Henry County will keep $2 million in its coffers for a new police station, officials decided recently.
But it was a decision that split the county commission in half and disappointed residents who advocated for a different investment.
Commissioner Bruce Holmes proposed transferring funds from the fourth special purpose local option sales tax earmarked for a police station in Stockbridge’s Fairview community, part of his district.
The funds would go into the budget for the upcoming Village Park at North Henry, a $6.8 million project also on the sales tax list and in his district.
If approved, the amended budget would have paid for nearly four miles of 8-foot wide multi-use paths, connecting the new park to nearby DeKalb County.
Residents like county District Attorney Darius Pattillo, Vivian Thomas and Sarah Billups of the Henry County branch of the NAACP and county school board member Annette Edwards supported Holmes’ position.
Some said installing pedestrian paths leading to the park on busy Fairview Road is a matter of life and death.
“I want to know, if a life is lost trying to get to and from that park, which one of you is willing to take the blame?” Thomas said at the county commission meeting Feb. 7. “The safety of our children is not negotiable.”
Holmes said the area needs walkability, not a new precinct.
“The police have done a fantastic job bringing crime down low,” he said. “Fairview hasn’t seen a murder in over a decade. Fairview is a safe community.”
Holmes said the funds will still apply to public safety.
“The reason we’re here today is for the protection of our citizens and the protection of those kids,” he said. “That area is a very dense community. It’s highly populated and given the fact that (Village Park) is a destination park, these citizens need trails to keep them safe.”
According to officials, the new precinct, on the sales tax list approved by voters in 2013, is for a potential Stockbridge police department.
At present, the city contracts with the Henry County Police Department for law enforcement services.
“It looks like the city of Stockbridge probably will not start a police department until the next SPLOST,” Commissioner Blake Prince said.
Holmes said rolling over projects from one sales tax renewal to another is a common practice.
“The next SPLOST we’ll be working on within the next couple of years,” he said. “If Stockbridge decides at that particular time that they’re going to move forward with their own police department, then we’ll put it back.”
County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said tabling the project outright is not an option unless voters choose otherwise.
“All of the items listed on the SPLOST resolution, all of the Tier 1 items, we are lawfully required to complete them,” he said. “We can’t just say we don’t want to do a project.”
Chair June Wood agreed.
“We don’t know what the city of Stockbridge is going to do,” Wood said. “But we do need to identify that these have been priorities that the citizens have identified.”
Her stance disappointed Holmes.
“This is somebody who’s not going to take this county in a direction that it needs to go,” he said. “That’s not leadership.”
Wood thanked him for his comments and proceeded with a discussion that included input from commissioners Gary Barham, Dee Clemmons and Johnny Wilson.
The debate ended with a 3-3 tied vote, leaving the funds in their original place.
Clemmons, Holmes and Prince voted in favor; Barham, Wilson and Wood were opposed.