Commissioners to begin sales-tax discussion

Ideas are trickling in for how Augusta might spend millions in new sales tax dollars.

Members of the city commission are set to approve Tuesday a short timeline for developing the city’s seventh special-purpose, local-option sales tax package, although at least two commissioners have said they need more time to develop the proposal before seeking voter approval.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said the requests he sent Mayor Deke Copenhaver for the tax are strictly for infrastructure, including improvements along Skinner Mill, Dennis and Mayo roads; a new fire station near Fort Gordon’s Gate 1, where homeowner insurance is higher because of lack of fire coverage; and possibly new equipment or facilities for Augusta’s animal services department.

Smith said he also supports Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s request to upgrade the department’s radio system.

Voters, who also might be asked to approve an accompanying bond issue May 20, won’t favor more than necessities, Smith said.

“I’m not sure at this point, with the way things are going, they’re willing to pay for fluff,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said he’ll likely recommend a request from the Greater Augusta Arts Council for a new downtown performing arts facility and a request for funds for Imperial Theatre, but the decisions need more study.

“We’ll probably have a couple of work sessions,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett, who last week suggested that the area around the defunct Regency Mall should get some of the funds, said Monday the city needs more time to decide what it needs and should put the referendum on the November ballot.

“They expect the commission to do a resolution this month. It’s not going to happen,” Lockett said. “We have not done anything toward finding out what projects our constituents want, and so forth.”

The short schedule going for approval Tuesday was requested by the finance department, according to the meeting agenda. It has all special-purpose, local-option sales tax requests due by Jan. 17, with a resolution on a May 20 referendum approved by Feb. 10.

In other business, a revised notice for a 1:15 p.m. special called meeting before the 2 p.m. regular session includes approval of a new contract with ambulance provider Gold Cross EMS.

The document, negotiated by former City Administrator Fred Russell and Gold Cross officials, allows Gold Cross to assign call priorities, with 90 percent of the most urgent Priority 1 calls arriving in an area north of Willis Foreman and Brown roads within eight minutes.

While the contract has much more detail, such as quarterly reporting, than a self-renewing agreement that had been left in place for years, allowing Gold Cross to set call priority levels affects the accuracy of response time data and is problematic, according to Lynn Masters, the vice president of Augusta Professional Firefighters Association.

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