Downtown Augusta business district still seeking support

The withdrawal of support by downtown Augusta’s largest property owner hasn’t daunted Downtown Development Authority Director Margaret Woodard’s commitment to the Business Improvement District.

The tax district funds the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative and is due to expire Dec. 31. Robert Kuhar, the vice president for properties and facilities at Morris Communications Co. and the chairman of the board that governs the downtown initiative, confirmed Thursday that a proposal to extend the voluntary district will not get the company’s four votes. Morris Communications owns The Augusta Chronicle.

Woodard said she needs 12 more votes to reach the 110 that constitute 51 percent of consenting property owners to continue the tax district.

“That’s the beauty of this process: Everyone gets a vote,” Woodard said. “We’re out getting signatures; we pulled in eight yesterday.”

Created under state law, the business district requires the consent of property owners within its boundaries. That consent can come in two forms, either by a majority of individual owners or a majority of the district’s assessed value.

Five years ago, the district enjoyed both types of consent when it went before the Augusta Commission for approval. With Morris’ withdrawal, however, “we won’t make the assessed value” method for renewal, Woodard said.

A Chronicle analysis of property records in July found that about 260 individual property owners held $193 million in property within the district’s boundaries.

The largest owner was Augusta Riverfront LLC, which shares management with Morris. Three others in the top 10 were the tax-exempt city government, the Richmond County Board of Education and the state of Georgia.

Each taxable individual, limited liability company or other entity gets a vote, Woodard said.

Another large property owner with at least three votes toward the district was noncommittal. Julian Osbon, whose businesses own several rental properties in the district, said, said that, despite his previous support, renewing the district was a question his business “had been wrestling with” in the down economy. The company pays roughly $10,000 in added taxes each year for business district services.

“The revenue hasn’t been coming in, and it’s been getting down to simply a financial matter,” he said.

Osbon said he has turned management of the properties over to his son Michael and would leave the decision to him.

City Administrator Fred Russell said property owners shouldn’t expect the same level of service if the district isn’t renewed, unless the city cuts services somewhere else.

Commission member Jer­ry Brigham wasn’t optimistic that the signatures would materialize by Tuesday.

“I look at it kind of like a street-lighting district,” he said. “If a majority of people want it, fine; if a majority don’t want it, it’s fine.”

Woodard said she’ll reveal Monday whether a committee assigned to gain support finds the needed votes. If they’re there, Woodard said, she’ll present the business district management plan, which closely resembles the one approved five years ago, to the commission and reveal the entire list of votes.

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Opinions vary on CADI as extension is planned
MAP: Business Improvement District Owners
SPREADSHEET: Value of downtown properties, sorted by owners (.xls)

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