Augusta Commission approves sheriff's downtown safety plan

Augusta Commission members approved Sheriff Richard Roundtree’s plan to implement additional security downtown using security cameras and a new tax, if business owners agree.


They also authorized hiring Fort Worth, Texas-based McDonald Transit to run Augusta Public Transit starting Aug. 1, during a four-hour session that included nearly an hour behind closed doors with attorneys Tuesday.

Roundtree’s proposed Continually Patrolled Dis­trict, a new business improvement district under Georgia law, would have to go before property owners within yet-to-be-determined boundaries downtown for it to fund three certified officers’ salaries and three “community safety officers,” bringing the total number of police assigned downtown to nine.

“If we move forward with the BID, we’re moving forward with asking the taxpayers if this is what they want,” Roundtree said.

The CPD’s boundaries will reflect owners who support the proposal, but deputies will leave the district if they’re the closest responding officer to a nearby crime, he said.

Commissioner Joe Jackson, who with Commissioner Mary Davis opposed the plan, asked whether the city could fund the plan without implementing a tax district.

Downtown residents “deserve the security and the protection whether there’s a buy-in or not,” Jackson said.

The plan approved also includes the purchase and installation of 32 security cameras for $342,000, but omitted Roundtree’s earlier recommendation to close Riverwalk between 11 p.m. and sunrise.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said the CPD was the most “democratic” way to fund additional law enforcement, and could be used as a template for other parts of the city.

“And that’s what’s exciting about it,” Roundtree said.

While Roundtree’s CPD is not yet formed, an earlier BID that commissioners terminated last year generated about $353,834 in taxes through an extra 6-mill levy. The funds generated determined the level of service provided.

After prolonged discussion and questions, commissioners approved 6-4 the hire of McDonald Transit to replace Mobility Transit, whose contract expires July 31 and with whom the city is in mediation over a contract dispute. Alvin Mason, Corey Johnson, Bill Lockett and Marion Williams voted no.

McDonald was the recommendation of an internal procurement committee that included transit liaison Sharon Dottery.

Asked by Lockett whether the city could run the service itself, Dottery said yes.

“Why do we want to outsource this? We have the expertise in house,” said Lockett, who pushed to return it to city management for a trial year.

Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen said the committee had been in talks with each of four qualified bidders about potential expansion of bus routes, but that the program’s total cost ultimately will depend on the number of revenue hours the service runs.

While the award passed, Fennoy asked why the commission would have had staff solicit bids for the program, then abandon the recommendations. “Again, we’ve got to look at the way we do business,” he said.

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The commission agreed unanimously Tuesday not to raise property taxes and instead to set as tentative millage the “rollback” rate, which will generate the same amount of revenue from the city’s digest of property taxes. The rollback rate is “a tiny bit less than the rates from last year,” Finance Director Donna Williams said.

The rates, which must be advertised before final adoption, are 7.987 mills in the urban services district, 8.042 outside the old city limits, .781 mill for capital outlay and 2.14 mills for fire protection outside the old city limits. They are distinct from the 19.11 mills levied by Richmond County Board of Education, which board members have said they plan to increase.

TOPIC PAGE: Downtown Safety
TOPIC PAGE: Augusta-Richmond County Commission


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