Augusta groups begin submitting applications for SPLOST funding

 The race is on to be included in Au­gusta’s next sales tax referendum.

 

Augusta Commission members who voted last week to place the special purpose local option sales tax on the Nov. 3 ballot said the city had sufficient time to develop a package that will pass muster with voters.

“It’s not like we’re starting from scratch,” said Commissioner Dennis Wil­liams, one of seven to approve the SPLOST calendar, which includes an Aug. 18 deadline for a finalized project list.

They will use the project list from the failed 2014 SPLOST referendum as a starting point, although city departments have been asked to review and either affirm or revise them.

About 20 percent of what’s expected to be a nearly $200 million package, funded through about five years of collections, is already spoken for.

More than $30 million is committed to debt service on bonds issued last year to fund the renovation of the Municipal Building and construction of a new Information Technology building.

An additional $5 million is intended for project administration through the life of the tax such as overhead, including project management costs, that can’t be deferred and aren’t easily charged back to city departments on an individual project level, City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson said.

“Theoretically we could charge indirect costs to each project, but that is quite difficult, so we lump the indirect costs for all projects into one line item,” she said.

The Augusta-Richmond County Co­li­seum Authority had pitched including a $90 million to $110 million new arena in the package. It has reconsidered its request and now seeks just $10 million to $15 million from SPLOST to help finance a replacement for James Brown Arena, Chairman Cedric Johnson said.

Williams said two neighborhood groups have requested information from him about applying for SPLOST funds.

The Augusta Museum of History is seeking SPLOST funds but hasn’t finalized its request, Executive Director Nancy Glaser said.

Noting the commission’s focus on infrastructure, the museum wants money to stabilize a property it owns next to the Broad Street museum to free up space for enlarged James Brown and Local Legends exhibits, Glaser said.

Last year, the museum sought $4.75 million for an expansion project, later reduced to $500,000 by the commission.

Anne Catherine Murray, the executive director of Symphony Orch­estra Augusta, said the symphony and the Miller Theatre board intend to resubmit a request for funds to renovate the Miller, likely less than the $12.9 million requested last year. The commission later reduced the allocation to $4.9 million.

With a SPLOST-funded storm sewer project set to start in the next few days, the Im­perial Theatre will seek funds from the new SPLOST to “truly finish off the theatre,” Executive Dire­ctor Charles Scavullo said.

The theater needs between $4 million and $6 million to complete renovations, and it hopes to obtain $2.5 million to $4 million of that
from the tax package, he said.
Paine College, which last year was approved for $6 million in SPLOST funding toward a new James Brown Com­mu­nity and Fine Arts Cul­tu­ral Center, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Greater Augusta Arts Cou­ncil Executive Director Bren­da Durant said the climate isn’t there for the council to make a request this year.

Competing with community groups for funds are city departments that say their needs have only increased since the sales-tax package failed at the polls last year.

“Our need is more important now because we didn’t get it last time,” said Lt. Allan Rollins of the Richmond Coun­ty Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office and other public safety departments still need a new $13 million radio system included in the last package, along with $8 million for public safety vehicles, $1.3 million for vehicle equipment and $700,000 for downtown video security.

Hephzibah and Blythe had more than $10.3 million in projects on last year’s referendum, despite having fewer than 4,500 people combined.

Augusta Regional Airport has submitted a $24.7 million request to develop an air-based industrial park at its south end, Marketing Direc­tor Diane Johnston said.

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