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Public hearing, debate planned on renewal of downtown Augusta business district

Monday, April 1, 2013 8:29 PM
Last updated Tuesday, April 2, 2013 12:59 AM
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Fans of the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative say please don’t throw it out completely, despite resistance from downtown property owners.

Wilson G. Butler II (left) and Terrell Jones, of the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative (CADI), cleans up leaves along Greene Street in 2010.   FILE
FILE
Wilson G. Butler II (left) and Terrell Jones, of the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative (CADI), cleans up leaves along Greene Street in 2010.

“We need something in place,” said Natalie McLeod, a member of the Clean Augusta board pushing to renew the special tax district downtown. “If we do away with this totally and want to come up with something better, it will be two to three years before something else is in place.”

For five years, the yellow-shirted Clean Augusta workers swept, cleaned, gave directions and otherwise made their presence known within the boundaries of the Business Improvement District, where property owners paid an extra tax for the services.

In December, however, Augusta became one of only a handful of cities to terminate such a district a BID, McLeod said.

“When you go downtown now that CADI is absent, you can tell in the dirtiness,” said the retired physician, who has bought and restored downtown properties. “The city doesn’t have the money or manpower to do it.”

Established under Georgia law, such a business district requires the consent of more than 50 percent of property owners to be implemented, but all owners within the district’s boundaries must pay the extra tax if the commission approves it.

In January, the Downtown Development Authority showed 116 petitions signed by 78 people as evidence of more than 50 percent support, but the Augusta Commission, citing complaints, declined to renew the district for a second five-year term.

“A lot of the opposition that I hear is from people that don’t pay the tax,” said Dee Bruker, another Clean Augusta board member who is pushing to revive the district. “If Harrisburg wanted to have a BID, I wouldn’t oppose it. Fifty-two percent of the property owners voted for it. To me, I just think it should be a rubber stamp.”

McLeod and Bruker say the refurbished BID they are presenting addresses commissioners’ and property owners’ concerns. The Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative has detached itself from the development authority, opened its board up to include small-property owners and will use uniform millage, instead of the two rates applied in the old BID, either 6 mills or 6.9 mills.

Commissioners contacted Friday and Monday questioned renewing the BID, however.

“They’re repacking and rehashing the same stuff,” Commissioner Donnie Smith said. “It’s still the same old small group trying to control the thing.”

Commissioner Bill Lockett asked why the other 48 percent of property owners hadn’t been brought on board already, asking, “Why didn’t y’all go out and try to recruit additional people?”

Commissioners Grady Smith and Joe Jackson remained opposed, as was Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who pointed at the growing support behind AVID, a new volunteer group seeking to address issues facing downtown businesses, as a nonprofit alternative.

Even Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who placed the BID on today’s commission meeting agenda, after a 5 p.m. public hearing on the business district in commission chambers, wasn’t sure he supports the district, which is in his commission district.

Fennoy said the city ought to strive to give downtown the level of cleanliness seen at Augusta Regional Airport, which uses a private service, but that people’s trust in Clean Augusta was eroded during its first five years.

“When we open that up for discussion, then we will find out whether all the needs have been met,” Fennoy said.

Clean Augusta lost support of several of its larger property owners last year, including Morris Communications Co., which paid nearly a third of the BID’s total annual assessment on the several downtown properties on which it is taxed, despite getting the lower 6-mill rate. The company owns The Augusta Chronicle.

Dana Atkins, the president of The Chronicle and a member of the Clean Augusta board, said that the board had become “very polarized” but that he could understand why much smaller property owners still support renewing a service for which they might pay only a few hundred dollars annually.

“The benefits are so great to them,” he said.

Clean Augusta also lost the support of businessman Donnie Thompson, who questioned in an e-mail why property owners paying 30 percent of downtown taxes were allowed to overrule those paying 70 percent.

The city has enough tax-funded, volunteer, inmate and other resources, including business owners themselves, to clean downtown sidewalks without having to levy an extra tax, he said.

Comments (9) Add comment
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Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 04/01/13 - 11:24 pm
3
1
The BID should not be renewed. NO MORE TAXES!

All of the proposed changes could be made BEFORE this is voted on. If the current "board" was interested in including all the property owners they would have done it by now, they are not.

Oh sure, "Trust" them, all these changes will be made AFTER it is passed.

Until there are free, fair and open elections for Board member seats where all who are being taxed are allowed to participate, this Board is a sham.

No "exofficio" members or guaranteed slots, it must be FREE and FAIR.

The entire petition process MUST be redone in strict accordance with the GA Code creating and authorizing BIDs. There should be a clear and concise list of projects proposed by the new board and there should be no monkey business with the petitions or ballots.

