Augusta voters narrowly reject $194.3 million sales tax package

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 11:48 PM
Last updated Wednesday, May 21, 2014 2:13 AM
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Augusta voters narrowly rejected a $194.3 million sales tax package, just the second of its kind to fail since the city’s first special purpose local option sales tax in 1988.

Richmond County Special Election

Shall a special 1 percent sales and use tax be reimposed in the special district of Richmond County, for the raising of not more than $198,364,000 for designated projects and organizations?

Yes 13,981
No 14,624

The sales tax failed with 51.1 percent voting against the package. Just 643 votes separated the final tally.

The failed tax package, criticized by opponents for its hasty compilation and lack of funds to improve infrastructure, would have been Augusta’s seventh SPLOST. The city must wait until November 2015 to present it again to voters.

“It wasn’t done right in the beginning,” Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams said Tuesday. “We need to go back and look at that SPLOST again.”

The project list, approved by the Augusta Commission in late February, was assembled by Mayor Deke Copenhaver in about a month. It included $30 million for Municipal Building renovations that are already underway, $50 million for unspecified Engineering Department infrastructure projects and $5.25 million to advance a proposal to renovate two dormant textile mills into usable space.

Before Tuesday, the only SPLOST to fail was a massive $478.7 million package in 2004.

Amanda Bryant, chairwoman of the anti-taxation group CSRA Libertarian Party, cheered the failed sales tax, saying the city’s economy will be healthier in the future with fewer taxes levied on consumers.

“We pay enough taxes as it is,” Bryant said. “The more our taxes go up, the more we’re going to lose business.”

Augusta resident Octavia Boyd-Wise was one of the 14,624 voters who said ‘no’ to the sales tax package. She wanted a more in-depth examination of the project list and more money for road improvements, demolition of dilapidated houses and upkeep of community centers and parks.

“It needs to be reviewed. It needs to be looked at closer as to where the funding is going now and where it needs to be going,” Boyd-Wise said. “Some of the things they are doing with that money could be used better.”

As a result of the failed tax vote, Greater Augusta Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant said many nongovernmental agencies, including arts groups, will have to delay planning efforts to improve the city’s quality of life.

“Back to the drawing board and do it again,” she said. “It’s tough for us in the arts community not to be assured of funding. Plans can’t go forward.”

Who loses

- Augusta Regional Collaboration Project. Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s ARC Project, which aspires to develop a “mills campus” at Sibley and King mills for the expansion of Georgia Regents University, must seek an alternate source for $5.25 million in up-front SPLOST dollars.

- The Arts. Greater Augusta Arts Council plans to use $2.775 million in SPLOST dollars to fund public art initiatives and as seed money for Artspace, the conversion of a downtown building to artist studio and living space. Symphony Orchestra Augusta will lose $4.25 million in city funds to help complete renovations at Miller Theater and former Cullums building. The Imperial Theatre will lose $2.5 million in funds it sought for renovations.

- Augusta Engineering. Engineering Director Abie Ladson has said his department has no alternative source of funding for city road and drainage projects not covered by the Transportation Investment Act or other sources.

- Hephzibah and Blythe. Richmond County’s two smallest municipalities were allocated $10.35 million in SPLOST 7 funding for items ranging from a $4.45 million Hephzibah multi-use facility to $900,000 for a Blythe community building and park.

Who wins

- SPLOST opponents, commissioners Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett and Marion Williams, who claim the package includes too little infrastructure for a city in dire need of infrastructure repairs.

- Taxpayers, who would contribute a penny per dollar they spend at the cash register on food, clothes and other items. A household that spends $1,000 a month on retail items will contribute $600 over the five-year lifespan of a typical Augusta SPLOST.

- The political capital of groups such as the CSRA Libertarians, who oppose sales taxes.

Comments (61) Add comment
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Junket103
452
Points
Junket103 05/21/14 - 12:14 am
7
2
Try Again Next Year

I suspect SPLOST would have passed quite easily if not for the projects for Paine College and the Mills Study. Hopefully, the Commission will get the message to keep the proposed projects reasonable and focused on government projects. Keep it free of pork projects for the private sector. Too bad the law requires the County to wait a year to try again.

TrulyWorried
14254
Points
TrulyWorried 05/21/14 - 12:16 am
10
2
Splost failed

but there is money left over from the last one, right? Use it wisely.

