Stonecrest conflict delays city's SPLOST plan

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary speaks during the Stonecrest City Council meeting on April 16.

City of Stonecrest staff and council members are battling over how the city’s estimated $47 million in SPLOST money will be managed, and by whom.

The one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax took effect on April 1 but agreement was far off this week despite an April 16 council meeting that went past 1 a.m.

Stonecrest, which formed in January 2017, is one of 12 DeKalb municipalities that will get a portion of  the six-year SPLOST that voters overwhelmingly approved in the November 2017 general election.

The tax is projected to generate more than $630 million for DeKalb, and based on its 2016 population of 53,000, Stonecrest’s share is around $47.7 million.

Because it is the county’s largest city, Stonecrest is getting the largest share of SPLOST, second only to the county’s $388 million share for unincorporated areas.

Without SPLOST, Stonecrest’s annual budget is just over $6 million.

The city’s leaders are fighting over whether to manage SPLOST in-house or contract the project out, and the conflict is causing delay.

Michael Harris, Stonecrest city manager, admitted at an April 11 special-called council work session that the city is behind schedule on developing and implementing a SPLOST plan.

“Our impetus right now is to get started with the public input portion because quite frankly we are behind the eight-ball,” Harris said.

At the April 16 council meeting, several motions on SPLOST failed because council members Jimmy Clanton (District 1), Rob Turner (District 2), Jazzmin Cobble (District 3), George Turner (District 4) and Diane Adoma (District 5) and Mayor Jason Lary could not reach a consensus.

Lary, along with Harris and assistant city manager Plez Joyner, wants to undertake some of the SPLOST project management in-house rather than pay Atlanta-based Grice Consulting Group to do the work as an external contractor.

Grice, which is experienced in managing living and transportation plans for various metro Atlanta cities and counties including DeKalb, prepared a $4.4 million plan to manage Stonecrest’s SPLOST.

The company, led by president and CEO John Funny, wants $480,000 to develop a Stonecrest comprehensive transportation plan, $162,400 to develop a transportation project list, and $3.76 million or about 8 percent of the city’s total SPLOST revenues for project management through 2023.

Lary said Grice has been paid $40,000 from the Stonecrest general fund for pre-SPLOST preparation work. He said he does not support spending more money for work that can be done by city staff.

“Half a million dollars for a transportation plan? No ma’am, no ma’am,” Lary said at the April 16 council meeting. “We can pave a mile of Stonecrest roads for half a million dollars.”

The mayor said a digital analysis of the condition of Stonecrest’s roads, which must be improved under SPLOST, can be undertaken instead for $50,000.

“We don’t need to pay someone half a million dollars, and if we’re giving away money, I’m at the front of that line,” he said.

Lary said Harris and Joyner are experienced and talented enough to at least get the city’s roads studied, hold public meetings and make a prioritized SPLOST project list.

“Can staff do all the work that we have with regards to this SPLOST opportunity? Absolutely not,” Lary said. “We don’t have all the talent, that’s not what we’re built for. But here’s what you don’t do, you don’t hand over the keys to the ship when the deck ain’t even mopped yet. That’s just not going to happen.”

Lary said that city staff should do the work that they can do “because this is protecting the actual tax dollar of the citizens.”

The city’s in-house SPLOST plan, presented by Joyner at the April 11 work session, does not have everyone’s support.

At the April 16 meeting, council members Adoma, Turner and Cobble voted to execute a SPLOST project management contract with Grice based on its $4.4 million proposal.

That motion – opposed by Lary, Turner and Clanton – failed. At the work session, Turner had voiced his preference for seeking professional guidance on managing SPLOST.

Thompson Kurrie, Stonecrest city attorney, advised the council on April 11 that it needs to hire a professional project manager for SPLOST.

“You’re going to need to engage project management, there’s no doubt about it,” said Kurrie, who is with Coleman Talley LLC. “That’s going to be a very expensive contract and you’re going to need to engage someone who is going to handle all the process and oversee all of this and keep track of all the money.”