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Commission allocates funds for handicap playground

Posted: June 10, 2012 - 12:02am

Columbia County commissioners approved additional funding on Tuesday for a playground for children with disabilities.

Site clearing has begun for the playground in a wooded area near two existing playgrounds behind the Columbia County Library in Evans.

David Sweet, a resident of the neighboring Northwood subdivision, complained that the playground infringes too far into a wooded buffer zone between his property and the library grounds, noting that the edge of the playground comes within 15 feet of his backyard fence.

Though a proponent of the playground, Sweet asked commissioners to consider moving it to the Evans Towne Center Park.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross told Sweet the playground is best suited at its current location because it offers convenient parking for parents. Cross said officials can work with the neighborhood to offer it more privacy.

Construction and Maintenance Services Director Matt Schlachter said he can likely rework the layout to keep it farther away from Sweet’s home.

With the approval, officials now have $80,000 in sales tax funds to buy and install specialized playground equipment and rubber mulch padding for the surface.

The new playground will be accessible to children in wheelchairs and include a roller slide, full-harness swing and more.

Commissioners also approved a $56 million budget that includes a cut in property taxes. The general fund budget includes a half-mill rollback, which collectively saves property owners about $2 million. The cut would be to the portion of the 9.137 millage earmarked for paying off debt.

County Finance Services Director Leanne Reece recently told commissioners that four construction projects funded with a 2007 bond all came in under budget, creating an excess officials can use for debt reduction.

Coupled with about a 4 percent boost in sales tax revenues, the excess bond funds can cover next year’s debt payments, Reese said. One mill represents about $4 million in property taxes.

The 2012-13 fiscal year budget is a 1.56 percent increase over this year, but officials have said they can make up the added spending with an expected 2 percent growth in the tax digest.

Also, the commission approved a $2 million project to add sewer service to an area of Appling-Harlem Highway near Interstate 20 to spur economic development.

Larry Prather, the owner of Prather Construction Co. of Harlem, owns nearly 600 acres surrounding the interchange. The properties have water, but not sewer service.

Prather said at a committee meeting last month that he’s had some interest in the properties, most recently from people wanting to build a water park.

The project will include gravity-fed sewer lines around the interchange and a pumping station to transfer the waste to the Kiokee Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Developers will have to pay tap fees to connect to the line.

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