GRU Cancer Center a 'go' without SPLOST, official says

Even without the $8 million included in the sales tax package rejected by voters Tuesday, progress on a new cancer research building at Georgia Regents University will move forward, an official said Wednesday.

The money would have helped the university reach a $12.5 million local match needed to access $45 million in bond funding but now that difference will be made up through fundraising, said Tony Wagner, executive vice president for administration and finance and Chief Business Officer for the university and its health system. The governor’s Office of Planning and Budget requires that two-thirds of the local contribution be in the bank by June 30 for the state to release the bond funding and Wagner said “all systems are go for moving forward with it.”

Instead of the special purpose local option sales tax funding, the contributions will be through donations.

“When we committed to meeting that deadline, we obviously knew the SPLOST was not a done deal so we were absolutely certain that if the SPLOST didn’t pass we would be able to fulfill that commitment and we are ready to do that,” Wagner said. “It would be primarily fundraising and for fundraising where we actually haven’t received the cash to this point we would use institutional dollars that we can use. But the fundraising that we will do for this project will be adequate to meet the entire local match.”

The university also received $4 million for the project from the Masters Tournament through the Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area.

The Augusta Commission in February authorized taking out an $8 million tax anticipation note to bank the matching funds, with plans if SPLOST failed to repay the note when it matures in October plus approximately $46,000 in interest, according to Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said the commission is awaiting feedback from GRU on whether the SPLOST vote impacted plans for the center. The next opportunity for the city to place a sales tax referendum on the ballot is November of 2015.

“I’m not going to commit to looking for another source (of funds) until I talk to GRU,” he said.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who pushed to place the referendum on the May ballot instead of the Nov. 4 ballot to help the University meet the state mandate for local matching funds, did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

The $62.5 million, 115,000-square foot research facility is still on track, with some design work still to be done, Wagner said. Once that is done, the university can move into the construction contracting phase, which he hoped will be completed late this year and with construction beginning in early 2015.

But ultimately the center will be part of a larger effort to create the second National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in the state of Georgia and the cancer fundraising therefore has a much loftier goal, Wagner said.

“The $12.5 million local match, that’s never been the finish line for us in terms of fundraising, whether it was from the city through the SPLOST or other sources,” he said. “We believe that over the next five years or so, over the next decade at the outside, we will raise upwards of $100 million for cancer.”

The university is grateful for the city’s efforts and believes more can be done in the future, Wagner said.

“We hope that moving forward that we can keep that spirit of cooperation alive,” he said. “There will be other opportunities to work together.”

Staff writer Susan McCord contributed to this report.

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SPLOST questioned at Augusta public hearing
SPLOST lets residents vote on taxing selves
Augusta Commission seeks to narrow SPLOST projects to about $200 million
Local match needed by state before Georgia Regents University Cancer Center funds released
City matching funds not needed to fund new GRU cancer center
Hull helping GRU fund cancer center
More than $57 million will boost cancer services at GRU
May election date causes 'time crunch' on sales tax package

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