MOULTRIE, Ga. — The millage rate increase approved by Colquitt County Commission Aug. 20 will help the Moultrie-Colquitt County Parks and Recreation Authority repair facilities across the county and more, said the Authority’s executive director, Terry Peek.
The millage rate is now set at 1.976, a 0.576 difference from its previous rate, which Peek said will handle his plan to tackle “critical-needed” improvements to Colquitt County’s recreation facilities.
“We don’t know what improvements or repairs we’re going to have to do over the next month or two, but what we’re trying to address right now are problems that are already evident,” he said.
And by problems evident, he means the Southwest Pool at the Jim Buck Goff Recreation Complex, which has been shut down for the entire summer. Peek said it’ll be rebuilt rather than renovated.
“We’re basically having to dig the pool up and put in a new pool,” he said. “For us to rebuild the pool, it’s not going to be much more expensive than having to go in and renovate what’s already there.”
The work is much needed for something that hasn’t been updated since 1947, he said.
The pool and the nearby diving well, which may soon fail hygiene requirements, are the biggest “critical-needed” improvements. Peek hopes to have them done by Memorial Day 2020.
Other “critical-needed” improvements include the county ball fields (dugout roof repairs, irrigation fixes, fencing and in-field renovation); Shaw and Meredith gyms (roof leak repairs, flooring replacement, air conditioner repair); Northwest Pool (fencing); and the bike trail (path unevenness, overgrown roots and cracks).
Bidding for the gym roof repairs closed Thursday morning. Peek said officials are currently working on specifications for the Southwest Pool.
Peek hopes to have it all done by the end of next year, but even if it isn’t at least he knows money is at-hand to continue the updates in 2021.
The total estimate of the improvements comes to around $2.7 million.
MCCPRA Chairman Brad Gregory said the Authority’s immediate plan is to take out a loan to handle the projects at-hand. The property tax money will pay off the loan as it comes in and any remaining money will be placed in the Authority’s reserves.
The millage rate increase amounts to $22.53 more in property tax for the owner of a $100,000 home with homestead, but Peek said it’ll put county recreation facilities in a better state.
Peek hopes to use the accrued money to continuously update recreation facilities over the years instead of allowing the point of dilapidation to occur beforehand.
“That’s where we’ve not had the capital improvement money in the past to keep the facilities up,” Peek said. “We’ve had to patch here, patch there and just keep going.”
The other updates were marked to be funded by levies of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and the Transportation SPLOST. Between the 2013 SPLOST, 2019 SPLOST and 2019 TSPLOST, the MCCPRA has $900,000, $600,000 and $550,000 from each respectively to handle other improvements, according to Peek.
It’s a “game of catchup,” but a welcome change from the Authority’s days as a city department.
While the city government ran the recreation department, the county government contributed money so county residents could participate, and among the department’s critics were members of the Colquitt County Commission.
District 5 County Commissioner Paul Nagy, who joined the board in 2015, said the county commission wrestled with what to do with recreation until the city and county agreed to make it an authority in 2017.
“We knew that there were things that, quite frankly, could’ve been taken care of a little bit better,” Nagy said.
Angela Castellow — Post 2 city councilwoman and the first chairman of the Rec Authority — said one of the main issues back then was a lack of unified focus. Recreation was a clash between two heads, she said: one with a lot on its plate — the city — and another that lacked interest in running the department as it was — the county.
“It didn’t have a more dedicated group to focus on that thing. On city council, I was looking at police, fire, rec, waste disposal — considering everything — and [recreation] was just one piece of it,” she said.
As for the county, she said it had members on the department’s advisory committee, but it was still a separate entity looking at a city department.
City Manager Pete Dillard said both county and city contributed to the recreation department but ran into a problem.
“The county could have stopped contributing anytime,” he said. “They actually said if we didn’t go to an authority, they would stop contributing.”
The Authority’s creation streamlined the process. It gave the county a bigger stake in the matter, and it gave recreation a set budget, a board with monthly meetings and a dedicated millage rate.
Peek said he’s proud of how united things are now, but it came at a cost. The Authority has a bigger budget but higher expenditures, largely attributed to utilities.
As a city department, the Recreation Department was billed for utilities at cost — whatever rate the city utilities department paid to acquire the electricity, that’s what the other departments paid for the electricity they used.
Now, however, the Recreation Authority pays standard commercial rates for power with an annual percentage reimbursement for the first three years of its existence — 75, 50 then 25 percent until the fourth year.
Dillard said this gives the Authority time to gather its bearings before paying full price. Because of this city taxpayers won’t foot the whole bill, he said.
“You have to be careful that you’re not double taxing the city taxpayers for the city portion and then again for the county portion,” he said. “The Authority eliminates that possibility and with [it], every property taxpayer in Colquitt County pays the same amount — the same rate.”
It’s fair to all, Dillard said.
Other expenditure changes include paying for sales tax; annual audits; assigning itself an attorney; human resources; finding and hiring personnel for bookkeeping; and purchasing — all things the city handled.
But despite the changes, Peek is excited to see where the MCCPRA can go from here.
For more information about the renovations or bidding on the projects, call the MCCPRA at (229) 668-0028.