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 05/21/14 - 12:29 am
10
1
Thank Goodness!!
Unpublished

At least something good came out of last night. This is a big deal! Now I wonder what will become of Deke's "Mills Project"?

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 05/21/14 - 12:32 am
15
1
Bake Sale
Unpublished

Tell Brenda Durant and her Arts Council to have a bake sale and get their hands out of the taxpayers' pockets.

bubbasauce
20689
Points
bubbasauce 05/21/14 - 01:16 am
13
4
Way to go Augusta for

Way to go Augusta for stopping this! Boy you can bet they will be coming again with another one next year.

Darby
25661
Points
Darby 05/21/14 - 01:24 am
15
3
SPLOST

Taxed Enough Already!

Just wondering where the 48.9% who voted for that thing had their heads. Obviously, wherever it was, the sun didn't shine there.

Dixieman
14943
Points
Dixieman 05/21/14 - 05:26 am
11
5
Yay!!

Now can we get rid of the stupid TSPLOST which costs us an additional 1%??

ColCo
780
Points
ColCo 05/21/14 - 05:57 am
6
0
2015 SPLOST

If you think this one was bad, wait until you see the next one. It'll be interesting to see how much "infrastructure" is actually on the list.

Riverman1
83956
Points
Riverman1 05/21/14 - 06:51 am
9
7
Deke's Legacy

Defeat of the SPLOST is a legacy to the failure of Copenhaver's administration.

Graymare
3199
Points
Graymare 05/21/14 - 06:51 am
6
1
Hooray!!

Yay!!! I did receive an estimate of my property tax bill though. It went up $263.00 with no change in property values. What's up with that?

nocnoc
42617
Points
nocnoc 05/21/14 - 07:45 am
11
4
Thank you ARC

(updated to correct a major typo)

1st of all Thank You Augusta Chronicle, for allowing us an unrestricted Voice, on this Tax & Vote.

We knew it was going to be a close vote.
Our own private predictions gave the NO Vote a 2% margin of success.

This was due to the given limited resources available to the citizens fighting this Pork barrel,as compared to others with political power, pushing so hard for the share of the pie.

We had faith that enough TAXPAYERS would see that this SPLOST was just filled with Special Interest Pockets and was illegal on several points.

There is no doubt our open exchange of comments and facts was a turning point for many voters.

Once again
At least my Thanks to the Augusta Chronicle and those Commentor's that got the facts out to the public.

studmuffin1533
280
Points
studmuffin1533 05/21/14 - 07:05 am
13
1
Too much Fluff

I was responsible for at least a dozen "NO" votes. If they hadn't bundled the $$ for Paine College, the MCG Cancer center and some of the other special interest things, I would've been able to bring in a dozen "YES" votes.
It would have cost no more to have put the individual projects on the ballot and let us approve the needed infrastructure projects on a project by project basis.
I hope the people who put this package together have learned a lesson. Probably not.

dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 05/21/14 - 07:16 am
9
2
Thank you
Unpublished

I thank the voters that defeated this splost and recognized the special interest going to private sectors. The voters overcame an extensive campaign by the Augusta Chronicle to defeat this splost and to recognize that taxes collected should be applied to aid the entire county and not just a few.

deestafford
27652
Points
deestafford 05/21/14 - 07:57 am
12
1
Excellent comments....

Excellent comments. I hope the commissioners read these and others to learn that the people are not against increased taxes for legitimate purposes but oppose the SPLOST being used as a slush fund for pet projects.

It would have helped the pro-SPLOST folks if this was done with more public input and not seen as something done in the middle of the night.

deestafford
27652
Points
deestafford 05/21/14 - 07:57 am
5
1
Excellent comments....

Excellent comments. I hope the commissioners read these and others to learn that the people are not against increased taxes for legitimate purposes but oppose the SPLOST being used as a slush fund for pet projects.

It would have helped the pro-SPLOST folks if this was done with more public input and not seen as something done in the middle of the night.

soitgoes
786
Points
soitgoes 05/21/14 - 08:00 am
11
1
Good!

Now, Commissioners, get to work and put together a package that is not packed with pork and special interest $$ for organizations that are not directly related to government or infrastructure. As much as I support the arts, certain "theaters" should not be given handouts from tax revenue. If the citizens of the community want to support these theaters, then let them do it directly with their own tax-deductible contributions. We have way too many needs to fix roads, drainage, sewers, stormwater drains, etc.

