At a meeting Tuesday, Glynn County commissioners committed to building a new animal control shelter at the county’s public safety complex and pushed the vote on Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020 from the May primary ballot to the November general election ballot.
SPLOST is a one percent sales tax approved by voters during a primary or general election and used to pay for capital improvement projects.
When planning SPLOST 2016, the commission decided to set aside $1.5 million in sales tax proceeds for the construction of an animal control shelter.
While it was not included on the 2016 ballot itself, a new Glynn County Animal Control shelter at the county’s public safety complex was included in a list of projects on which county commissioners intended to use SPLOST 2016 funds.
Animal control’s existing shelter is located on U.S. Highway 17 while the public safety complex is on the Ga. 25 Spur just north of Exit 38 of Interstate 95.
Construction estimates came in well over $1.5 million, however, with some as high as $3.9 million.
Since then, county manager Alan Ours said he’d gotten another estimate coming a little closer to the original budget — $3.2 million. Removing certain aspects and reducing the material costs brought the total down to $2.9 million.
Ours said the county’s undesignated cash reserves sit at $16.8 million.
“If you reduce that down to $15 million that would provide the additional revenue needed to build this at public safety,” Ours said.
One of the items slated for removal was the air cooling system in the dog kennels. The main building, where cats would be kept, would have AC. The dog kennels would still have heating, but cooling would be achieved via a ventilation system.
“In talking with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, we feel like we can meet the required regulations to keep the temperature in the kennel building under the 86 degrees if we have a commercial ventilation system put in,” said animal control manager Tiffani Hill.
Most of the commissioners didn’t like the idea, however.
“To me, $100,000 is a lot of money. But if we can keep these animals cool for that, then we should invest in that. I was looking for larger savings on that. And 86 degrees is still hot,” said Commissioner Allen Booker. “To me, that’s a non-starter.”
Commissioner David O’Quinn noted that, in preliminary drawings, the ventilation system would be built in such a way that an AC system could be installed at a later date.
“I might be more inclined to get the building built at public safety because we said we would. The fact that we build it in such a way that we can add it back at a later date, maybe we can add it during this process because we can go through the bid process and cut stuff,” O’Quinn said.
Commissioner Wayne Neal said $100,000 was a lot of money, and costs needed to be cut where possible. Instead, he suggested asking local animal welfare groups to raise money for the air conditioner.
“The Humane Society (of South Coastal Georgia) does it every year,” Commissioner Bob Coleman added.
Coleman has supported building a new shelter from the get-go and said he could not support building it without AC in the kennels.
Commissioner Bill Brunson then stated that they had yet to commit to building the shelter at public safety. Before Tuesday, the commission had also been considering building an addition onto the current shelter at Highway 17.
Rather than putting it off any longer, Neal said the decision should be made then and there.
While no formal was taken, commission Chairman Mike Browning asked the there were any objections to building a new shelter instead of expanding the old one.
Despite some rumors, Browning said the commission had never intended to entirely drop the project. It just needed to make sure it had accurate costs estimates and weighed all its options, he said.
“We’re going to move it forward and we’re going to build a brand new animal control shelter at the public safety area. We’re going to do that,” Browning said. “But the key thing was trying to get this number ... Seems to me there’s been an unwritten commitment by these commissioners that if we have to go find the money just to get something done right, they’re going to do it.”
“As far as the money goes, we’ve got the money,” Coleman added. “It’s just a matter of where we’re going to spend it and if we’re going to use it in the best interest of the project that we’re doing. Postponing, postponing, postponing has gotten us in the position as we speak now.”
Ours said he needed the commission’s “consent authorization” to put an engineering design contract for the shelter out to bid. Browning asked if the commission was in favor of doing so including air conditioning in the dog kennels, and all agreed.
In light of the new commitment, Brunson suggested moving the SPLOST 2020 referendum from the May primary ballot to November to work on completing more SPLOST 2016 projects before putting it before the voters.
Also, he said there were many questions about a planned $19 million-plus courthouse expansion project that the commission should get answered before putting SPLOST 2020 to a vote.
“We still have a lot of moving parts as it relates to SPLOST 2016, the animal control facility not the least of them,” Brunson said. “I think we need to get down the road, that project needs to be shovel-ready at least by the time we take this to the voters again.
“We’ve got roundabouts we talked about, we’ve got right of ways, we’ve got all sorts of things that just haven’t been completely nailed down, including an intersection at The Home Depot down there where we’re still in the process of securing right of ways and having to secure them from all over the daggum countryside. And of course, the elephant in the room in the courthouse.”
