Spruce up downtown, practice fiscal responsibility, don’t overtax the manufacturing base and start planning special sales tax-funded projects sooner rather than later.
Those were the main takeaways from the “Public Policy Agenda” that the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce unveiled Wednsday for Augusta-Richmond County leaders
The chamber, the metro area’s main business advocacy organization, unveiled the 16-page document during a news conference to highlight what chamber officials are calling a master plan for local leadership.
“Just as economic development is a team sport, so is public policy,” Chamber Chairman Eddie Bussey said. “That has always been our approach in advocating with our local elected leaders in bringing issues to the forefront that we feel are essential to fostering a healthy and thriving economy.”
Steve Wade, chairman of the chamber’s Advocacy Committee and president of The Augusta Chronicle, said the agenda shouldn’t be construed as marching orders for the local government, but as a “platform for engagement.”
He said the committee reviewed the policy statement with the mayor, city manager and eight of the 10 Augusta commissioners who responded to its requests for a sit-down.
“We hope that many of the issues we highlight in this document are areas we can work together with our elected officials to address,” he said. “Above all, the chamber stands ready to roll up our sleeves and find solutions.”
The agenda, which will be made available digitally through the chamber website at augustametrochamber.com, is broken into four parts: Downtown Augusta, Fiscal Accountability and Tax Policy, Progressive Policy and Tools for Growth, and Investments in Infrastructure.
The downtown section advocates for continued investment in maintenance, beautification and public safety, as well stricter enforcement of zoning ordinances, creation of a parking management plan and promotion of downtown venues such as the James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium.
The fiscal section calls for the city to create a stand-alone budgeting division to do better long-range planning and forecasting, and to avoid raising taxes on manufacturers to make up for slack revenue growth in recent years.
Wade said manufacturers need to be “nurtured, not punished for making substantial investments in their facilities.”
The progressive policy section calls for streamlining the construction permitting process and increasing the use of incentives such as tax allocation districts, community improvement districts and other public-private partnership scenarios to spur new development. Tax allocation districts, also known as a TADs, are how the city of North Augusta helped attract $200 million in mostly private investment to its Riverside Village development.
The policy’s investment infrastructure section calls for continued support of special purpose location options sales tax, as well as planning programs to include in the Transportation Investment Act, whose funding expires in 2022.
The 1,200-member chamber has issued individual public policy statements before, but has never codified them into a cohesive publication such as the Public Policy Agenda presented on Wednesday, Chamber President Sue Parr said.
“When you have a conversation about parking, you really have to have a conversation about maintenance, which means you have to have a conversation about revenue,” she said. “So one of our objectives was to put all this under one roof, so to speak, so we’re having conversations that are all linked together.”
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or email@example.com.