In a process criticized for its breakneck speed, six Augusta Commission members on Friday approved a $194.3 million sales tax package to present to voters May 20.
Commissioners spent a couple of hours tweaking a draft project list assembled by Mayor Deke Copenhaver before approving it, restoring $5 million of the $8 million sought by Paine College for a new cultural center and $10 million for unspecified infrastructure projects, bringing the city Engineering Department’s allocation to $50 million; eliminating two proposed fire stations and restoring $500,000 each for Augusta Museum of History and Fleming Tennis Center.
Commissioner Donnie Smith said he was tired of haggling over projects during the meeting and called for a five-minute break in which to broker a compromise. After the break, the Paine funds sought by Commissioner Bill Fennoy, a Paine alumnus, were increased to $6 million, Smith motioned to approve the package and all six commissioners – Smith, Fennoy, Mary Davis, Joe Jackson, Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle – voted “yes.”
Donnie Smith said aside from a small amount of fluff, “the rest of it is pretty good for the community” and helps “prepare the city, infrastructure-wise,” for the arrival of the Army Cyber Command, expected to bring thousands of new jobs to the region over the next few years.
With collections of the current special purpose local option sales tax around $2.95 million a month, it will take nearly six years to collect all the funds if voters approve the package. But commissioners also approved putting a $21.7 million bond issue on the ballot with the sales tax package. If approved, it would pay for a handful of projects much sooner.
Those projects include an $8 million match sought by Georgia Regents University for a new cancer center, $4.45 million for a Hephzibah multi-use recreation facility, $4 million for computer upgrades for the tax commissioner and tax assessor offices, and $5.25 million for Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaborative to advance its Mills Campus proposal.
The mills proposal involves renovating two dormant textile mills into usable space, presumably for GRU, but university officials have shown no interest in the project so far. Augusta Regional Collaborative Director Matt Kwatinetz said at a recent meeting that the plan simply needed an “anchor tenant,” whoever it might be.
Cut from Copenhaver’s draft at the request of Guilfoyle was $11 million for new facilities for the Augusta Public Defender and Richmond County Juvenile Court, which occupy rented space; $5 million for two new fire stations, sparing a third for southwest Augusta; and reductions in the amounts sought by the Imperial Theatre and Symphony Orchestra Augusta.
“Overall, I believe it’s a good package. We focused on the infrastructure; it does have some outside agencies,” Guilfoyle said.
Former Commissioner Jimmy Smith spoke at the session and sought the $10 million bump for engineering. Guilfoyle said that increase will facilitate much-needed road improvements in his south Richmond County commission district and elsewhere.
Fennoy raised issues earlier in the meeting shared by his absent colleague Commissioner Bill Lockett about the rushed process that has sought no input from the public.
“I believe that we need to take the time to hear from the voters of Richmond County, their concerns and what they want,” Fennoy said, adding that neighborhood associations and other community groups should have a chance to weigh in on the package before it is finalized.
The entire process was accomplished in about a month, after Copenhaver informed commissioners in January that GRU had to have the $8 million match by July. While funds won’t be collected until the present sales tax package expires, probably early 2016, the match demand coupled with changes in state election dates and laws mandated the election be held May 20, Copenhaver and other city officials have said.
“After getting a package approved, we have public meetings,” Copenhaver said.
If the sales tax package fails, the city must wait a year to present it again to voters. Counties can no longer call special elections just for a special purpose local option sales tax, so the next opportunity will be November 2015, Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer said.
Copenhaver added that if the package isn’t passed May 20, a new mayor and several new commissioners up for election will want to “put their stamp” on the package.
The requests by outside agencies require the agencies to raise a 25 percent match within two years, and demonstrate they are able to complete the projects, Schroer said.
The revised package included $19 million for Recreation, Parks and Facilities based on a streamlined set of projects requested by Recreation Director Bob Levine at a Thursday work session.
