the developments funded by SPLOST VI. Norman Drive used to be a small, two-lane road with a few stores, but now it has grown to house major companies like Walmart and Sam’s Club, Cheddar’s, Gander Mountain, and Academy Sports. The intersection and red light on Norman Drive that divides Academy Sports and Sam’s Club was funded by SPLOST VI. Slaughter said this intersection was a requirement by Academy Sports to locate in Valdosta.
Slaughter continued, “Norman Drive draws in a lot of business from the interstate and the surrounding communities.”
The Rainwater Conference Center has become a major SPLOST success story, Slaughter said. People in the area are utilizing the conference center which puts money back into the community.
— Swinging by the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant, Hanson showed the media the extensive damage to the plant from the 2009 flood while Utilities Director Henry Hicks explained the future of WWTP. He explained that if SPLOST VII passes, the plant will be relocated three-quarters of a mile away from the Withlacoochee River, as opposed to the current location which is only a half a mile away from the river. This would put the plant outside of the 500-year floodplain.
— As the group traveled to the Old Quitman Highway Bridge, Slaughter explained that the bridge was built in the 1920s. The Department of Transportation rates bridges on a 1 to 100 scale, and the Old Quitman Highway Bridge ranks a 23. This makes the bridge a public-safety issue, and it deters business from Lowndes County.
Slaughter encouraged the public to approve SPLOST because it would allow the county to fix the seven bridges in the community that are failing. “Lowndes is the greatest county you can live in. Let’s get this SPLOST passed so we can move forward,” said Slaughter.
— The Lowndes County Animal Shelter was the next stop on the SPLOST tour. The animal shelter would receive $800,000 from SPLOST VII, and this would allow the shelter to expand to house more animals. It would also make the necessary repairs to the shelter’s crumbling exterior walls. Slaughter said, “These animals depend on us to help them.” Right now, the shelter can only house about 65 to 80 animals.
— Traveling down South Fry Street, Hanson displayed past improvements to the community from SPLOST revenue. He showed the Mildred Hunter Community Center and the Ralph Harrington Park & Pool. These facilities provide places for children to play and develop, but they also provide a place for adults to participate in job searches, and provides them exercise rooms. Hanson also pointed out the new 200-million-gallon water storage tank.
“This tank was crucial to the recent Industrial Park fire because it allowed the fire trucks to easily get the water they needed to fight the fire,” said Hanson. This tank was paid for by revenues raised by previous SPLOSTs.
— Before the tour ended at the Judicial Complex, it stopped at Vallotton Park, where Prince and Parks and Recreation Director George Page explained how the soccer fields are undersized for regulation play, so the teams are forced to play on fields in counties that surround Lowndes. If SPLOST VII passes, the county can build regulation-sized fields. This would bring revenue from teams playing in Lowndes, as families would stay in local hotels and spend their money at local businesses.
Also included in SPLOST VII are plans to build a Miracle Park. A Miracle Park is a park that enables special-needs children to play various sports.
“The baseball fields will be made from synthetic rubber,” said Prince, and this would be a safe environment for children to build confidence and interact with other children.
Gayle said that Valdosta is like a bicycle, and it is a city that needs to keep pedaling. The failure of SPLOST would be similar to a cyclist who stops pedaling, and eventually topples over. In support of SPLOST, Hanson said, “Needs are always greater than resources.” Answering a question about the county’s “Plan B,” Pritchard said the county will have to fix these projects whether SPLOST passes are not.
The hypothetical failure of SPLOST VII would force Valdosta and Lowndes County to raise millage and utility rates because all of the items on this list are basic-needs items.