Writer: Alan Mauldin
Published December 2, 2019
Dougherty County commissioners agreed on Monday to provide half of the funding for a downtown master plan, but they expect to be involved in the process of drafting the document.
The agreement to provide up to $37,500 is dependent on the city of Albany successfully winning a grant in a competitive process through the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Some commissioners expressed irritation at having insufficient time to study the issue, which was presented Monday with an application deadline of Friday.
“I haven’t had time to do my homework,” Commissioner Anthony Jones said. “If the citizens of District 6 ask me what you talked about today, I won’t know what I’m talking about. We (should) partner at the beginning, not at the 11th hour.”
Lequrica Gaskins, Albany’s downtown manager, told the group that the city only recently found out about the program, referring to the Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning Process.
If Albany wins the grant, it would cover a comprehensive plan for downtown, for which the commission has expressed interest, Gaskins said. The entire cost for the city and county together would be $50,000 to $75,000, depending on the scope of work requested, or $25,000 to $37,500 each.
“It’s an opportunity to do everything you’re saying —streetscape plans, development plans, at a very reduced cost,” Gaskins said, noting that a private company would charge several thousand dollars for the same work.
Commissioner Russell Gray, who was the lone vote against accepting the proposal, said that there have been a number of studies and plans drawn for downtown over a period of years and that none of them has been implemented.
“There are probably $5 million worth of binders sitting on shelves right now,” he said during an interview following the meeting.
“Principle, too many unknowns, and even if we ask for assurances to ensure we’d have representation and we’d be included in the process doesn’t mean we’re involved in the back end, the implementation,” Gray said of his reasoning for his opposition.
Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas agreed there have been a number of seemingly failed efforts.
“There have been a bunch of consultants come in and say we’re going to have a Top golf facility, get people excited (about) things that never were going to happen,” he said.
Ultimately, commissioners decided the plan was worth the cost and assurance that the county staff and elected officials would be involved in the process.
“(That) is not a lot of investment for a seat at the table,” Commissioner Gloria Gaines said.