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Augusta has little to show from expensive studies

Latest project could cost $1 million

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Augusta could soon embark on a $1 million study on government efficiency, but if history is a guide, it will wind up being another costly example of bureaucratic waste.

Spurred by consolidation, the urge to study how to “rightsize” and repair city government has always been strong, from a 1998 space utilization study to a 2009 plan for Augusta Public Transit.

However, the documents often end up on a shelf, gathering dust.

The space utilization study was a $90,000 examination by Duckett & Associates of where Augusta’s scattered former city and county government offices should go, and how best to accommodate a growing judiciary.

Duckett detailed and priced five options – two involved purchasing and remodeling Regency Mall, one involved moving into the former Davidson’s on Broad Street, and another was a $50 million expansion of the Municipal Building.

After reviewing the study, a grand jury labeled existing efforts to retrofit old buildings “a total fiasco” and recommended instead what the judiciary wanted all along: a new building.

As Duckett was looking at buildings, a $90,000 study by Buck Con­sultants was reviewing salaries and job classifications,
then as now mostly a mishmash of former county and city personnel.

Buck has updated those 1997 findings a few times since, according to City Administrator Fred Rus­sell, who conducted an in-house salary study himself after being hired in 2002.

The Augusta Commission did not approve Russell’s 40 recommendations until yet another study – by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia – said they were proper. The commission has never agreed – or agreed to find the funds – to implement Buck’s full set.

The Buck and Duckett studies were barely gathering dust when then-City Administrator Randy Oliver called for another study, a $150,000 efficiency review by DMG Maximus. The findings were vast, with the firm examining every aspect of city and former county departments.

The 1999 recommendations were immediately questioned by then-Emergency Management Agen­cy Director Pam Tucker, who called the suggestion that her agency merge with the Augusta Fire Department “one of the most inefficient ways to operate the department.”

The study drove the consolidation of sheriff and fire 911 response into a single building, but most of its findings – merging licensing, planning and housing into one department; privatizing street sweeping and other functions; and cutting dozens of sheriff’s patrol deputies and marshal’s personnel – were ignored.

Russell says he’s avoided overuse of consultants during his tenure, but the studies have continued.

In 2006, urged by then-Commissioner Marion Williams, the commission authorized a $25,000 feasibility study on construction of a south Augusta drag strip. The commission vetoed the idea, and Williams’ son-in-law was caught buying a nearby lot for a “Drag Snacks” business before the strip’s proposed location was made public.

In 2007, former Commissioner Andy Cheek pushed for a $50,000 feasibility study into developing a whitewater course in the Augusta Canal’s third level. The money remains unspent in the hands of the Augusta Canal Authority, Cheek said.

Augusta’s Downtown Develop­ment Authority is fond of studies, conducting a 2005 parking study for $52,000 and a 2008 trolley study for $37,000. The commission panned DDA Director Margaret Woodard’s resulting parking meter proposal, and Woodard said the economy derailed the trolley idea.

A popular topic of study remains Regency Mall, first by Duckett for a potential government headquarters. A 1999 study, commissioned by Greater Augusta Progress Inc. using a $100,000 grant, developed a proposal for a mixed-use “town center” at the vacant mall.

A 2007 city study by F.A. John­son, paid for with a $75,000 grant, arrived at a similar plan that included recreation areas. All remain stymied by the mall owner’s asking price of more than $50 million.

A $586,000 disparity study by NERA Economic Consulting was undertaken to document race and gender disparities in Augusta’s awarding of contracts after a federal court order barred the city’s use of affirmative action. Its 2009 findings have not undone the court’s injunction.

Also in 2009 came Wilbur Smith Associates’ $133,000 review of Augusta Public Transit. The commission ignored the findings and instead outsourced the bus service to a private firm, Mobility Transit, earlier this year.

It has only been a year since Shields Design released its $500,000 Sustainable De­vel­opment Agenda, a plan for mixed-use redevelopment clusters around the city’s south side, but very few results are visible. The city recently put implementation of the massive plan out for bids.