Eliminate the pork and the next SPLOST package will pass.

soitgoes
786
Points
soitgoes 05/21/14 - 08:03 am
8
4
Deke's legacy

is not a failed SPLOST, but rather a failed effort to move the Greenjackets stadium to the riverfront. He failed to use his political capital (while he still had some) to get this done. As a result, North Augusta will polish up this jewel and it will be awesome. Of course, I fault the Commission as much - if not more - than Deke. But so it goes...

soitgoes
786
Points
soitgoes 05/21/14 - 08:04 am
9
1
Clean up Augusta!

Start with the Commission...

Bigdawg62
84
Points
Bigdawg62 05/21/14 - 08:06 am
11
2
Brenda Durant

You are upset that arts groups won't receive any funding? How about having arts groups become self sufficient so that my tax dollars do not support this type of non value added activity and instead have my money support infrastructure and people in need.

story1
802
Points
story1 05/21/14 - 08:19 am
11
1
Loud message

A loud message has been sent to the Mayor and a few select commissioners that rammed this Splost package. The outside agencies did little to help promote your cause and they stood to financially gain from VII. Maybe this is the beginning of "we're not taking this any longer" from the taxpayers. A redesigned Splost package with public input may get approved next November.

nocnoc
42617
Points
nocnoc 05/21/14 - 08:35 am
8
1
THE WHO WINS section left out something.

This is neither a Rant or Rave
It just a addition to an likely accidental omission.

In the SPLOST article WHO WINS section I feel it over looked a very important Winner.

RETAIL Merchants and RETAIL WORKERS WIN

As we already know, Every Penny consumed by government, is a penny not spent spent to purchase something at the retail level.

We'll have all read various figures of what the ARC Government overhead cost is and what percentage is actually applied to the projects.

But I am headed in a different direction of thought.

This SPLOST, had it pasted would have taken $194 MILLION Dollars out of the Augusta Richmond County RETAIL Economy.

Retail hires a lot more long term workers than construction companies.

It can be said by Defeating SPLOST 7 may have created 17,290 full time @ $5.50 per hour Wage Retail jobs,

$194M /5.50/2040 hrs = 17,290

Or

18,110 Minimum Wage jobs

Or

4,850 jobs at $40k per year.

Every dollar in circulating in the economy generates more in tax revenue. Because as consumer purchase things they are replaced and more is sold. The more retail business the more workers hire to sell what is being purchase at some point in the retail chain of events.

Some Bright Economics Student should do a study of lower taxes.
It would be interesting to see a factual comparison between 2000-14, and 2015-16 collected sales taxes to see if NOT having a SPLOST actually improves tax revenues.

Little Lamb
46022
Points
Little Lamb 05/21/14 - 08:39 am
11
1
Project List

We voted for mayor and several commissioners in May, but the new faces will not take office until January.

Between now and then, we must be vigilant that the current mayor and sitting commissioners do not set up another list of projects that contains pork for special interests.

And the biggest special interest of all is the secrecy-shrouded Mills Project and its mysterious cheerleader, Matt Kwatinetz. As Riverman has pointed out, Kwatinetz (acting as a private consultant but without a contract) is receiving money for advising the city but we don't know how much or from which accounts the money is coming.

Wait until January to begin cobbling together the next SPLOST project list. And let the public know what the funds are supposed to buy as the list is assembled out in the open — not behind the mayor's closed door.

rh_stepchild43
5
Points
rh_stepchild43 05/21/14 - 08:54 am
3
11
Really

What everyone fails to realize as well as some of our esteemed leaders is that Augusta has one of the lowest tax rates anywhere in the state. Yay for saving on taxes but boo because the city is not receiving the necessary revenue to that increased taxes could be used to continue to improve or services and infrastructure. Ok so where is the money going to come from. City employees (the regular employees that is) have not seen a raise in quite sometime. Prices on goods and services continue to increase. Taxes are not be raised on property for everyone including the business such as Georgia Power who continue to raise rates over the last 7 years. So where is the money going to come from besides continually going into debt, or laying people off, or forcing them to suffer through more days with no pay as has been done in the recent past.
Someone needs to actually realize that the money has to come from somewhere it just doesnt magically appear. Incoming funds to city coffers doesnt increase without taxes increasing. so why not raise the property taxes so that the big businesses that have been raising our rates steadily for the past year pay some of that back to the city in order to improve the services and infrastructure. and the employees who are working diligently in less than ideal conditions can see some improvement in their own households as well as their working conditions too.

