Hyde Park relocations move forward

The Augusta Commission gave the go-ahead Tuesday to a $475,206 plan to move residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood so a detention pond can be built at the site, despite the lack of designated funding for completing the pond.

Commissioner Corey John­son, who twice campaigned on the promise of moving Hyde Park residents, praised his seven colleagues for joining him in a consent-agenda vote that included the relocations.

“It’s a start,” Johnson said. “We got the help that is needed.”

Commissioner Matt Ait­ken was absent Tuesday, and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles abstained from the vote because his family owns property in the area.

About a dozen people attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear the result. Among them was lifelong Hyde Park resident Joe-Anne Jones, who said she was glad to resume the relocation she began in February with Housing and Commu­ni­ty Development Director Chester Wheeler.

Jones said she would carefully watch the rest of the process unfold.

After Wheeler surprised commissioners by hiring three people to conduct the relocations, the commission voted in March to seek private firms to do the job for less.

Six months later, all bids that came in were higher than Wheeler’s estimate.

After Tuesday’s vote, Aaron Holiday said his mother, Beatrice, led a charge years ago to move Hyde Park residents. She now has dementia and “won’t get to see her work get finished,” he said.

The area has a history of reported contamination, and signs there still warn children and adults to avoid contact with soil and water, which hasn’t helped efforts to improve drainage in the low-lying area.

Though the relocations will proceed, Augusta has only about $4.5 million in sales-tax revenue dedicated to the buyouts, relocations and construction for what’s estimated to be an $18 million drainage project.

In other business Tuesday, the commission approved, by an 8-1 vote, a $1.25 million settlement with the parents of Ryan Holt and Michelle Borror, a young couple killed Aug. 22, 2006, in a mobile home fire that their families claim was caused by faulty wiring overlooked by the city’s chief electrical inspector.

The couple had moved into a 37-year-old rental mobile home after inspector Lewis Vann reported finding it suitable for electrical service. Vann, however, never went into the trailer, inspecting it from the outside.

The decision to settle came after a second vote; the first vote failed, with Commissioners Grady Smith, Wayne Guilfoyle and Alvin Mason opposed.

Smith said he initially disagreed with the settlement offer because he knew Vann and didn’t think the city was responsible for the deaths.

Told of the additional legal costs of up to $2,000 a day to fight the matter further, Smith said, he changed his mind.

Legal bills topped $500,000 even before the commission voted last year to appeal the case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

NO ACTION ON EXCISE TAX

At a work session Tuesday, elected officials from Augusta, Hephzibah and Blythe learned of the complexity of House Bill 386, which will exempt area manufacturers from sales taxes on energy, but they took no action toward levying an excise tax to replace lost revenue.

City Administrator Fred Russell said the city’s strong manufacturing base now “is going to hurt us” and agreed to return with as much additional information as he could gather. He extended an invitation to an upcoming meeting to area legislators who approved the bill and to affected industries.

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