Stockbridge approves bonds for police department start-up

The Stockbridge city council held their meeting on Monday, February 8. The council considered and approved the bonding of three million dollars for police department start-up funds.

The council added the agenda item at the start of the meeting. Mayor Pro Temp Elton Alexander requested the agenda item.

The bonds passed 3-1-1. Council member Blount voted in opposition and Council member Gantt abstained. Both members asked for more information, such as the long-term plan and operational expense, before the vote.

Mayor Ford commented a city property tax may be necessary in the future to fund the police department. Stockbridge residents presently pay 1.824 mills alongside unincorporated residents for county police services. If Stockbridge leaves the county’s police services, then any city property tax less than 1.824 mills would create cost savings for city residents.

Stockbridge Police Department

Stockbridge is the only city within Henry County without its own police department. Discussion about starting a department has continued off-and-on for years.

The University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute completed a police feasibility study for the city in 2019. The study estimated the annual cost for 57 officers, equipment, weapons, insurance and benefits and a pension plan at approximately $5.6 million.

The three million dollars will purchase police department capital equipment, such as police cars. The bonds will add $535,000 in general fund debt service for seven years beginning in 2022.

Other Capital Projects

In addition to the police department bonds, the council also approved bonds for various capital projects. In total, the city will borrow $25.7 million dollars. The city is financing the bonds through both SPLOST V collections and the general fund.

The city council unanimously approved borrowing $7 million dollars to finish the city’s amphitheater. Total costs on the amphitheater are presently estimated at $19,875,300.

A mix of funding sources are contributing to the amphitheater construction. They include $6.3 million in SPLOST IV, $5 million in general fund, and now, $7 million in SPLOST V bonds. This leaves a difference of $1,750,300. The city’s financial adviser recommended the city utilize other SPLOST IV funds to cover the difference.

The council approved a change order during their meeting in the amount of $2,371,923 to incorporate added features around the site’s detention ponds. This creates a small park area with green space. The project’s completion, between both the amphitheater and park area, is forecast during summer 2021.

Not included within the cost above are upcoming transportation improvements on nearby streets. The city plans to utilize SPLOST IV, and if needed, SPLOST V funds for the work. Planned projects include adding a southbound right-hand turn lane at SR 138 and East Atlanta Road. In addition to the turning lane, the city will re-align South Lee Street to connect across from North Lee Street.

The city also approved bonding $1 million dollars for trails. SPLOST V collections will secure the financing by deducting $500k each from roads and parks.

Cultural Arts Center

Finally, the city approved bonds to construct a cultural arts center. Discussions about the project date back to 2016 when city officials tore down the old community arts center. At the time, the cost estimate to replace it was $3.2 million. Now, the latest cost estimate equals $18.5 million.

The city allocated $9.8 million for civic projects and buildings in SPLOST V. After deducting $7 million for amphitheater construction, the city credited the remaining $2.8 million towards the arts center. Between the SPLOST V funds and general fund, the council approved bonds totaling $14 million for the project. City staff are working with the project architect to reduce the building’s features and build cost.

The general fund will support bonds worth $11.2 million. The 15-year bonds will increase the general fund debt service by $972,000 starting in 2022. When combined with the police department bonds, the city’s general fund must increase $1.5 million to account for the added debt service.

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