Lori Davis
920
Points
Lori Davis 05/21/14 - 09:35 am
10
2
Thanks!

Thanks to everyone who worked so hard with us to see this SPLOST defeated It was truly a grassroots effort. Whether you donated, placed a sign, held a sign, voted against this or made a phone call to your friends encouraging a no vote, we appreciate all of the efforts!! The NO SPLOST team is truly excited. We were able to get the word out with only the media and 250 signs. The voters did the rest!! Everyone should be truly proud!!

badmoon426
1173
Points
badmoon426 05/21/14 - 09:46 am
10
1
Give Credit Where Credit...

...to the citizens of Augusta Richmond County that are waking up.

The SPLOST was defeated by many groups including individual candidates lending a hand.

As for the next SPLOST, beware Mr. Mayor and supporting county commissioners the citizens are becoming aware of your lack of transparency and good governance.

Congratulations citizens!

grinder48
1957
Points
grinder48 05/21/14 - 10:14 am
0
0
Sick & Tired
Unpublished

People are sick and tired of taxes. Period. It's one thing to tax for needed repairs for publicly owned infrastructure and for law enforcement and fire proection etc. that benefit all but when you tax to give money to the "arts" and privately held organizations (like Paine College) ... well, people are just sick of it. Hope the politicians learn from this, next time eliminate the pork and it'll have a chance of passing.

RivieraRed
24
Points
RivieraRed 05/21/14 - 10:16 am
6
1
Accountability First

I encouraged everyone I came in contact with to vote "NO" because I do not think the Commission has managed the general tax receipts or the previous SPLOST monies properly. You shouldn't give nearly $200 Million to a body that hasn't managed well in the past. I hope the Chronicle will run a story on the Audit of Augusta's finances over the past 5 years. I believe the waste and mismanagement (employment settlements alone) would have more than funded the arts projects in this proposed project. We should all remember...there is no limit to how much of somebody else's money our leaders can spend!

nocnoc
42617
Points
nocnoc 05/21/14 - 10:29 am
6
1
250 signs

Ms. Davis
you must have missed the boxes and boxes of Bumper stickers printed up and given out by a number concerned Average Joe individuals not related your PAC efforts.

They did this ALL out of their own pockets, at NO COST to others, and are still not seeking to associate themselves with the NO VOTES for any spotlight or fame.

The 3, that I know of out here on the South Side each saw something really wrong and stepped up and did something.

These were NOT a Political Action Committee type people, but true grass routes, fed up taxpayers.

countyman
20120
Points
countyman 05/21/14 - 10:37 am
3
14
Facts

The comments about Deke's legacy are hilarious considering the people of Columbia County voted for Ron Cross again..

Do you really want to compare the legacy of Deke vs Ron? The current mayor Augusta's legacy is secure and the progress under Deke speak for itself..

Please list the comparable accomplishments of Ron Cross or the mayor of North Augusta(Lark Jones)?
1. Starbucks plant
2. Augusta mall promenade
3. Village at Riverwatch
4. Washington Crossing(Whole Foods, DSW, Home Goods)
5. Rural Sourcing
6. ESI
7. ADP
8. T Mobile
9. Rockwood
10. Augusta Renewable Energy

The plan for project Jackson in North Augusta doesn't include the mixed-use development from the national developer Jim Jacoby... I did support the riverfront development in the beginning, but the proposed GRU developments are much better overall..

The $225 million student housing/retail and $75 million biotech park will attract more high paying jobs, residential, and restaurants compared to any baseball stadium..

nocnoc
42617
Points
nocnoc 05/21/14 - 10:41 am
5
1
OBTW: GA LAW allows a 1 year extension

Remember how we were told S7 was needed to cover outstanding debts at one point?

SPLOST's can be extended 1 year to retire outstanding debt if, I read O.C.G.A. § 48-8-111.1 correct.

Can a consolidated government collect SPLOST for more than five years?

If a consolidated government issues general obligation debt in
conjunction with the SPLOST referendum, it can collect SPLOST
revenues until the estimated total revenues stated on the ballot are
collected.

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