On Monday, commissioners are set to discuss a study of efficiency, organization and staffing that was first suggested by Mayor Deke Copenhaver during a summer retreat.

Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen wrote the preliminary request for proposals from consultants broadly to ensure the commission gets exactly what it wants, Russell said. The complete study might cost as much as $1 million, he has said.

Russell defended the city’s use of big-budget studies even during tough economic conditions when employees are being furloughed, which he called a good time for being visionary and involving everyone.

Former Human Resources Di­rector Rod Powell, who retired in August but remains on as a consultant for three months as his replacement is hired, expressed frustration at Augusta’s tendency to study and rarely implement.

“The study itself doesn’t fix anything,” he said. “If they do another one, management needs to commit up front to implementation.”

AUGUSTA’S EXPENSIVE STUDIES
YEARFIRMSTUDYCOST
1997Buck ConsultantsCompensation and Classification Study$90,000
1998Duckett & AssociatesSpace Utilization Study$90,000
1999DMG MaximusEfficiency Study$150,000
1999Greater Augusta ProgressRegency Mall Study$100,000
2005Carl Walker Inc.Downtown Parking Study$50,000
2006C.H. Johnson ConsultingDrag Strip Study$25,000
2007F.A. JohnsonRegency Mall Study$75,000
2009Wilbur Smith AssociatesAugusta Public Transit Study$133,000
2009NERA Economic ConsultingDisparity Study$586,265
2010Shields DesignAugusta Sustainable Development Agenda$500,000
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raul
3954
Points
raul 09/24/11 - 09:50 pm
0
0
That is sad and embarrassing.

That is sad and embarrassing.

Pu239
284
Points
Pu239 09/24/11 - 09:52 pm
0
0
Ok.......we got the study
Unpublished

Ok.......we got the study going....now we need a retreat to discuss the study.....then we will hire a consultant to review the S.W.O.T. analysis completed at the retreat......then we can ....well you get the picture.

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 09/24/11 - 10:23 pm
0
0
Yea, they need studies

Yea, they need studies because the majority of them aren't smart enough to figure it out on their own. Pitiful; they hire somebody to tell them what to do, then are too ignorant to follow the advice.

countyman
18823
Points
countyman 09/24/11 - 11:35 pm
0
0
I can't understand a negative

I can't understand a negative response towards the 2010 study.. I think it's odd they left off the Augusta/North Augusta master plan(2009), but included the Richmond County master plan.. North Augusta contributed money, but Richmond County did too.

I think both of those studies were very important.

dougk
3
Points
dougk 09/24/11 - 11:33 pm
0
0
There goes your tax money
Unpublished

There goes your tax money folks.

countyman
18823
Points
countyman 09/24/11 - 11:41 pm
0
0
The reasons why the 2010

The reasons why the 2010 shouldn't be included..

Mayor Copenhaver discussed the RC master plan at the Mayor's Institute on City Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico earler this year..

While the RC master plan includes eight projects in South Augusta. Ther Upper Broad street development is located in Harrisburg and
another one is situated in the East Augusta area. The Belair Town Center in Southwest Augusta is only missing the retail.. The 25 acre shopping is coming soon along Jimmie Dyess btw Gordon Hwy and Harper Franklin, and the 10k sq. ft Shoppes at Dyess Park should start next month or November behind the Zaxbys.. Richmond county will need a new elementary and middle school along Gordon Hwy between Jimmie Dyess and Harlem.. The Haynes Station neighborhood underway along Gordon Hwy next to Willhaven is 200 acres and over 400 homes. Then there's the 66 acre residential/1 acre commercial Mccoys Creek along Gordon Hwy in the same area.. Willhaven, Elderberry, Granite Hill, Aylesbury Commons are growing and Cushendal is under construction. Basically Southwest Augusta(Belair rd, Jimmie Dyess, Gordon Hwy btw Jimmie Dyess and Harlem) is growing extremely fast.

