County officials seem to have backed down from demanding $74,000 in reimbursement from the city to settle a Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority dispute.
Now, even Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders is willing to say it’s all square.
During a special-call supervisors meeting Monday to discuss plans for the new county recreation department, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks confronted Sanders over his recent rhetoric toward the city — including Sanders calling city officials “a bunch of crooks” and suggesting the two entities cease all cooperative relationships. Brooks also sought to cool his fellow supervisor’s claim that the city still owes the county money from last year’s CLRA split.
“The angst with the city…we need to get it all out,” Brooks said. “We are all doing good stuff but it gets lost in the shuffle…I don’t want to get in a fight with the city, I won’t get in a fight with the city… We need to press on.”
Eventually, Sanders relented, saying he was willing to move on from the CLRA dispute.
“That’s fine with me…Let’s forget it, I agree with you,” Sanders said.
County Administrator Ralph Billingsley sent a letter to the city July 3, including an invoice for more than $74,000 in equipment, bank statements and other expenses still owed by the now-defunct Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority. Billingsley said the city still owes the county for equipment it purchased with CLRA funds before Oct. 1 that the city parks department kept after the split, as well as for cash balances in CLRA bank accounts that were never divided.
But the city pushed back.
In a letter sent to media members, county supervisors and Columbus councilmen on Friday, City Attorney Jeff Turnage refuted the county’s allegation. Further, Turnage said, the county took, as part of the split, roughly $111,000 in equipment purchased with CLRA funds — ranging from pickups and golf carts to sports and office equipment — that was housed in the city without providing any reimbursement.
Now both parties seem to have agreed to let it be.
At the meeting, Brooks said that the city and the county need to put their differences aside for the greater good.
“The city is the face of the county, so if the city fails, the county will not reach our full capacity,” he said.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith agreed with the board that the city and county work best when working together.
“If (dropping this conflict) is something the county would do, personally I have no problem with it,” Smith told The Dispatch. “It is time to move forward and keep the city and the county’s best interest in mind.”
Brooks also declared that Columbus should be made aware of the timeline and kept up-to-date on a project to build a county sports complex that was presented at the meeting, especially considering the city’s current plans to re-instate the 2-percent tax.
The restaurant tax, which generated about $2 million for county tourism and economic development, ended on June 30 after the bill to renew it died in a State Legislative committee. As part of that bill, the CVB and city had agreed on an inter-local agreement that would have provided $400,000 annually for improvements at Propst Park. Efforts to bring back the tax, either during an anticipated special session of the Legislature or in January, when the 2019 session begins, would also include that inter-local agreement, city officials insist.
“There needs to be some dialogue with the city,” Brooks said. “If we are going to do this, and here the city is thinking about renovating Propst Park…It just wouldn’t make sense if this (new complex) is going to be the mecca. Everyone needs to understand this is for the whole community.”
District 5 Board Member Jeff Smith agreed with Brooks’ sentiments.
“I would hope going forward…there would be some sort of collateral program to work with the city,” Jeff Smith said.
Mayor Smith said that he does not see any harm in discussing the options, but until the tax is in place — which can only happen if the State Legislature approves it either next session or in a special session this year– nothing can be decided anyway.
“Right now, personally, (the city) needs to get the issue resolved with the city and the state 2 percent tax…but sitting down and discussing with the board of supervisors, I don’t have a problem with that,” Mayor Smith said.
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