Also, there has been pretty much NO accountability for the almost $2,000,000.00 in tax monies already collected and spent. Until there is a 100% accounting of all the funds that have been spent, they should not even consider renewing this.

Also, it should be noted that there are several DDA members who are also on the CADI Corp's board, CADI is a PRIVATE COMPANY! until there is a change and there is no longer a conflict of interest created by these people there should be NO BID!

Commissioner Donnie Smith is 100% correct, same old wine poured into a new bottle.

Commissioners, here are reason to vote NO!

1. It is NOT needed, AVID can do it.
2. It has been mismanaged and misused
3. The board election was corrupt and closed
4. Unfair and inequitable tax rates, two districts
5. No oversight from the City Administrator
6. Misleading language in the proposal, we were promised security
7. Gerrymandered district and ballots to insure certain results
8. Misuse of tax leverage authority due to misleading proposal
9. Incomplete record keeping, No minutes from board meetings
10. Incomplete or vague annual budgets
11. No accountability to the commission OR tax payers.

NO MORE TAXES PLEASE!

Brad

P.S. This was funny, “A lot of the opposition that I hear is from people that don’t pay the tax,” said Dee Bruker, another Clean Augusta board member" I would ask her this; Are ALL the board members CURRENT on their taxes from these properties in downtown? I am sure you will find that certain members are not. Wanna know how I know? I checked, you all should too.

nocnoc
43374
Points
nocnoc 04/02/13 - 06:03 am
3
0
Would the AC E-Publish the

Would the AC E-Publish the list of owners (by Name & location) supporting the new B.I.D. vs. Opposing it?

OFF HANDED SUGGESTION
Want to attract customers downtown?

Why not get creative and put on a car wash using your employees.
Have the Strip clubs on Friday Night hold Car Wash cleanup parties using their dancers and charging admission to be used as a Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative fee. TIPS of course belong 1/2 to the dancers and 1/2 to Might White.

Or more seriously

why don't the Augusta Downtown businesses start a BOBA (Business Owners Block Association? Establish an annual fee to have the work bid out and contracted to a cleanup crew to handle their area?

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 04/02/13 - 07:54 am
2
0
One more thing...

In this economy we cannot afford additional vanity taxes like the BID these people are pushing here. Once we have a true economic recovery and all the store fronts downtown are full, come talk to us.

Please commissioners, no more taxes.

Ask yourself these questions about a new tax like this;

1.) Is in necessary? (Do we really need to impose this burden?)
2.) Is it for the greater good? (Who benefits?)
3.) Is it just?

Folks should ask themselves why these people are pushing so hard to get this renewed, they must benefit huh?

I am so tired of this group bilking the tax payers to get special services and treatment.

Brad

naycan
42
Points
naycan 04/02/13 - 08:17 am
1
2
Hey Brad, What happened to

Hey Brad,

What happened to the Downtown Advisory Panel. Did the DDA kill it or just hide it in the closet? If the commission used this panel, which they commissioned years ago, they could help in determining the direction of the future of downtown. I must say the BID is a good thing if used correctly and not controled by a certain group. Just look on the other side of the state at Columbus. Maybe they all need a refresher course.

Little Lamb
46350
Points
Little Lamb 04/02/13 - 08:25 am
4
1
Vote

The voting process for this BID tax renewal was flawed from the get go. Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard went door-to-door to try to get people to sign a petition to keep the tax going. In the first place, that's no way to hold an election because there's an element of subtle (or not so subtle) coercion involved. Secondly, not every property owner was contacted. In some cases, the tenant signed the petition and the property owner was never contacted. In some cases the owner declined to be involved because he would have had to identify himself as taking sides.

That's not a proper way to run a tax system.

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 04/02/13 - 09:06 am
0
0
What a juvenile way (picture) to clean up Broad St.
Unpublished

Do the CAD's play in the piles of leaves? Do they sweep them into the storm drains? YES A Boy Scout Troop could do a much better job. And the Boy Scouts would care about the quality of their work. Where are the mechanized street sweepers? Where are the industrial vacuum cleaners? In every other "civilized modern city" in America, street cleaners work at night. Do the local intelligentsia not even watch movies?

And the choice of trees for Broad St was brilliant. All of those tiny little leaves that find their way into stores, store fronts, door ways, storm drains and alleys. LOL A lot of thought went into how much maintenance will be required for this type of foliage. LOL

Oh, that dreaded word , maintenance, rears its ugly head in ARC. You know the planing, the work and the expense of operating a capital expenditure once the construction is complete. Just get it built. When the roof leaks, we will built a new building. When the drain pipes stop up, we will build a new building. When the HVAC fails, we will build a new building.

