Barely two weeks after residents living around Weaver Park complained to the Thomaston City Council about criminal activity in the area and the lack of enough police officers to handle all the calls, the council got another earful from local resident and business owner Debbie Lord about plans for a new park and the lack of public safety personnel.
Lord was one of a group of concerned citizens who packed the meeting room for the council meeting Tuesday night. The council recently passed a resolution requiring those wishing to speak to the council sign up by the Thursday prior to the meeting, but Mayor Hays Arnold stated that they would relax the new rule for this meeting.
The city announced plans for a new park at Lake Thomaston in its June newsletter, attached to residents’ utility bills. The newsletter states that the Mayor and City Council plan to open Lake Thomaston as a new city park in the summer of 2016. Planned for the park are a pavilion with attached restrooms, and a boat storage building with a roof doubling as a stage for an amphitheater. The goal is to provide opportunities for citizens, including weekend rentals of canoes and small watercraft, fishing and family picnics. Citizens will also be able to utilize the 1.6-mile walking trail already on the site.
Anticipated cost for this phase of the Lake Thomaston Park Project will be approximately $600,000 for the two structures and approximately $200,000 for site development. Construction is scheduled to begin in late summer 2015 with a completion date in late fall. The city council will vote on the project at their regular scheduled meeting on July 7, 2015 at 7 p.m. in the city/county room of the R. E. Lee Building.
Lord stated a group of concerned citizens recently met concerning the new park and said they have some issues with it. She noted that last year the council approved a utility increase and, at one point, were considering a tax increase, stating the money was needed for infrastructure repairs and updates. But, she said, if the funding for Lake Thomaston Park is approved in July, since January the city will have spent $2 million on parks.
Lord added that they believe Mayor Hays Arnold should not be involved in discussions concerning the new park, since he owns 46.72 acres adjacent to the park, and could see an increase in his property value if the park is developed.
She questioned learning about the park through her utility bill and said they feel there is no transparency in the city government.
“We should have known about this and it should have been discussed in city council meetings since the very beginning,” Lord said. “When was it talked about? When I called (council members) Don Greathouse and J. D. Stallings about information on the park, neither one of them really had any input, because they didn’t know about the park coming up. So we would like to know who is making decisions?
“You say you’ve saved money for the parks over the years by reducing city payroll,” she continued. “Don’t you think that money would have been better spent on additional law enforcement, on business retention, or lowering our utility bills?
“Our fire department is understaffed. We had four armed robberies in six or seven weeks, and three of them were in the city. We think that is dangerous for our law enforcement officers and for the residents. The crime rate seems to be going through the roof, and it is my understanding we only have two Thomaston police officers working per shift.”
Other issues Lord brought up included spending $17,000 for a mural in the process of being painted on the wall of a private business downtown, issues with existing water lines and broken pipes in the downtown area, high utility bills, and high property re-evaluations at a time when many indicators point to Thomaston and Upson County being a welfare city and county.
When Lord asked the audience who was opposed to the Lake Thomaston Park, about a third of those present raised their hands. She said citizens are looking for more transparency and more fiscal responsibility from the city.
“Like this park, we really didn’t know much about it, even the council members that I spoke to didn’t know much about it, so we would like to know what is going on at all times, because we are the ones funding everything,” she said. “We want more officers patrolling businesses and neighborhoods, and more presence. We think the money would be better spent helping them do their job and getting rid of the crime rate that we have going on here.”
Lord ran out of time before she finished her remarks, and stated she will follow the new procedure to get on the next city council agenda so she can continue where she left off.
The council took her remarks under advisement and did not respond to them. However Mayor Arnold did respond to her comment about property re-evaluations, agreeing that they are too high. He noted that he has been trying to sell the piece of property in question for more than a year and has been unable to, and when he recently received his re-evaluation of the property, it had gone up more than it is worth. He said he plans on appealing the evaluation and urged residents and business owners to do the same if they feel their evaluations are too high.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.