Commissioner wants fee killed

The next time Augusta commissioners meet, a proposal to kill the city’s $1 per night hotel fee will be on the table.

 

Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham had the issue added to the agenda for the next Finance Committee meeting, which will be on Monday.

Mr. Brigham said that if the city isn’t moving forward with the downtown trade, exhibit and event center, continuing to charge the fee might be illegal. He’s waiting for an opinion from the city attorney, he said.

“Since we’re obviously not collecting it for tourism, then I don’t think we can collect it,” Mr. Brigham said.

The hotel fee has become a sore spot since commissioners clashed Tuesday on a plan to finance construction of the TEE center. The fee was conceived in 2007 as a compromise to get six votes to approve the center’s Reynolds Street site and operating agreement with Augusta Riverfront LLC. Under the deal, $350,000 a year would go toward operating costs and $750,000 a year toward revitalizing blighted inner city neighborhoods.

But in a vote Tuesday that split along racial lines, the commission failed to pass a financing plan to build the TEE center and jump-start rehab projects in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. At one point, Commissioner J.R. Hatney told City Administrator Fred Russell that the neighborhood projects can go forward without the TEE center because that money has been approved. The TEE center, on the other hand, was approved for $20 million by voters in 2005’s special-purpose sales tax package but needs another $18 million for construction and $17 million for a parking deck.

Commissioner Don Grantham accused Commissioner Betty Beard of not upholding her end of a bargain. Ms. Beard said she believes now isn’t the time to build an exposition center, considering the state of the economy.

After the 5-4-1 vote Tuesday, a livid Commissioner Joe Bowles suggested ending the hotel fee.

But as with approval of the TEE center, doing so would take six votes.

“Until we talk about it, we don’t know whether we can get another vote,” Mr. Brigham said.

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