Columbia County commissioners on Tuesday will reconsider a list of possible capital improvements projects.
If approved by voters in November, taxpayers would pay an extra 1 mill in property tax, or about $45 on a $100,000 home, for 12 years to pay off a proposed $40 million bond that would fund the projects.
The current list of projects include repairs for stormwater runoff problems in developed areas of the county, extensions of water and sewer lines in some rural areas, transportation improvements, recreational projects and public safety upgrades such as new fire trucks for Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue.
The list changed somewhat after a Wednesday work session that at times turned tense between commissioners and other county leaders.
Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle told commissioners he won't support the bond and asked them to remove his two projects - a $140,000 design concept for a new administrative building and a $340,000 indoor shooting and training building - after observing a tense exchange between Commissioner Steve Brown and Columbia County Probate Judge Pat Hardaway.
Brown had questioned the judge about the need for a $700,000 accounting software upgrade for probate and magistrate courts.
Hardaway and county staff recommended the upgrade because of difficult accounting requirements from the state when levying fines and other penalties.
Brown asked whether Judge Hardaway's office could function without the software.
"By law, I have obligations and as long as I am in office I will carry them out," the judge said, countering with a question about whether recreational projects, which accounted for about $8.8 million of the $40 million in projects on Wednesday's master list of projects, are necessary for the county to operate.
Brown said voters would decide.
After the meeting, county Services Director R. Todd Glover said the software package, which also tracks cases, might be available for less than half the listed price. The previous amount was for more departments than just the courts, he said in an e-mail.
When it came to Whittle's turn to speak, he requested his proposals be removed and told Brown and Commissioner Tommy Mercer he was embarrassed to have witnessed them questioning the judge in that manner. He also said he had been told his proposals were "fluff."
"I wouldn't have put it in there if it wasn't necessary, and neither would my probate judge," he told the commissioners.
Mercer said the sheriff had previously promised to support the bond regardless of whether his projects were included.
But after being told that his projects might be axed, the sheriff said he reviewed the proposal and could not support it.
Mercer criticized Whittle's withdrawal of support as an attempt to sabotage the bond, adding that he would not be "bullied or coerced."
Brown said he questioned the judge and sheriff just as he questioned all proposals, and he wanted more information to be sure the projects are necessary.
About $7 million of the bond will be used to pay back the county's general fund for land acquisitions for new fire stations in the rural areas and other items purchased out of contingency, commissioners said.
Commissioners will consider, but will not likely vote on, updated bond proposals at their Tuesday meeting, County Administrator Steve Szablewski said. The proposals must be finalized and received by the Georgia Secretary of State's office by Aug. 11 to be included on the Nov. 7 ballot, he said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.