By LOWELL VICKERS
The City of Cedartown is gearing up for a flurry of activity in coming months as a number of long-awaited improvement projects, funded by a special sales tax, get under way.
One of those projects was scheduled to get started this week. The sidewalks on the block surrounding the Polk County Historical Society, the former Hawkes Children's Library, are being replaced at a cost of around $5,000.
City Commisioner John Barrett is among the city officials who championed this project. Barrett recently brought photos of the sidewalks to a city council meeting, showing the cracked and broken walkway. He stated that the sidewalks might date back to the 1930s.
Also taking shap is a major upgrade to the popular water fountain at Peek Park. A new pump and control panel have been ordered. But for now, the fountain is out of commission – which means it can’t do what it has done for years: cool off local children on hot summer days.
Cedartown City Manager Charles Akridge said he's already gotten calls about the water fountain.
"We understand its importance to children," Akridge said. "We're going to fast-track it."
Akridge said he's been on the phone with the parts supplier to try and speed up delivery. City maintenance staff said they hope to have the fountain up and running again by the weekend of July 4 -- but it may be the week after that before the fountain is again functional.
Numerous other projects are planned for this summer and later in the year, all funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).
In November 2007, the voters of Polk County approved a SPLOST referendum to raise an estimated $36 million in revenue for capital projects throughout the county. The one-cent sales tax collection began in July 2008 and will run for a 6-year period, ending in June 2014.
Although the slowdown in local economy has lowered collections, money is still coming in to do the projects that the city told voters it would do, Akridge said.
Akridge stated that the City of Cedartown’s portion of the sales tax collection over the six-year period is expected to be $8,941,000, or 24.84 percent of the total.
The Polk County government is estimated to benefit from a total of $19,339,200, or 53.72 percent.
The remainder is split between the county’s other two municipalities. The expected revenue for the city Rockmart is expected to be $7,210,800, or 20.03 percent, while Aragon should reap a total benefit of $507,600, or 1.41 percent of the total.
For the city of Cedartown, Akridge said the proceeds from SPLOST are slated to be used for the following categories and amounts: funding of business park development (pre-2008 debt) in the amount of $2,900,000; streets, sidewalks and storm sewer Improvements and equipment totaling $1,400,000; water and sewer infrastructure improvements and equipment, $2,237,900; water maintenance equipment, $600,000; recreation and parks improvements, structures and equipment, $350,000; and public land, buildings and improvements for a total of $854,500.
SPLOST funds are received each month by the city of Cedartown, Akridge explained. The State of Georgia collects the one-cent sales tax from retail businesses within the county and then distributes the proceeds to Polk County, which in turn passes along the portion allocated by the percentage approved in the referendum for Cedartown, Rockmart and Aragon.
Cedartown has received an average of $109,000 per month for the last nine months. Based on the receipts for the same 9 month period a year ago, SPLOST receipts are running on an average almost $7,000 per month below last year’s amounts.
Akridge explains that this decrease is a factor of the current economy and a corresponding decrease in retail sales throughout the county. This trend, if not corrected by an improved economy during the remaining five years of the current SPLOST, will curtail capital improvement projects planned.
Akridge said the SPLOST funds are important to the city because they allow for the funding of necessary capital projects. To demonstrate how the city has benefited so far from the 2008 SPLOST vote, Akridge pointed to the following examples of how the city has spent the money:
Since July 2008, the city has paid $242,840 in bond payments that financed improvements to the business park;
More than $75,000 has been spent to benefit Public Safety with the purchase and financing of five new police cars and an upgrade of all computer equipment and software for the police department;
In 2008, the city completed a $2.7 million water project which replaced all of the water meters throughout the city;
A combined total of $55,000 has been spent on new equipment for the Parks Department, Water Department and Street Department.
Anotehr $500,000 has been spent in upgrades and extensions to sewer and water lines in the city.
Akridge said Cedartown residents can expect to see several more SPLOST projects completed in the next couple of months.
Working in a special session on May 26, the Cedartown City Commission developed a list of six projects that were to receive immediate attention. Number one on the list is the replacement of the building housing radio equipment, the purchase of new radio equipment and the purchase of a generator for the radio equipment building at a total cost of $22,000.
Cedartown Fire Chief Sammy Stephens explains that this expenditure is a requirement to meet Federal Communications Commissions requirements.
“All public safety communications operating on 25 khz has to go to 12.5 khz,” Stephens said. “We have to have this done by Jan. 1, 2013.”
The timing of this federal requirement was actually somewhat convenient, as the city was facing a need in this area anyway. The radio equipment now in use is 15 to 20 years old. The equipment is no longer supported by the supplier and some parts may no longer be available.
Also approved on the top six list are the following:
Due to the death recently of the police dog, the number two item on the list is the replacement of the police dog at a total of $12,500;
Number three is the purchase of equipment for Wastewater Department. The equipment, a refrigerated Automatic Sampler, costs $5,500.
Recreation Department issues are number 4 on the list with a meeting set for 6 p.m. Monday, June 8, to plan for the expenditures to be made.
Also slated to be completed soon are repairs to the Turner Street Park Building, with the repairs to the exterior of the building listed as number five on the list of priorities.
The final project on the immediate list of priorities is the expansion of Northview and Greenwood cemeteries at a cost of $15,000.
Akridge said the downtown Streetscape project and the construction of a new building for the Water Maintenance Department are projects expected to be started late this year or early 2010 with SPLOST Funds.
Citizens of Cedartown can also expect to see major renovations to the historic Water Plant Building as well as additional sidewalk replacement with the proceeds of the 2008 SPLOST.
Plans are also being developed to use SPLOST funds for the expansion of recreational facilities within the city.
So, when citizens of Cedartown see the sign “SPLOST Dollars at Work” around Cedartown, Akridge said, he hopes they recognize that the funds are the direct result of spending money locally. Improved retail sales in all of Polk County benefit the entire county with increased SPLOST revenue to fund important capital improvements, he said.