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Critics say DeKalb is spending on unapproved project

10:20 AM, Jun 8, 2012   |    comments
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A truck hauls debris from the site DeKalb County purchased for a controversial Soapbox Derby park.

LITHONIA, Ga. -- DeKalb County CEO Burrel Ellis wants to build a soap box derby track on an 11-acre site southeast of Stone Mountain on Rock Chapel Road. A few days ago, DeKalb County employees and contractors began clearing the site. 

And that raised eyebrows. "How is this happening? Who approved it? Where's the money coming from?" asked Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton.

So far, DeKalb County's Board of Commissioners has declined to fund this $1 million project, raising questions about whether it's the right way to spend taxpayer money. But that hasn't stopped the administration from starting to spend money on it anyway.

DeKalb's Chief Operating Officer Richard Stogner says the county began spending money improving the site in anticipation that the board would fund the project. "By the time we got around to awarding the contract, because it takes six months to do the construction, you're going to be bringing the project in November - December," Stogner said.  "Or January, which is not exactly the time when you can book a lot of soap box derbies in there. They tend to be a summertime activity."

Backers say the soap box derby, which dates back to the 1930s, would give DeKalb a platform for an event that draws some national attention.  But critics say it would give taxpayers little bang for their buck.

And they say it's premature for the county to start work without approved funding. "The project was not approved, and this shouldn't be happening," Barnes-Sutton said.

Stogner contends the Board of Commissioners approved the project when it bought the 11 acres of land, with language to "authorize the addition of the soap box derby project." 

Barnes-Sutton says that's bureaucratic hair-splitting that overlooks the fact that if the construction project never gets funded -- the tax money spent now could turn out to be tax money wasted.

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