Augusta Commission members took steps Monday toward imposing a new stormwater fee to repair city drainage infrastructure, with the city’s engineering services committee voting to approve the first steps of a 14-year process.
The fee, typically a few dollars per month per homeowner, is based on a structure’s square footage of impervious surface, such as rooftops or driveways, and will generate $9.9 million annually, according to Engineering Director Abie Ladson.
The committee voted 3-0 to implement the plan’s first 25 steps, which include developing a database of the city’s stormwater, sanitary sewer and other systems and hiring engineering, legal and public relations consultants.
Commissioners Alvin Mason, Grady Smith and Joe Jackson voted yes on the plan, which must be approved by the full commission. Committee member Corey Johnson was absent.
The city has $3.5 million in special purpose local option sales tax funds to get started, but the commission will have to revisit the matter with a vote when it sets the fee amount, Ladson said.
Though he later seconded Smith’s motion to move forward, Jackson said he would rather use existing and future sales tax money for infrastructure work.
While the city has spent about $1.6 million this year to repair drainage issues, such as sinkholes found on nearly “every block,” it cannot use the sales tax money for maintaining existing infrastructure, Ladson said.
“It’s going to continue to get worse,” he said, and “right now we really don’t have a budget” to make the repairs.
Commissioner Matt Aitken, who attended the meeting, asked about the city’s maintenance plan and the street sweepers no longer seen around District 1. He said he does support the new fee.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham spoke against the fee and said residents will disapprove. He said the commission instead should ask the Legislature to consider allowing sales tax funds to be used for maintenance.
Mason, a proponent of the fee, said the construction of the Augusta Convention Center indicates the city sometimes acts “irregardless of how the masses have felt,” and he has little confidence in the Legislature making the change.
“We have to have an enduring funding stream, one that we can have control over,” Mason said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett said state and federal mandates eventually will require Augusta and other jurisdictions to improve runoff water quality.
“What I’m saying is our constituents don’t have too much of a choice,” he said.
In another matter Monday, commissioners received an update from Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen on the Human Resources Department’s “Extreme Makeover” plan. The department has been without a director for more than a year, while commissioners contemplated outsourcing the department to Automatic Data Processing.
The search process attracted 111 applicants, which the city narrowed to three finalists, one of whom withdrew his name, Allen said. The remaining finalists are Richard C. Anderson and George A. Williams, and both will visit this week to interview with commissioners.
According to their résumés, Anderson served until January as director of human resources and administrative services for the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority in Pensacola, Fla. Williams worked until August as HR director for Tampa (Fla.) International Airport.
Two other items gained little traction Monday. Though no one attended an earlier public hearing on alcohol license fee increases, the public services committee vetoed the increase.
At Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles’ urging, the panel held off on allocating $991,561 in sales-tax dollars for a new pedestrian bridge that would connect the convention
center to its parking deck.
Bowles initially was concerned about who would receive ad revenue from a lighted marquee on the bridge. He said after the meeting that he had learned the Georgia Department of Transportation was unlikely to allow lighted signage over the road. Eliminating the sign “should save the taxpayers about $100,000,” he said.