In 2019, a county-appointed committee investigated claims by Glynn County Superior Court judges and court staff that the courthouse was not big enough for the courts and associated offices it contained.
The committee found evidence to support the claims, but determined security to be a much larger problem than the initial space- related lconcerns.
It recommended moving forward with a planned expansion that would allow all juvenile court facilities to move into the main courthouse building at 701 H St., provide more office and space for the Clerk of Superior Court and jury assembly, and include new security measures.
The plans did not provide much detail, however, and most senior courthouse officers were unsure whether or not it would address their needs as they had not been consulted.
Citing an article in Saturday’s edition of The News, Brunson said many questions remain about exactly what the courthouse needs in terms of electronic equipment and how new security measures will impact accessibility, among other things.
“How do we deal with that? That’s a question that needs to be answered. And I think it can be answered, but I don’t think it can’t be answered in the next couple of weeks. And I think the public, particularly with the courthouse, needs to have a lot of answers and it needs to be vetted,” Brunson said.
Coleman said there’s still no guarantee the public will approve SPLOST 2020 but that taking more time to answer the voters’ concerns would certainly improve its chances.
Brunson said paying architecture and engineering firm Heery — which put together preliminary plans for the courthouse expansion — to come back to the courthouse and consult more closely with senior courthouse officials on what they need would be a good investment.
Shifting the referendum from the primary ballot to the general election means the county doesn’t have to approve the SPLOST 2020 projects list this month, Browning said, and asked to table the list for the time being.
“We’ve got some proving to do here, and I think this extra time could give us an opportunity to do that,” Coleman said.
The rest of the commission agreed to push the SPLOST 2020 referendum back to the November general election. County Attorney Aaron Mumford said the commission will need to finalize a projects list by July to get it on the November ballot.
In other business, the commission instructed Public Works Director Dave Austin to pay an engineering firm to draw up plans for a roundabout at the intersection of Frederica Road and Kings Way on St. Simons Island.
Austin said the county has plans for improvements to the existing intersection — adding new turn lanes and improving traffic light sequencing — and is ready to start acquiring the necessary land and looking for a construction contractor to implement the improvements.
However, the Sea Island Co. wishes to have a roundabout constructed at the intersection, Austin said, and is willing to move three trees that would otherwise be cut down and to handle the landscaping in the center of the roundabout “in perpetuity.”
“They were very unhappy with this, and further down the road they suggested doing the roundabouts instead of the intersection improvement,” Murphy said. “It looked too commercial.”
The commission looked at a few alternatives but ultimately settled on the first of three roundabout designs.
Due to the intersection’s close proximity to the McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport, the center of the roundabout would be shifted to the southwest of the current intersection’s center, closer to The Lodge at Sea Island.
Kings Way north of the intersection would curve to the west as it enters the roundabout, roughly following the adjacent Kings Lane.
Rather than entering the roundabout, those turning right from Kings Way onto Frederica Road and left from Frederica to Kings Way would drive on dedicated turn lanes.
Murphy also noted that Sea Island would be much more amenable in negotiations for the necessary rights of way if the county went along with its wishes. Most of the land to the immediate west of the intersection is owned by Sea Island, he said.
“After many meetings and many discussions with different groups, I think the acceptability to Sea Island, the acquisition of right of way owned by them, their willingness to move these very large oak trees and really minimize the loss of trees but also to have an in-perpetuity management of the center of the roundabout with landscaping all make this, in my mind, the most reasonable alternative,” Murphy said.
Based on the cost of the other two SPLOST 2016-funded roundabouts — one recently completed at East Beach Causeway and Ocean Boulevard and another at East Beach Causeway and Demere Road that’s in the planning and design phase — Austin estimated the Sea Island plan to cost anywhere from $2 million to $3 million, much more expensive than the roughly $750,000 estimated for the intersection improvements.
He added that construction could start either immediately after Christmas or the RSM Classic golf tournament in 2021.
Commissioner Allen Booker asked for clarification of the term “commercial” concerning the intersection.
“This is a lot of asphalt, and it would probably we one of the largest intersections on the island,” Austin said.
The commission gave Austin the go-ahead to get an engineering company to draw up designs. He said it would be tight, but that construction could begin by December.
The commission’s next work session is scheduled for Feb. 18. The commission’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Old Glynn County Courthouse, 701 G St. in Brunswick.