Augusta Commission members voted to raise property taxes last week, once again taking the easy way out by refusing to look realistically at services the city provides or discuss cutting anything permanently.
No one asks, “Why in this day and age do we need a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise office? And what has the one we have really accomplished?”
Nor do they ask, “Do we really need a park on every corner?” At least 20 of the 62 could be closed to save several millions every year.
Or, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy everybody who uses the transit system a car than to run the bus service?” The buses don’t go into south Augusta anyway. Go all the way or don’t go.
Or, “Why do we let industry skate on their energy sales tax and make up the loss by increasing taxes on everybody else who owns property in Richmond County?” It’s not a new tax, and they’re already getting a 4 percent break from the state. The 2 percent the city could collect will be a
$4 million loss by 2016 that property owners will have to pay.
Commissioners Donnie Smith and Bill Lockett have tried to get their colleagues to vote for the energy tax, but you know how lobbyists can lobby.
They can’t cut anything. They can’t cut recreation because the kids will be roaming the streets and getting in trouble. They can’t cut commissioners’ travel or gasoline budgets because they couldn’t fly to Texas, New Orleans and Timbuctoo to attend educational seminars.
The only thing they can do is hire more people. For example, they approved creating five new positions at a committee meeting last week, all justified or federally mandated, of course.
And that’s why they and past commissions have raided reserve funds for so many years to keep from raising property taxes. It was the easy way out.
BUT THAT WAS JUST A DREAM: Lockett says John C. Calhoun Expressway has stymied economic development, and he wants to see about lowering or removing it altogether.
Too bad he didn’t read the 2009 Westobou Vision Plan or the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda, a $500,000 commission-authorized master plan for Richmond County, earlier. Both recommended removing the elevated ramp below 15th Street.
If he had, he could have tried to get it on the 2012 Transportation Investment Act project list. The expressway is on the list, not for demolition but for $8 million in improvements.
Lockett is only the latest city official to propose major construction, or in his case, de-construction projects.
In 2007, then-Commissioner Andy Cheek dreamed of a canal flowing down Ellis Street in downtown Augusta, bringing tourists by the boatload to the new Venice of the South. His dream, known as the Ellis Street Option, would have involved digging up Ellis Street and creating a two-mile canal that hopefully would create a nightlife and entertainment destination. He got the idea while visiting San Antonio and seeing its riverwalk.
Some people thought Cheek had flipped out. Others called him a visionary.
One who thought he’d flipped was Broad Street businesswoman Bonnie Ruben, whose hotel and department store back up to Ellis Street.
“This is bizarre,” she said. “The whole thing. The Ellis Street Option. So a space station would be a nice option. It could hover above us and monitor traffic.”
Anyhow, she already had a canal behind her hotel every time it rained.
As it turned out, city officials projected the cost of the canal at $300 million. Cheek couldn’t muster enough votes to pursue his dream via a feasibility study, but the Downtown Development Authority got the green light to go forward with a $37,000 trolley feasibility study.
JUST A DREAM: Mayor Deke Copenhaver has pushed two major projects. In 2007, he and Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Famer who owned the Augusta GreenJackets at the time, proposed a $20 million state-of-the-art riverfront stadium to be built between 11th and 13th streets.
Supporters said the proposed Reynolds Street park would be “something along the lines of Camden Yards” in Baltimore and would take into account Augusta’s rich baseball history and be a year-round point of pride.
Well, as you know, it didn’t happen. Depending on your point of view, Augusta either struck out or hit a home run across the river into North Augusta.
The mayor’s other project involves converting two historic textile mills on the Augusta Canal near downtown into a campus for Georgia Regents University. Commissioners embraced the project and authorized spending $300,000 to continue studies and collect environmental data on the mills properties.
“The mills project is now at a point we’ll likely be making sheets and dishrags there again before anything else happens,” a source said last week.
In the sheer number of proposed construction projects, no commissioner can match Commissioner Marion Williams, whose latest idea is to build an “urban veranda” on top of two Broad Street parking bays. The veranda would feature seating areas and green space. The plan calls for a misting station, seating areas and a “water wall” on two sides of the James Brown statue.
Williams has also proposed a drag strip for south Augusta, an aquarium and even a zoo as potential revenue generators.
It was also Williams’ idea to use goats to eat overgrown vegetation around detention ponds.
During the recent mayoral campaign, Commissioner Alvin Mason made lowering the 93-year-old Savannah River levee about 18 feet the No. 2 point in his “10-Point Advocacy Plan.”
In his campaign for the District 22 state Senate seat, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said he was pushing for the creation of a “college row” along Walton Way and surrounding areas to give college students something they could embrace and “call their own.”
JUST A DREAM DREAM: With all of these innovative and imaginative – not to mention expensive – proposals, you can imagine what Augusta would look like if commissioners had their way.
For starters, all the run-down houses would be torn down, and Williams’ goats would be working overtime eating all of the newly grown grass when they weren’t working on the urban veranda. Of course, they’d have to fence in Cheek’s canal to keep them from wandering over and falling in.
Through many years, numerous commissioners have wanted to solve the Regency Mall problem, but it seems to have solved itself. The trees have grown up and hidden the ugly building from view. It’s a good thing the goats weren’t there, or we’d still be looking at it.
If certain commissioners had their way, GRU wouldn’t have a new dental school or student activities building on the old Gilbert Manor property. And multi-income housing wouldn’t have replaced the crime-infested housing project off Sand Bar Ferry Road. And Cherry Tree Crossing would still be thriving.
And finally, if Mason had his way, there wouldn’t be a Costco or Cabela’s, even though he did kinda, sorta take credit for it during his mayoral campaign.