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City's highest paid landlord, Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., is behind on taxes

Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 10:32 PM
Last updated Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 3:34 AM
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As Augusta continues to rent office space for city departments, it is paying the highest rent per square foot for a building in a blighted area that is owned by an or­ganization behind on its taxes.

Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said "it is a bit ironic" that ANIC owes taxes on 127 properties.  FILE/STAFF
Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said "it is a bit ironic" that ANIC owes taxes on 127 properties.

The Augusta Neigh­bor­hood Improvement Corp. has been a city landlord since before the organization built the ANIC Building at 925 Laney-Walker Blvd., using part of a $20 million grant to revitalize the area.

The city agreed in Feb­ruary 2003 to lease space for two government offices – Augusta Fire Department ad­ministration and Housing and Community Development – before the structure was complete, waived $112,000 in penalties when it was late opening, then spent $94,000 to run fiber optic cable between the municipal building and the ANIC building, according to previous reports in The Augusta Chronicle.

The idea then was to infuse the blighted, historically black commercial corridor with activity, in hopes of spur­ring development.

“We were getting, hopefully, growth and development in the Laney-Walker corridor that will help it stand on its own two feet,” Andy Cheek, a former Augusta Commission member who advocated the move, said recently.

ANIC will collect a total of $176,840 in rent this year to house the tax commissioner’s eastside tag office and Housing and Community Development, according to city financial records.

ANIC, however, is behind on its property tax bills. Tax records show the organization, whose stated purpose is promoting tourism, economic development and housing, hasn’t paid last year’s taxes, except for solid-waste charges, on 127 properties, amounting to $23,880.33.

Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick and Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler said their offices’ leases and rents were negotiated before either took office.

“It is a bit ironic” that ANIC is late, along with thousands of others, on its tax bills, Kendrick said, but that can’t be used as a reason to withhold the rent. He said the ANIC building was a vast improvement over the former tag office location near the Georgia farmer’s market.

The $96,840 in rent Hous­ing and Community Development paid to ANIC this year, most of it a redirection of federal taxpayer money as grant administration charges, amounts to $18.17 a foot for 5,330 square feet, the most Augusta pays for any leased office space.

A 2008 10-year lease agree­ment between ANIC and the tag office set annual rent at $76,725 for 4,650 square feet, with an annual 3 per­cent increase. Today, that amounts to $17.20 a square foot.

ANIC Executive Director Robert Cooks defended the program he has overseen since its inception, saying the rents were set based on building size and quality and are well worth the traffic they bring to the area.

“This was a corridor that people were told to drive around, not come to,” Cooks said. “People from Augusta can now see that downtown is not this dinosaur. They can see all the changes taking place.”

City Administrator Fred Russell, who served as deputy administrator in 2003, also didn’t view the more than
$1 million in rent paid ANIC over the years as excessive, even as the city contemplates buying the building from ANIC to house the Augusta Utilities Department.

“You’ve got to look at the intrinsic value to Laney-Walker,” he said.

City leaders who pushed the move in 2003 never anticipated that the rental arrangement would last so long or that it would have such limited impact, however.

“I would have liked to have seen it move faster,” Cheek said.

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seenitB4 09/09/12 - 08:20 am
WOW dichotomy

You are HOT this am....with good reason I might add...

their thinking...
The idea then was to infuse the blighted, historically black commercial corridor with activity, in hopes of spur­ring development.

In HOPES....give me a break big boys.....get the dang crime out--clean up the mess around there & then business will are doing it BACKWARDS.....why not put a million dollar home in the midst to see if other rich folks will follow....see how stupid that sounds...

South Augusta ..I'm really surprised yall aren't marching in the dang streets....

seenitB4 09/09/12 - 08:25 am
Pay taxes...

What if the folks in South Augusta stopped paying THEIR you think they would get a break......hey I know what would happen.....someone I know is fighting to keep his business & home right now....after a death & other misfortunes .....but this is south of the Gordon hy....different world...right!

TrulyWorried 09/09/12 - 08:58 am
Forget south of the Gordon Highway

for a minute and look at the overall picture - there is not an intelligent person one on the Commission that can see what's taking place, or cares. The City's landlords owe taxes but collect money for the property they rent to the City? Don't pay the rent and use it toward their debts! Beyond that there are so many things that a common, normal thinking individual could solve - but there isn't a one on the commission! Only one inkling of many problems, including all of South Augusta!

soapy_725 09/09/12 - 09:37 am
There are more taxpayers that corrupt ploticians

If every property owner refused to pay their taxes, things would change. And it would not take long. CNN, MSN and FOX would take up residence in the "core district". The court of public opinion would shine a light on this debacle we call Consolidated Government. It would be shown for the race baiting, minority placating, government grant stealing cesspool of corruption called Augusta. We would get some "name" recognition. California knows how to stop government. There would be some pain. But no more pain that is suffered every single minute.

Let the garbage pile up. Oh that's already happening.
Let the buses go empty. That being done already.
Stop the flow of revenue to the "core district". Hey, some are already refusing to pay taxes and it is called "ironic".
Underfunded critical services. We already have this.

There is not enough jail space or the resources to stop an all out "ARC government shutdown".

Every taxpayer should file a suit against city government for malfeasance and violation of public trust. Use the tax money you do not sent to the "core district".

Lawyers love class action suits.

Native Americans in SC brought the state court system to a halt with thousands of individual suit against the state government. The Native Americans won. It was simple math. Court cost vs. settlement terms.

Government can be brought to its knees with out violence. Justice can prevail.


But hey, the tax commissioner says its "just ironic" that we pay exorbitant rent to landlords who don't pay taxes. Unexpected and coincidental by definition. Put him on the clowns list.

Ergo we can continue to provide government services to those who do not pay taxes. Simple. Its Obama Grant Money.

rmwhitley 09/09/12 - 09:46 am
I wonder

if Mr. Barnes is involved with ANIC?

Conservative Man
Conservative Man 09/09/12 - 10:34 am
Agree with all...

.....the overall mentality at city hall seems to be, "throw some money at 'em so they'll leave us alone, no matter whether they use it wisely, legally or otherwise."....What do THEY care on EITHER side? It's not THEIR money anyway.....

gargoyle 09/09/12 - 11:13 am

City/ County gig has been a bumpy ride with a lot of people being serviced and few being served. The time might be now to start unwinding the central giverment that has taken the place of leadership in Richmond County.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 09/09/12 - 11:41 am

From the story:

“It is a bit ironic” that ANIC is late, along with thousands of others, on its tax bills, Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick said, but that can’t be used as a reason to withhold the rent.

Looks like Kendrick has become as blasé as Fred (What, me worry?) Russell when it comes to responsible use of taxpayer money and his unconcern for doing his job.

They may as well leave the safe open. Oh, wait!

MadeinAmerica 09/09/12 - 02:57 pm
Glad to see commenters

Glad to see commenters furious about the leadership in Augusta/Richmond Co.

TrulyWorried 09/09/12 - 05:49 pm
MadeinAmerica comment

`Good - now where are there enough intelligent and sensible people (like dichotomy) that can make something out of this mess - namely run all of those to blame out of town (on a rail?) I am in total agreement, something has to give - soon - and I KNOW that there are enough of them - chomping at the bits to start - my advanced age won't permit me - but I know that it is high time!!! I may get censored? So be it - freedom of speech is one of the things we still have.

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