Paving the way to the future

Never has such a low turnout carried a bigger mandate.

 

Just less than 9 percent of registered voters in Richmond County voted in Tuesday's special election on extending the county's 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax beyond its expiration in the fall of 2010. But the "Yes" vote was overwhelming: 70 percent to 30 percent.

The vote will allow the county to collect $184.7 million over some five years for improvements to roads and bridges, flood control, purchase of emergency vehicles, a lake at Regency Mall, grants to various nonprofits and more. The package also includes money to begin a restoration of the historic Miller Theater on Broad Street.

But the vote goes far beyond even those practical effects. It sets a progressive tone in a town in which politics have often gotten in the way -- but where a new breed of leadership seems to be taking over in both the public and private sector.

It's telling that the pro-SPLOST volunteers celebrating the vote Tuesday night downtown were from every part of town, every age, every race, every ideology.

It felt like Augusta grew up a little Tuesday -- and maybe grew together more.

"Absolutely," said volunteer Janie Peel. "I think it sends a message that voters are going to get what they want -- that voters are the ones with real power.

"I'm just excited we had the opportunity to educate people about what the vote was really about. This solidifies the future of Augusta."

Peel cited volunteers such as Tricia Hughes and advocates such as talk-show host Helen Blocker-Adams -- and said city administrator Fred Russell worked tirelessly to explain the package to audiences.

"Fred did an outstanding job," Peel said, "and we are very lucky to have him."

We agree. Russell has the unenviable task of answering to 10 commissioners and a mayor, and yet was able to forge a SPLOST package that not only those bosses, but the voter -- his ultimate bosses -- gave their stamp of approval to.

This vote was about the kind of community we want. And, after, all, that's up to us, not the government. The Augusta community gave its marching orders to the government Tuesday.

"People see what needs to be done in the city, what needs to be done within the infrastructure. What we've got to do is live up to that," Commissioner Calvin Holland told the Chronicle's Johnny Edwards.

No matter what the turnout, that's a huge mandate.

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