Commission authorizes sale of surplus real estate

The Augusta Commission authorized selling 20 surplus properties, including two fire stations, a library, a train depot and more than 70 acres of vacant land at a Tuesday called meeting.

Exercising a new privilege under Georgia’s revised open meetings law to discuss the disposition of publicly-owned property behind closed doors, the group discussed “challenges and opportunities that each might give us,” City Administrator Fred Russell said. The sales will be handled by two Augusta-area real estate firms, Blanchard & Calhoun and Sherman & Hemstreet.

Adding 10 new tracts to an earlier list, the total assessed value of the properties is more than $9.87 million, according to city property records.

The city will use two methods to sell the properties – sealed bids and conditional sales. Most of the more valuable properties with buildings on them will require sealed bids, while the undeveloped tracts will be sold under conditions placed on the buyer.

The most valuable properties on the list are the historic South Carolina Railroad Co., depot and adjoining acreage at 511 Reynolds Street, assessed at $786,033, the city’s 14-acre traffic engineering facility at 386 Prep Phillips Dr., valued at $987,322, and the former main Augusta Library at 902 Greene St., assessed at $3.77 million.

Russell said he hopes to generate $1 million in revenue from the sales this year.

Augusta Senior Counsel Wayne Brown detailed to eight commissioners present Tuesday a strict timetable for the advertising, public opening and awarding of bids for the properties to be sold that way.

Also Tuesday, Russell presented pros and cons of a proposed contract with Automatic Data Processing or alternatives for the city’s human resources department if its functions are not outsourced.

“You should be at least getting more comfortable to be able to make a decision,” Russell said of the ADP proposal, which the commission has debated for months.

The alternatives are either increase staff of the city’s HR office, which currently has seven employees, to 15, a $1 million to $1.5 million budget hike, or contract with ADP and retain seven city employees to handle Augusta’s grievance process and other functions ADP can’t do, Russell said.

Additional concerns Russell had were the city’s under-utilization of a government computer system called IFAS, which could automate certain HR functions, and the lack of standard operating procedures in the office.

“If we don’t get better, ADP can do these things, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “But it will cost.”

The cost to contract with ADP will be at least $2.44 million for the first five years, and about $2 million annually each year thereafter, according to Russell’s presentation.

The city’s contract with IFAS costs $100,000 a year. Deputy City Administrator and IT Director Tameka Allen said the city’s HR functions were limited when the program was adopted in 1999 and a prior HR director preferred not to use it. But IFAS’ HR capabilities have increased since then, she said.

Commissioner J.R. Hatney, a critic of outsourcing government, said the move to ADP amounted to “government playing Russian Roulette with the livelihood of its people. To have equipment that was not adequately used is not a reason to go outside.”

ADP invited the entire commission to tour its Augusta Solution Center, where some of the outsourced work would be performed, Wednesday.

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