Augusta voters narrowly reject $194.3 million sales tax package



Augusta voters narrowly rejected a $194.3 million sales tax package, just the second of its kind to fail since the city’s first special purpose local option sales tax in 1988.

The sales tax failed with 51.1 percent voting against the package. Just 643 votes separated the final tally.

The failed tax package, criticized by opponents for its hasty compilation and lack of funds to improve infrastructure, would have been Augusta’s seventh SPLOST. The city must wait until November 2015 to present it again to voters.

“It wasn’t done right in the beginning,” Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams said Tuesday. “We need to go back and look at that SPLOST again.”

The project list, approved by the Augusta Commission in late February, was assembled by Mayor Deke Copenhaver in about a month. It included $30 million for Municipal Building renovations that are already underway, $50 million for unspecified Engineering Department infrastructure projects and $5.25 million to advance a proposal to renovate two dormant textile mills into usable space.

Before Tuesday, the only SPLOST to fail was a massive $478.7 million package in 2004.

Amanda Bryant, chairwoman of the anti-taxation group CSRA Libertarian Party, cheered the failed sales tax, saying the city’s economy will be healthier in the future with fewer taxes levied on consumers.

“We pay enough taxes as it is,” Bryant said. “The more our taxes go up, the more we’re going to lose business.”

Augusta resident Octavia Boyd-Wise was one of the 14,624 voters who said ‘no’ to the sales tax package. She wanted a more in-depth examination of the project list and more money for road improvements, demolition of dilapidated houses and upkeep of community centers and parks.

“It needs to be reviewed. It needs to be looked at closer as to where the funding is going now and where it needs to be going,” Boyd-Wise said. “Some of the things they are doing with that money could be used better.”

As a result of the failed tax vote, Greater Augusta Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant said many nongovernmental agencies, including arts groups, will have to delay planning efforts to improve the city’s quality of life.

“Back to the drawing board and do it again,” she said. “It’s tough for us in the arts community not to be assured of funding. Plans can’t go forward.”

Who loses

- Augusta Regional Collaboration Project. Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s ARC Project, which aspires to develop a “mills campus” at Sibley and King mills for the expansion of Georgia Regents University, must seek an alternate source for $5.25 million in up-front SPLOST dollars.

- The Arts. Greater Augusta Arts Council plans to use $2.775 million in SPLOST dollars to fund public art initiatives and as seed money for Artspace, the conversion of a downtown building to artist studio and living space. Symphony Orchestra Augusta will lose $4.25 million in city funds to help complete renovations at Miller Theater and former Cullums building. The Imperial Theatre will lose $2.5 million in funds it sought for renovations.

- Augusta Engineering. Engineering Director Abie Ladson has said his department has no alternative source of funding for city road and drainage projects not covered by the Transportation Investment Act or other sources.

- Hephzibah and Blythe. Richmond County’s two smallest municipalities were allocated $10.35 million in SPLOST 7 funding for items ranging from a $4.45 million Hephzibah multi-use facility to $900,000 for a Blythe community building and park.

Who wins

- SPLOST opponents, commissioners Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett and Marion Williams, who claim the package includes too little infrastructure for a city in dire need of infrastructure repairs.

- Taxpayers, who would contribute a penny per dollar they spend at the cash register on food, clothes and other items. A household that spends $1,000 a month on retail items will contribute $600 over the five-year lifespan of a typical Augusta SPLOST.

- The political capital of groups such as the CSRA Libertarians, who oppose sales taxes.



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