Commission authorizes funds for cyber parking deck

Augusta officials set in motion Tuesday plans to borrow $12 million to build a parking garage for the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center.

 

The Augusta Commission voted 9-0 after a lengthy closed-door session to authorize City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson to negotiate terms by which the city will pay for construction of a parking deck through a $12 million bond issue. Commissioner Grady Smith was absent and said he’d had cataract surgery.

Mayor Hardie Davis called the vote “generational and transformational” as Augusta puts its money toward the state’s plan to invest $50 million in the innovation center on the city’s riverfront.

Architectural drawings showed a five-story parking garage at the current site of parking for the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, a state-owned property where the innovation center is fast-tracked for construction.

The commission didn’t discuss openly how the city will repay the bonds, whether through a tax increase or reprogramming sales tax funds from other projects.

In a related matter, the city’s general fund ended 2016 with a surplus of $2.6 million, according to an unaudited annual financial report presented by Finance Director Donna Williams.

Much of the surplus came from an October $2 million reimbursement check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses from a 2014 ice storm, and $1.1 million more was transferred to savings to replenish city reserves diminished by the storm, leaving an actual “break even” surplus of $188,105, Williams said.

The city’s fire protection fund added $1 million to its fund balance, with help from $375,000 in unbudgeted 2016 fire insurance premium taxes, but $465,000 of the surplus is obligated for a purchase, she said.

The “break even” surplus of $188,105 appears despite the infusion of about $15 million in new revenue from the stormwater utility fee the commission implemented last year. The fee is being used to pay for and supplement services previously paid from the general fund or sales taxes but was not covered in the report.

One-percent sales tax collections - which include the special purpose tax for capital projects, the local option sales tax used to offset property taxes and the Transportation Investment Act - remain below projections.

According to Williams’ presentation, penny sales tax distributions were below 2015 amounts for every month of last year except December, and December 2015 was when the state demanded Augusta refund a local business that had been overpaying its taxes.

In other action by committees Tuesday:

The city’s public services committee voted to put Last Call Upscale Restaurant and Lounge on probation but let it remain open for six months after Richmond County sheriff’s Investigator Ty Hester presented a list of reasons to shutter the Gordon Highway club for 90 days. Hester said deputies had repeatedly smelled burning marijuana in the club, caught a felon with a firearm and underage people on premises, saw alcohol being served after hours and had reports of people being shot either at the club or shortly after leaving. Keion Taylor, who owns the 1721 Gordon Highway business formerly known as Alter Ego’z, claimed his staff hadn’t seen the reported activities taking place and wouldn’t allow them.

The administrative services committee voted for the city law office to examine ways to address sagging pants, the practice of wearing pants low enough to expose underwear or buttocks. General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said any ordinance had to balance free speech with the city’s right to regulate decency standards.

Activist Monique Braswell told commissioners that city building inspectors had missed various defects in the heating and air conditioning system in her new home, despite returning and being helpful after she contacted a commissioner.

Heather Drive homeowner Rod Pearson complained about no action being taken against management for gunfire, noise violations and other problems at Oxford Glen and Fox Den apartments off Wrightsboro Road and behind his home. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, unfamiliar with the area where Darrel Lee is accused of killing Juwan Doby on March 28, referred Pearson to Planning Director Melanie Wilson.

The administrative services committee voted 2-1, a failing vote, to deny a request from the office of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to open a satellite office on the second floor of the Municipal Building. Central Services Director Takiyah Douse, who relayed the request, said the state would pay costs to build the office. Kemp recently announced his run for Georgia governor next year. The request now moves to the full commission for a vote.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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