The Augusta Commission gave the go-ahead Monday to a full refurbishing of the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building funded by issuing $26.5 million in bonds and by existing and future sales tax revenues.
The plan, discussed at length at Friday, was approved by seven of eight commissioners meeting Monday, with only Commissioner Bill Fennoy opposed.
“I’m not against remodeling, but I think there are too many other concerns in the city that need to be addressed before we spend $40 million on a remodeling project,” Fennoy said, citing concerns such as sewage overflows on Lee Beard Way and flooding in Eastview and on Broad Street.
The project detailed Friday includes new elevators and restrooms expected to make the 1957 high-rise compliant with federal laws, moving the public entrance to face Telfair Street and creating new commission chambers in a former courtroom and new offices for departments that have occupied rented space around the city. It also will see the demolition of some structures in the parking lot, City Administrator Fred Russell said.
The vote, with Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Joe Jackson absent, was the only one taken at the called meeting of the full commission, after which the group broke off into committees.
Actions taken by committees Monday included approving $25,000 for MACH Academy, a south Augusta tennis program previously supported by the commission. Russell said the program offered not only tennis but also “life skills” to participants, several of whom have earned tennis scholarships, according to program officials.
After it received a “no” vote from Commissioner Donnie Smith, the finance committee did not approve a resolution supporting Augusta legislators’ taking a look at salaries of the city’s elected officials.
The motion is a modification by Commissioner Alvin Mason of Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson’s request that the group support the delegation’s raising salaries for Augusta’s two civil and magistrate court judges. It will likely go before the full commission for approval.
“I do not think it’s the appropriate time for us to deal with that,” Smith said. “I don't think it's the Legislature's role to change those salaries, because we have to pay them.”
The delegation last increased through local legislation the salaries of Richmond County’s clerk of court, solicitor general, district attorney, Superior Court judge and sheriff in 2006.
It last raised the magistrate and civil court judges’ salaries in 2002, along with those of the clerk of courts, probate judge, tax commissioner, solicitor general, coroner, district attorney, Superior Court judges and sheriff.
The issue of salaries caused the commission grief this year when Richmond County’s new sheriff and solicitor-general requested pay equal to or higher than that of their predecessors, but the commission eventually approved them, 6-4.
Fennoy said he hoped the delegation would consider Augusta income levels before raising the salaries to levels seen in other cities.
“We’ve also got to look at the income of the various counties that we’re comparing them to,” he said. Chatham County, Ga., for instance, “might have better income to pay these elected officials.”
In other matters, the board heard from Terry Davis, who owns a coal yard at the corner of Walton Way and Gordon Highway that is improperly zoned for that use.
Davis said he used the yard to supply coal to International Paper.
“This had coal on it since before I bought the property,” Davis said. “I had no idea zoning was an issue.”
Johnson raised the issue of three of five subcontractors excluded as subhaulers under Augusta's new solid-waste contract, set to go into effect in June.
“I just don’t understand why we had that much work and we just gave it to one contractor,” Johnson said.
Under the contract, Augusta will employ two waste haulers, who will collect trash and recycling once a week, with two subcontractors they agreed to hire collecting bulk and yard waste, said Mark Johnson, the solid-waste director.
The city’s administrative services committee discussed but took no action on an item that Johnson requested seeking clarity on what an individual commissioner could demand of a department head or other employee who reports directly to the commission.
“The rules have already been in place,” said Commissioner Marion Williams, who previously served two terms. “Any commissioner can put anything on the agenda. But to give direction to anybody but Fred Russell is another thing.”
Williams said that although a commissioner can seek information from a department head or ask an administrator or the city clerk to get the information, he or she must add the item to a meeting agenda before any action is taken.