The city spent $500k and received a $1.8 million grant in return(Deans Bridge, MLK, 15TH street).. The Laney Walker/Bethlehem project and the RC master plan let people know Augusta is moving forward. The Feds tend to give away money to cities who invest into themselves and want growth..

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 09/25/11 - 01:01 am
0
0
Another example of how

Another example of how someone else wants OUR money more than WE do. If you don't think Buck Con­sultants wants OUR money more than WE do I will refer you back to all of the other studies that WE paid for. Remember this cost to US next time Fred wants to raise our taxes because we can't pay for basics ond or raises.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 09/25/11 - 02:50 am
0
0
A study is a sop thrown

A study is a sop thrown toward the unknowing who misconstrue verbiage as action. It's a hushpuppy thrown to Augusta's barking-dog citizens to mollify them and to deceive them into believing that problems are being solved.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 09/25/11 - 03:06 am
0
0
(C)ountyman, You're obviously

(C)ountyman,

You're obviously either a member, or a wannabe member, of the Connected School of Real Estate Economics which sees dollar signs on every corner lot and every other piece of "undeveloped" natural space.

Can you not appreciate that our nation has invested too much of our capital in unneeded/nonperforming commercial and residential real estate? Can you not appreciate that our current economic malaise is a function of that misallocation? Can U.S. workers produce goods and services at prices competitive with those produced by low-wage foreigners when many of our factories are undercapitalized in terms of state-of-the-art equipment or lack the cutting-edge equipment which will drive the next wave of economic innovation? Ask any enterprising entrepreneur about getting a loan to add more efficient and cutting-edge equipment? S/he probably can't get one because so much of our banks' capitalization has been undermined or eliminated by nonperforming real estate assets whose appreciations in value seem distant.

The economic term of the decade: CLAWBACK.

copperhead
1035
Points
copperhead 09/25/11 - 05:48 am
0
0
What we REALLY need is a

What we REALLY need is a "blue ribbon" panel to form a committee to form a sub-committee to form a super- committee to decide if a study should be performed on whether they should form the "blue-ribbon" panel. AROUND AND AROUND THEY GO! The never ending government self-perpetuating.

Riverman1
78406
Points
Riverman1 09/25/11 - 08:45 am
0
0
An observation. Those who

An observation. Those who push for such studies have a financial interest.

A question. How do Columbia and Aiken Counties get by without such studies?

Heck, another observation. Commenters on the Chronicle have been pointing out this waste of money with these studies for a long time. Nice to see our comments are being examined.

tatemanor
3
Points
tatemanor 09/25/11 - 09:22 am
0
0
Stop belly aching Augusta.

Stop belly aching Augusta. You keep re-electing these inept, incompetent idiots into office, year after year. Get rid of Copenhaver, Russell and the Commissioners once and for all. There has to be at least nine or ten people in Augusta that can add 2+2. Even McDonald's got rid of their clown and he made money.

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 09/25/11 - 10:21 am
0
0
Let's do a study to

Let's do a study to understand why these studies accomplish nothing but enrich those who perform them.

TK3
562
Points
TK3 09/25/11 - 10:26 am
0
0
C.O.G. provides the plans and

C.O.G. provides the plans and helps the underdeveloped council members and Mayor push them to the press and sheep with canned $tudies.

Lori Davis
737
Points
Lori Davis 09/25/11 - 11:57 am
0
0
Countyman says, The Feds tend

Countyman says, The Feds tend to give away money to cities who invest into themselves and want growth.. That is an accurate statement. We have seen this in Harrisburg as developers get ready to turn this neighborhood into something we do not want. We do not want federal funding for any type of low income or subsidized mixed use housing. Studying eventually makes the developers and their friends rich off properties that they own in the areas that have been studied. Pay attention Augusta. It is not that hard to figure out. It takes years to hide and keep all of this out of the spotlight. This is why it appears that nothing is going on, when it really is. If those of us who live in Harrisburg had gotten the proper help from our gov't beginning 5 years ago, when we began our fight to take it back, we would have already been on our way to turning this neighborhood and restoring it as it should be all by ourselves. Four studies later we are now poised for all of this federal funding Countyman speaks of. I hope countyman comes out clean in all of this. The day of reckoning might be just around the corner.

bubbasauce
20572
Points
bubbasauce 09/25/11 - 12:21 pm
0
0
Our great incompetent leaders

Our great incompetent leaders at it again! What a joke. You Augusta leaders are truly unbelievable!

