Changes by Legislature low on time

ATLANTA --- The chances look slim for passage of any legislation this year regarding the Augusta Coliseum Authority as the General Assembly approaches its final days.

 

The authority is looking for a law to lock in its funding so the Augusta Commission can't use it to build a trade, event and exhibit center. Others have called for a law to change the makeup of the authority board.

On Tuesday, City Administrator Fred Russell recommended using $1 million of the $2.5 million the authority gets yearly from the hotel and beer tax collections. He said the money could be used as the repayment source for bonds that would be issued for construction of the TEE Center on Reynolds Street.

Authority lawyer Edward Enoch sent a letter the same day to the Augusta legislative delegation, asking for a law that dedicates to the authority the half of the county hotel tax and the third of the beer tax it currently gets.

The money has been granted to the authority for the repayment of bonds which will be retired next February. But Mr. Enoch argues that since James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium have never turned a profit in 28 years, it only makes sense to dedicate funds to continue subsidizing them.

"The management company is projected to improve the financial performance of the facilities, but they do not anticipate operating at a profit for the foreseeable future," Mr. Enoch wrote. "The dollars are essential to maintaining the viability of the current facilities."

Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, said he opposes the idea because people in his district have told him they have no confidence in the board.

"So until we reach some decision about a new structure with new authority members, then it would be impossible to consider that request," he said.

With 10 days left in the legislative session, a local bill could still pass. But Mr. Tarver said he isn't aware of anything the House members might be doing to draft a bill and that he has had to read the newspaper to stay informed of their work.

The House members met Tuesday, according to Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta. She said someone mentioned the funding question, but delegation chairman Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, did not show her Mr. Enoch's letter.

She has been working with Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, on a draft of a restructuring bill. The point of disagreement is whether to continue to have the legislators appoint some members to the authority board.

Ms. Sims agrees with Mr. Tarver that Augusta commissioners should name board members.

She opposes locking in the funding for the authority.

Rep. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, said he thinks it's probably too late in the legislative session to pass a bill to restructure the coliseum board.

Mr. Howard said he thinks there's still a chance. He said placing control of the TEE Center under the Coliseum Authority might be a solution.

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