Some members of the revamped downtown Urban Redevelopment Agency still have questions about how a $28.5 million bond issue will be repaid if Augustans don’t pass a new sales tax May 20, but expect the issue and a related agreement to pass anyway at a called Friday meeting.
The URA was established in 2010 to issue bonds for the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment project, but Augusta commissioners voted last year to expand the panel’s role to also fund renovations at Augusta Municipal Building and development projects at several other downtown sites, including publicly-owned portions of Port Royal, the former main library and the city-owned depot property.
The bond issue hit a snag last week when several newly-appointed members of the panel raised questions about the revenue source for servicing the bonds if voters don’t approve the city’s seventh special purpose, local option sales tax on May 20. One of the appointees, former mayor Bob Young, said Thursday he remains unconvinced the city commission was aware it had formally approved using property taxes to service the bonds if the SPLOST fails.
In earlier commission discussions, city finance officials have stated the only alternative funding source is a .781-mill levy typically reserved for capital outlay that will be entirely depleted by annual debt service on the bonds if the SPLOST fails.
Several commissioners he’d spoken with “don’t believe that they’ve signed on to use their capital millage,” Young said. “That’s the piece of the puzzle that’s missing, from my perspective.”
Young added he can’t understand why the URA is being pressed to approve the bonds now under the threat that the municipal building renovations are about to run out of funds, when the commission authorized the renovation project more than a year ago.
“You’d think they would have issued bonds within 60 days of that meeting,” he said. “A year later, and somebody is pushing the panic button.”
Board member Brad Owens, who raised similar questions (and others) at last week’s meeting, said he will likely approve the issue Friday if city staff, outside counsel and consultants can demonstrate the renovation project has reached payment deadlines and that no other source of funds is available.
“I’m prepared to vote to move this forward as long as it’s necessary to do it before the SPLOST vote takes place to save the taxpayers money,” Owens said. “I’ve requested from the finance department that they provide the documents that show this is necessary.”
Young said he thought fellow board members were out of town this week and consulted with Augusta commissioners about how to proceed, but when board chair Henry Ingram called a meeting for 2 p.m. Friday, he assumed at least three supporting votes are in the bag. Larry Jones and Terry Elam also serve on the panel.
“If they force a vote, I’ll have to put a few things into the record,” Young said.