Brad Owens
4094
Points
Brad Owens 09/25/11 - 12:27 pm
0
0
I'll tell you what, the next

I'll tell you what, the next time they want a study done, give me half the money and I will kick the commissioners in the gonads and call it a day.

At least THEN the tax payer would get something for their money.

Brad

Dipshot
-5
Points
Dipshot 09/25/11 - 01:35 pm
0
0
It's appalling how much of

It's appalling how much of our tax dollars have been spent to "study" Regency Mall. And what do we have to show for all of them studies? Nothing. And what's there to study? We all know it's a big eyesore and should probably be torn town. But guess what? It's in private ownership.. so unless the owners agree to follow the recommendations and develop the property according to the study or sell it to someone who will, then it's just a total waste of time. I remember that 1999 Regency Mall study. Lots of hoopla and fancy drawings of a mixed-use "Town Center".. not unlike that $500,000 Shields Design Masterplan study.. again lots of PR and pretty drawings but no way to pay for it or implement it. And why do we need a new government efficiency study? Obviously the one from 1999 was ignored, and so will any new one. Augusta needs a "study" intervention. I suspect these studies are just an excuse so that they can say they are "working" on something.. they are "studying it".. which only delays any real action to solve the problems. Then after a while everyone just forgets about the study and we are back to square one with the same problems being ignored, just poorer.

TrulyWorried
11817
Points
TrulyWorried 09/25/11 - 01:36 pm
0
0
They should have to go to

They should have to go to jail - for "criminal intent" aka stealing our hard earned money - I am one of those tax payers!

seenitB4
79295
Points
seenitB4 09/25/11 - 05:03 pm
0
0
I like Brads plan.....:)

I like Brads plan.....:)

cityman
-6
Points
cityman 09/25/11 - 05:27 pm
0
0
The Harrisburg studies that
Unpublished

The Harrisburg studies that led up to Harrisburg becoming an opportunity zone are not listed. Perhaps Countyman knows why?

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 09/26/11 - 02:23 pm
0
0
I offer to help Brad...NO
Unpublished

I offer to help Brad...NO CHARGE!

porsche
11
Points
porsche 09/26/11 - 05:40 pm
0
0
What happened to the Regency

What happened to the Regency Mall study done through the Community Development Department by a non-profit and sub to F.A. Johnson $50,000?

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 09/26/11 - 05:56 pm
0
0
The Augusta Commission is
Unpublished

The Augusta Commission is depressingly incompetent. When are the next elections? This is unbelievable. I'm with Riverman, how do other counties get away with such stories.

Susan McCord, dig deeper into this issue. I bet you find some more interesting facts about who is doing the studies and what their connection is with the Augusta government.

Paintbrush365
12
Points
Paintbrush365 09/26/11 - 08:01 pm
0
0
Countryman wrote: "The Feds

Countryman wrote: "The Feds tend to give away money to cities who invest into themselves and want growth.."

I disagree. The Feds are not giving money away. They are taking money (in taxes) from individuals and giving it (in grants) to governments.

If a project doesn't make sense without a Federal grant, why does it makes sense with one?

As Mr. Spinks wrote, let's INVEST our money into long-term productivity and technology (manufacturing, infrastructure and industry) to create workers with valued skills and greater wealth. Let's not build another strip center and create jobs for overseas manufacturing and employ more retail clerks. We need to think and invest long-term.

Willow Bailey
20579
Points
Willow Bailey 09/27/11 - 10:33 am
0
0
Hi, Brad, I think your plan

Hi, Brad, I think your plan should be studied:)

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