Budget decision puts off projects

LAWRENCEVILLE - A police precinct, a tennis complex, a greenway and two park projects were the casualties of a Board of Commissioners' budget decision this week.

Chairman Charles Bannister made a motion to delay the five capital projects not only because of the money it would take to construct the trails, baseball fields or building but because of the pressure on the county's budget once the facilities are complete.

"This will give us breathing room when it comes to capital and general fund," Bannister said.

But Commissioner Mike Beaudreau accused the chairman of choosing the projects based on political retribution, since he did not support the budget proposal. Commissioners denied the allegation.

After examining the details, Beaudreau said he did not believe the amendment would harm the projects too much.

"It's a paper tiger. There is no meat to it," he said, adding that the proposals have minimal impact to the county's operating funds.

The hardest hit to Beaudreau was a proposed Grayson police precinct, which is planned for the entrance to Bay Creek Park.

A pet project for the southern Gwinnett commissioner, the precinct would have been under construction later this year, but Bannister pushed it back to 2010. Police officers that would have manned the precinct, however, are still included in the 2009 budget, adopted Tuesday.

The other four have impacts on county park projects.

Lopped from the 2009 budget was $300,000 for improvements to the Stone Mountain tennis center.

County officials have been in discussions with the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to take over the 15 outdoor tennis courts at the Olympic venue, Community Services Director Phil Hoskins said.

Beaudreau said he wasn't happy to see the proposal become public before officials have reached a deal, but Hoskins said the chairman's cut may not delay the agreement, where the county would pay $1 a year on a long-term lease. But the move means improvements will not come to the center immediately.

Hoskins said he is unsure of the actual improvement needs, as an inspection has not taken plan. The Olympic stadium is not part of the proposal.

Officials estimate the center, which was the subject of a petition by more than 300 members of the Mountain Park community, would cost about $200,000 in operating costs, including the hiring of a staffer.

But Hoskins said the decision to put off the capital improvements won't kill the negotiations.

A decision to delay land purchases for the Ivy Creek Greenway, which would connect a trail from the Environmental and Heritage Center to George Pierce Park, would save taxpayers little in terms of operating dollars, Hoskins said.

Greenways require few utilities, but they do need daily maintenance and police patrols, he said. The amendment will create a delay of up to six months, he said.

The biggest money move made in the amendment - a $5 million delay to an expansion of Rhodes Jordan Park in Lawrenceville - would have a greater impact on operating costs, he said.

The expansion, which includes soccer fields and a trail, has more of an effect because it is an active park and requires more maintenance. Hoskins said the move means about a five-month delay.

Commissioners heatedly debated the delay of the second phase of Harbins Community Park.

While the first phase of the park, which is mostly trails, is expected to open next weekend, the second phase would provide football and baseball fields that would allow an athletic program for kids in the new Archer school cluster. Active parks, Hoskins said, require a bigger chunk of operating funds, and he said the Harbins phase would mean at least two staffers would have to hired for maintenance, plus utilities and police patrols.

But he added that officials were only optimistically looking toward a 2010 opening date. The park is currently in the master planning phase, and Hoskins said the project realistically could take until 2011 anyway. The only funds moved in the budget were $312,440 earmarked in 2009 for design.

While the police precinct, Harbins Park and tennis center are located in Beaudreau's District 3, the greenway is located in District 1 and Rhodes Jordan Park is in District 4.

District 4 Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, along with Beaudreau, voted against the amendment, but District 1 Commissioner Shirley Lasseter voted in favor of it.