Opinions vary on CADI as extension is planned


In teams of two or five, the workers of Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative are nearing three years of sweeping leaves, cleaning sidewalks and creating a sense of safety and goodwill within the city's 15-block business improvement district.


During 2010, nine CADI staffers logged 82 personal safety escorts, assisted 1,351 pedestrians, reported 88 panhandlers and, notably, collected 86,240 pounds of trash, according to Margaret Woodard, the director of Augusta Downtown Development Authority.

All the work has been performed at little cost to taxpayers because CADI is funded through a special tax, levied only on for-profit property owners within the business improvement district.

Now, because of the program's success, the 12-member CADI board of directors is preparing to extend a contract with Service Group Inc., the private firm that runs CADI, for two more years.

"The program's going beautifully," Woodard said. "Everybody's happy."

CADI hasn't glided through its inaugural three years, however, and even its Segway-riding ambassadors have hit a few bumps.

The tax-funded service district is wholly dependent on tax collections, and when they were down last year, CADI cut employee hours down to 35 a week, eliminated Sunday service and steam-cleaning sidewalks, and added fee-for-services work, such as graffiti removal and after-hours calls, Woodard said.

This year, it expects tax collections to be back on track and hopes to resume normal service levels, she said.

Although many business owners say downtown is cleaner than it was three years ago, some in the district -- bounded by 13th, Greene and Eighth streets and the Savannah River -- say their tax dollars going exclusively to CADI could be better spent.

Kay White, the owner of Whitehouse Antiques on Broad Street, called the CADI services "worthless."

Despite the extra $500 or so the district adds to her property tax bill, White said she routinely spends 20 minutes in the mornings collecting broken bottles and trash from the sidewalk in front of her business.

"Nice guys," New Bell Supply owner Joyce Hwang said of the CADI workers. "I hope I can see them more often."

Hwang said she assumed that the CADI personnel worked for the city of Augusta.

They do not.

"I still see homeless people downtown," said Devran Roof, the owner of Rock Bottom Music on Broad Street. "Isn't it part of their job to do that?"

Communicating by radio with each other and with sheriff's office dispatch, CADI ambassadors are intended to create an inviting, safe atmosphere for visitors, Woodard said, but they are not police.

"We're extra eyes and ears on the street," she said.

WHETHER CADI HAS decreased crime is one subject addressed in a 2009 study by Darryl Nettles, then a graduate student in public administration at Augusta State University.

According to Nettles' findings, crime in the district did decline between November 2006 and May 2009, with the two notable exceptions of armed and other robberies.

Nettles also surveyed downtown business owners on their impressions of CADI, and 71 percent said the problem of dirty sidewalks had improved during the period.

However, far fewer -- only 32 percent -- said panhandling and loitering appeared to have decreased, and just 19 percent said vandalism was down.

About 44 percent said they felt safer during the day, but only 15 percent said their feeling of safety at night had improved since CADI services began.

Nettles' study also raises the issue that the districts might find themselves not only mistaken for city government but also leaned on heavily to take up the slack when cities cut costs.

The original agreement establishing the district guaranteed a minimum level of city services, but Robert Kuhar, the chairman of the CADI board, said the city may not be upholding its end of the bargain.

"The clean initiative works pretty well, but I think we've got one of the cleanest, most broken infrastructures downtown of any city this size," Kuhar said.

While public sidewalk and Riverwalk Augusta areas are clean, city-maintained landscaping fixtures such as planters often are broken, and trees that fall or die are not replaced, he said.

"I don't know how they set their priorities," Kuhar said.

Woodard said CADI regularly reports broken infrastructure to the appropriate city department, whether public services, traffic engineering or Augusta Cares, the city's complaint center.

Augusta Cares, the city's customer service hot line, said it had received 12 calls from CADI during 2009, ranging from a dead cat to a fallen tree. During 2010, it received 11, including a report of a lamp that was out and another dead animal, according to Director Martha King.

Public Services Maintenance Director Dennis Stroud said he had no way to gauge how many issues CADI reported.

DESPITE ITS CHALLENGES, however, CADI'S true success lies in the relationships its workers have forged during three years with the community, Woodard said.

Besides cleaning and directing visitors to tourist attractions, the workers routinely perform minor acts of heroism, whether pulling an unconscious person out of the street, jumping-starting a car, directing traffic around a wreck or persuading an intoxicated person not to drive, she said.

In three years, CADI also has paid off its equipment, including two gyroscopic Segways, a sidewalk vacuum cleaner, tools and the green CADI pickup, she said.

The program has been so successful that last week it ended an arrangement in which the city advanced CADI payments in lieu of annual tax collections, Woodard said.

CADI now has a $325,000 bank line of credit from which it can pay Service Group, instead of borrowing from the city in anticipation of annual tax collections.

In all, CADI spends $365,000 a year on salaries for a full-time manager, seven full-time staffers and one part-time employee to perform the "clean and safe" activities the men in green are known for, Woodard said.

"People look for them, know to call and know they're here to help," she said.