Mayor Skip Henderson showed what his priorities will be in his first year at the helm of the city Friday when he addressed the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce
In his first State of the City speech, Henderson said he was going to push for a 1-percent sales tax next year. That is when the current tax earmarked for the Muscogee County School District expires.
More than $175 million over five years could be at stake.
The mayor says the city wants the sales tax revenue for roads, maintenance of existing facilities and a solution to the problem that is the Columbus Government Center.
“We are going to have to deal with the Government Center,” Henderson said. “I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I really don’t. But we just put a $6 million Band-Aid on that building. Something is going to have to happen to that building. All I can tell you is it’s probably going to be a big-ticket item.”
That has led Henderson to push for the sale tax.
“To meet these immediate capital needs, I intend to ask our council to consider a SPLOST that is to take effect when the current E-SPLOST expires in 2020,” Henderson said. “If they agree, we will immediately begin to schedule public meetings to gather information and what projects the citizens want on that list.”
School Superintendent David Lewis was in the audience and he knew what Henderson was going to propose based on a previous conversation.
Afterward, Lewis said the school board had not made an official decision to renew the sales tax. But he pointed out the school district has long-term needs, but it wants to continue to work with in partnership with the city.
Henderson’s address wasn’t just about the sales tax. He tackled crime head-on. One of the major focuses was crime – and crime prevention.
“We are not really unlike other communities around the country,” Henderson said. “We have some areas that have a higher crime rate than we would like. But we’re not a dangerous city. We have some areas that have a higher poverty rate than others. But we are not an impoverished community. We have areas that more blight than others, but we are not a blighted community.”
The mayor noted that the Columbus Police force is down 84 officers and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office is down 38 more. But adding officers alone does not solve the problem.
“You can’t police yourself to crime prevention,” he said. “Our officers are awesome. If you commit a crime, they are going to catch you and put you away. But if all we do is hire more officers, all we end up needing to do is build more jails.”
He proposes going after the problem on two fronts.
“One is our young people, providing structure and services for our young people. The other is recidivism. As felons have done their time, and released from prison, we have to find a way to integrate them into society. The longer it takes for them to find a place to live and work, the greater opportunity they are going to go back the old ways and back to prison.”
But it can be done, Henderson said.
“We are not going to stop working until every single citizen in the community has the opportunity to achieve the quality of life, they want for themselves and for their families. They deserve it.”