City of Augusta has not allocated enough money to relocate Hyde Park residents

Project faced with shortage of funds

Augusta has allocated enough money to buy all the property in Hyde Park, but it will hardly be enough to relocate all 107 families estimated to live there.

The assessed value of 325 privately owned tracts in the black neighborhood slated to become a drainage pond is $2.8 million, according to a database compiled by The Augusta Chronicle.

With $4.5 million banked for the project, however, paying the city’s book value for the property leaves about $10,000 per family to find the equivalent of a two- or three-bedroom house.

Chester Wheeler, whose Hous­ing and Community Develop­ment department also oversees the redevelopment efforts under way in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods, has given residents the option of relocating to a new house, custom built for them in Laney-Walker or Bethlehem.

The new houses aren’t going for anywhere near $10,000, however, and no source of additional funding has been identified.

The average value of a Hyde Park house on the city’s books is $13,100, according to The Chronicle’s analysis. Nearly $1 million of the neighborhood’s assessed value is on Leona Street, where total home values are four times higher than any of the other seven streets. Although the values of the remaining parcels are likely low, additional legal work will be required to determine who to compensate. According to the Richmond County Tax Assessor’s Office, more than 30 2011 tax notices mailed to Hyde Park owner addresses were returned as “undeliverable” by the post office.

Despite the shortage of money, the endeavor is so large that Wheeler hired three new employees to work 60 hours a week for up to five years to handle the relocations. The new personnel will deplete designated funds by up to $400,000.

The area’s low property values stem from its reputation of being contaminated by a nearby factory and former junkyard. Many residents moved away or even abandoned their properties completely.

However, neither the contamination nor occasional flooding is substantial enough to make Hyde Park eligible for federal funds, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.

Wheeler estimated total resident relocation costs will be around $8 million, nearly twice what the Augusta commission authorized going forward with in October.

An Augusta Commission committee rejected Wheeler’s three new hires, but they could be approved by the full commission. Whether the group would reallocate additional existing sales tax dollars is unclear.

“There’s already $3 million that’s been allocated, and I’m not going to go in and allocate more sales tax dollars without it going to the voters,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.

Russell said the remaining money will likely come in the next special purpose local option sales tax referendum.

“It’s a multiphase project, obviously,” he said.

Augusta has collected about $40 million toward SPLOST VI’s goal of $184 million, so the next opportunity voters will have to approve a new SPLOST probably won’t be until 2014, according to Assistant Finance Director Tim Schroer. By then, area residents might be paying 8 cents sales tax on every dollar if a new transportation sales tax referendum passes later this year. Augustans rejected a sales tax referendum in 2004.

Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this story.

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Sat, 04/29/2017 - 22:42

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