Convention center splits BOC in approving capital project list

Site plan excerpt for arena and convention center at Reeves Creek (Forest Development Group photo)

Commissioners split along party lines when approving the county’s five-year capital improvement plan this week. At the center of the split was the inclusion of $90 million dollars for a proposed county-owned convention center and arena in Stockbridge.

The vote to approve the five-year CIP passed 3-2 (Clemmons, Thomas, and Holmes in favor; Wood and Wilson opposed; Barham absent). The motion also included the addition of $50 million dollars for roadwork to the project list bringing the total CIP value to $415 million dollars.

Some of the largest line-items in the CIP include $155.9 million in SPLOST V and SPLOST V bonds, $90 million for the convention center and arena, $60 million to expand the courthouse, and $50 million for roadwork. The final $59.1 million is for various county departments.

Wood: Convention Center is a want.

Discussion about Henry County building a convention center started in late 2018 when the idea was first presented to the SPLOST V committee. The committee voiced opposition to the idea over the projected cost, then at twenty million dollars, now estimated at ninety million, and the need for a feasibility study.

The proposed location, adjacent to I-75 north of Walt Stephens Road, is included within the larger Reeves Creek mixed-use development. The board of commissioners entered into a development agreement for the project in May 2019 that required the developer to provide a feasibility study for the proposed center to the county by September 1. That study has not been submitted to the county.

Last night, county chair June Wood voiced her opposition to the project stating “I am not going to approve this list that includes a [convention] center that has so many other needs that need to be addressed.” Commissioner Johnny Wilson added “I would like to see $90 million for road resurfacing.”

Removing the convention center for roadwork funding was met with opposition from other board members in attendance who have supported the project in media coverage. The five-year plan estimates Henry County will bond the $90 million through long-term financing in FY 2023-2025.

CIP includes bonding $18.5 million in FY 2021 for immediate needs.

The board of commissioners will consider in March the final authorization for the county to bond $18.5 million for immediate needs that would be completed within the next 12 – 18 months. The $18.5 million can be bonded without increasing the county’s existing debt service account.

The $18.5 million includes the following:

  • $5 million for building repairs, primarily roof replacements;
  • $3.2 million for parks and recreation,
  • $2.5 million for a new elections building,
  • $1.6 million for DOT vehicles and equipment,
  • $1.5 million for five new ambulances, and
  • $1 million for the police department.
Bonding for road work could lead to tax increase.

When the idea of bonding additional funds for roadwork was suggested by commissioners, county staff and the county’s financial consultant stated that bonding more than $18.5 million in FY 2021 will result in an increase to the county’s debt services account. This increase would have to be funded through the county’s general fund raising the possibility for a property tax increase.

Moving Henry Forward has a poll pinned on our Facebook page through Friday, February 21, asking residents if they would support a property tax increase to pay back bonds if a portion of the revenue is spent on roadwork. Be sure and visit our Facebook page to participate and provide your feedback.