It also included $2 million for library improvements, $2 million for demolitions, $2.775 million for Greater Augusta Arts Council and $1.5 million for a Downtown Development Authority surface parking lot.
|H||Planning & Development||$6,500,000.00|
|K||City of Hephzibah||$8,375,000.00|
|L||City of Blythe||$1,975,000.00|
|Interest - bonds||3 - 4,000,000|
|B2||Administrator/Mayor||Municipal Building Renovations||$30,000,000.00|
|B5||Administrator/Mayor||Debt Repayment (GRU Cancer Center)||$8,000,000.00|
|Engineering||List to be determined|
|D1||Fire||Emergency Vehicle Fleet Replacement||$5,000,000.00|
|D3||Fire||Fire Stations - 1 locations||$2,500,000.00|
|E3||Fleet||Public Safety Vehicles||$8,000,000.00|
|F2||IT||TAO/TCO Software Application||$4,000,000.00|
|H1||Planning and Development||Flood Reduction Program||$2,500,000.00|
|H2||Planning and Development||Demolition Program||$4,000,000.00|
|I23||Recreation||Augusta Aquatic Ctr||$1,500,000.00|
|I30||Recreation||Fleming Tennis Center||$500,000.00|
|I34||Recreation||Pendleton King Park||$250,000.00|
|I40||Recreation||Newman Tennis Center||$2,000,000.00|
|I42||Recreation||Diamond Lakes Regional||$2,750,000.00|
|I44||Recreation||McDuffie Woods Park||$300,000.00|
|I46||Recreation||Brigham Com. Center||$300,000.00|
|I58||Recreation||Blythe Community Pk||$250,000.00|
|I60||Recreation||McBean Community Pk||$250,000.00|
|I64||Recreation||Boathouse Rowing Center||$400,000.00|
|Recreation||Splash Pad Water Playground Initiative||$1,850,000.00|
|Recreation||Playgound Unit Replacement Initiative||$2,000,000.00|
|Recreation||City-Wide Cemetery Improvements||$500,000.00|
|Recreation||City-Wide Park Facility Improvements||$500,000.00|
|Recreation||City-Wide Park Signage Improvements||$300,000.00|
|Recreation||City-Wide Site Improvements||$500,000.00|
|Recreation||Multi-Purpose Court Upgrades||$500,000.00|
|Recreation||City-Wide Swimming Pool Renovations||$500,000.00|
|J1||Sheriff||Digital In-car Video System||$407,000.00|
|J2||Sheriff||HD Body Cameras||$332,000.00|
|J4||Sheriff||Downtown Video Security Enhancement||$700,000.00|
|K1||Hephzibah||Facilities for Agricultural Center & Arena||$1,800,000.00|
|K2||Hephzibah||Equipment to Automate Water Meter Reading||$220,000.00|
|K4||Hephzibah||Windsor Spring and Roadway Beautification||$100,000.00|
|K5||Hephzibah||Water Dept. Vehicles & Equipment||$145,000.00|
|K6||Hephzibah||Vehicles & Equip. for Public Safety||$125,000.00|
|K8||Hephzibah||Vehicles & Equipment for Fire & EMS||$385,000.00|
|K9||Hephzibah||Fire Dept. New Facilities||$950,000.00|
|K10||Hephzibah||Recreational Multi-use Facility||$4,450,000.00|
|L1||City of Blythe||Water system upgrades||$350,000.00|
|L2||City of Blythe||Road Improvements||$300,000.00|
|L3||City of Blythe||Police Vehicles & Equipment/Computers||$125,000.00|
|L4||City of Blythe||Community Building/Library/Park||$900,000.00|
|L5||City of Blythe||WIFI access||$50,000.00|
|L6||City of Blythe||IT upgrades||$50,000.00|
|L7||City of Blythe||Paving roads||$100,000.00|
|L8||City of Blythe||Non Public Safety Vehicles and equipment||$100,000.00|
|M1||Canal Authority||Canal Improvement||$2,500,000.00|
|M2||Development Authority||Augusta Corporate Park Access Road||$1,250,000.00|
|M3||Development Authority||Economic Development Industrial Infrastructure||$500,000.00|
|Downtown Development Authority||Surface Parking Lot||$1,500,000.00|
|N2||Library||Friedman Branch Library||-|
|N3||Library||Wallace Branch Library||-|
|N4||Library||Appleby Branch Library||-|
|P1||Augusta Regional Collaborative Corp||The Mills District||$5,250,000.00|
|P2||Greater Augusta Arts Council||ART Space||$750,000.00|
|P3||Greater Augusta Arts Council||Public Arts Master Plan||$25,000.00|
|P4||Greater Augusta Arts Council||Augusta Public Art Implementation||$2,000,000.00|
|P5||Imperial Theatre||Theatre Renovation||$2,500,000.00|
|P6||Augusta Symphony||Miller Theater||$4,250,000.00|
|P7||Paine College||The James Brown Community & Fine Arts Cultural Center||$6,000,000.00|
|P9||Augusta Museum of History||Building Expansion||$500,000.00|
|P11||Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy||Phinizy Swamp Nature Park||$500,000.00|