When Augusta government officials talk strategy, the only real strategy they’ve ever come up with is to raise your taxes and fees.
And when you hear they’re holding a “strategic work session” on anything, they’re gearing up to pick your pocket.
The stage was set for doing exactly that at last week’s strategic work session on streetlights, where they announced an $865,572 deficit in the streetlight fund caused by rising costs and inequalities in the streetlight fee system that leaves some residents paying higher rates and low-valued properties in the urban services district paying little or nothing.
At that strategic work session, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said the Augusta Commission needs to raise the rates within the next two weeks in time to get them on the August property tax bills. Commissioner Ben Hasan said the problem was caused by previous commissions kicking the can down the road. But he and most of the current commissioners have been on the board at least two years or more and could have raised the fees before now. Jackson told them last November it was a lingering budget issue.
So why is there an emergency when they’ve approved adding hundreds of lights on Calhoun Expressway, Walton Way, Berckmans Road and River Watch Parkway, also known as the “Road of the Midnight Sun?”
We all know what previous strategic workshops have led to. The rain tax, for one thing.
And last year’s strategic workshop on employee compensation led to a $100,000 salary study, the results of which are expected this year. You can bet it won’t say anybody is overpaid, although I know a few who are.
There were also strategic workshops on the $250,000 recreation master plan that called for $75 million in capital spending on the city’s parks and recreation facilities.
And at last year’s strategic budget meeting, then-Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson proposed a 5 percent garbage fee increase that wasn’t approved. A 10 percent occupation tax fee increase was also proposed.
This Would Shake Things Up: With the earthquakes we’ve been having lately, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they hold a strategic workshop on temblors and levy a tax on every property in Richmond County to repair future earthquake damage. Of course, they’d use it for other things like they do with the rain-tax money. For example, it could fund an Earthquake Authority, and Mayor Hardie Davis could hire two more assistants to oversee it in his office, and Jackson could hire a liaison to the authority to keep her updated on potential seismic activity.
That way, the mayor could spend more time traveling, cutting ribbons, dropping Easter eggs and giving away ice cream at the Augusta Common, which he will be doing today on National Ice Cream Day from 2 to 4 p.m.
The commission could also create an Ice Cream Authority and put the mayor in charge of it. But that might be a bit much and cause folks to ask, “Is he the mayor of Augusta or the Dairy Queen?”
Garbage In, Garbage Out: With Johnson’s departure, the city will hire an outside firm to come in and dig around the landfill, and find out how much money came in and where it went. When they do, I wonder whether city officials will share the report with the bond companies, so they can see whether they’re spending the money as called for in the bond covenants. I’m not sure diverting money to a housing demolition program was mentioned there.
If the reviewers dig deep enough, they might even find out a landfill employee went to Trump Tower for a meeting with a Russian lawyer.
Rumors Run Rampant in Hephzibah: According to unnamed sources, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, former Commissioner Ulmer Bridges; and Darren Smith, son of former Commissioner Jimmy Smith, also attended the meeting with the Russian in Trump Tower. And the plan is for Guilfoyle to resign from the Augusta Commission and run for the Hephzibah City Council, and for Smith to be appointed to Guilfoyle’s vacant seat. Bridges, meanwhile, will run for the District 10 seat Commissioner Grady Smith will vacate next year.
I’m probably guilty of perpetuating fake news because they weren’t at Trump Tower. They were in Hephzibah at the Henpecked Club meeting and said they didn’t know a thing about the rumors. And Guilfoyle wasn’t at Trump Tower or at the Henpecked Club supper. He’s been on vacation.
Renaissance Man: Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young is wrapping up work on his second novel, The Hand of Evil, which will be out this fall. Although he’s not quite finished, Young has made presentations on the book before several groups and has already received a rave review from Candice Shy Hooper, author of Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives:
“The Hand of the Wicked is a riveting story-within-a-story, spawned by a true tale of murder during one of the darkest eras in American history – the years of Reconstruction that followed the end of the Civil War in 1865. Even after they were officially liberated by the war, 60-year-old former slave Nellie West and her family continued to suffer under a Georgia plantation overseer’s cruel domination.
“Nellie’s valiant effort to report her family’s wretched conditions to Yankee soldiers ended in a murder so brutal it shocked even some hardened former slave owners. A military trial produced justice in the form of death sentences for the overseer and his young accomplice, but that was not the end of the story of Nellie’s murder – or of her murderers. It was, instead, the beginning of a new and convoluted chapter of injustice for newly freed slaves … .”
Young published his first historical novel, The Treasure Train, in 2012.
Get Your Tickets To This Show Before They’re all Gone: The only reason I agreed to participate in the Augusta Mini Theatre’s Roast and Toast is because I like Tyrone Butler, the theater’s founder. Now I find I don’t have a thing to wear and it’s coming up in only nine days.
Deanna Brown Thomas, one of James Brown’s daughters who’s preserving his legacy in Augusta by continuing his charitable programs; Barbara Gordon, publisher of the Metro Courier; Lessie Price, manager of government affairs and community relations for AECOM Nuclear and Environment and former mayor pro tem of the Aiken City Council; and I will be the star attractions in “Forever a Lady” July 25 at the Church of the Good Shepherd’s parish hall on Walton Way.
All funds from the annual Roast &Toast will benefit the Mariah McKie Butler Memorial College Book Scholarship Fund.
Tickets are $50 per person. Tables that seat eight are $400.
The Augusta Mini Theatre is a nonprofit arts and life skills school that offers classes in piano, African/modern dance, drama and visual arts, and conducts the teen pregnancy prevention workshop Making Proud Choices.