It is only taxpayer dollars. An endless source for greed and corruption. Politicos playing with someone else money. No wonder the politicos are so eager to spend when there is no money. There is no risk for the politicos or their backers.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 04/02/13 - 09:46 am
2
1
The DAP is still around..

I am n the DAP and this issue has NEVER been brought before the current DAP. The commission needs to be reintroduced to the DAP, Mike Walraven is the Chairman and he opposes the BID and allowing CADI to continue with its no-bid contract to do the work it has been doing.

We must end cronyism downtown and block special interests from getting into the tax coffers at every turn.

Brad

ForAugusta
5
Points
ForAugusta 04/02/13 - 03:03 pm
3
2
As a member of the 52% of BID Supporters.....

As a member of the 52% of BID property owners who have already given their approval to the project by signing BID petitions, I'd like to take this opportunity to summarize the concerns I have heard from the the opponents to the CADI and to give you a factual response to their concerns.

1) They don't want to pay more taxes to have done what they feel the city should do anyway,

Response: Although we applaud the efforts of the city to keep the downtown clean, safe, and welcoming, the budget and thus the manpower of the city crews is inadequate to do this as well as needs to be done to help us bring our downtown closer to its great potential.

2) They say volunteers should take care of the downtown.

Response: Volunteers SHOULD take care of downtown. Each property owner SHOULD take care of his/her own property AND help out the absentee owners next door...However, in reality, this will not always happen. We have heard a lot about AVID. What is AVID? Who is AVID? How will it be held accountable and are these mysterious people willing to look out for ALL of downtown? We thank them for their nice phone lists, though.

3) They feel that the assessment should not be based on real estate property tax assessment because it is 'unfair' that people who own a lot of expensive property should pay more to have their street frontage cleaned than the small businesses like restaurants and bars who may contribute more to the litter problems. It has been suggested that we pay people to walk the streets and 'take names' of people who litter and fine them or that we fine bars and restaurants if there is litter in front of their businesses.

Response: The mindset that large property owners should be given a lower tax rate was one of the Commissions biggest complaints AGAINST the BID when it was last discussed in Commission. The method of assessment is NOT determined randomly or locally. The BID is based on the State of Georgia City Business Improvement District Act which provides for an assessment on real property to be raised within a specific geographic district with the proceeds GOING DIRECTLY BACK INTO THAT DISTRICT to provide ENHANCED services that benefit that district. This is NOT a substitute for city services.
There is no budget to pay 'street monitors' nor any way to determine the origin of the street litter.

4) They complain that some property owners got more 'votes' than they did.

Response: It was explained that bu Georgia BID law, not CADI Board's rules, since the assessment is based on real estate taxes, each TAX ENTITY had one petition ('vote'). Since a lot of properties are owned by corporations (often partnerships), those corporations got one petition. Therefore, people who are participants in multiple partnerships could have been legal signers of multiple petitions. For example: I own 4 tax parcels in the name of one corporation. For those I signed ONE petition. I also own a building in partnership with someone else who signed a petition for our jointly owned corporation. It should be noted that some of the 'opposed' could have also signed more than one petition.

5) They suggested that the previous BID petitions which have been signed by 52% of the owners of property in the BID are illegal and that, even if they were legal, they should not be allowed to 'pass' the BID.

Response: Georgia state law states that a BID can be established by assent of EITHER at least 51% of BID property owners OR owners of at least 51% of the BID property by value. Both the city attorney and Byrd Warlick, a private attorney have reviewed BID law and ruled that the present BID petitions, representing 52% of BID property owners, are still legal and valid.

6) They feel every property owner should take care of their own property or that we should 'go back to the way it was done in pre-consolidation times when the prisoners cleaned the streets".

Response: Every property owner SHOULD be responsible for their own property. However, as we all know, in the REAL world, this will not happen. Unfortunately, a lot of the downtown properties are empty. Some are owned by people who live outside the CSRA and some just don't acknowledge the impact that dirty storefronts have on their neighborhood. CADI has been absent from the Augusta streets since 12/31/2013 and their absence has been reflected in a significant increase in broken bottles, paper, animal and human waste, and graffiti on our downtown buildings and sidewalks.

7) An 'OPTIONAL" tax has been suggested.

Response: Why would those who don't want to pay this actual tax want to pay an 'optional' tax?

8) Some people, particularly the ones who live on the edges of the BID, think that they, personally, did not benefit from CADI.

Response: We ALL benefit from having a cleaner, safer and more welcoming downtown. It is true that the more densely populated/used areas (and thus the dirtiest) of the BID got more attention than the periphery. With better supervision and with input from the property owners we can make sure that all BID property owners benefit from the program.

9) Some complain that CADI was ineffective and poorly run and noted poor communication with the CADI administration.

Response: While there are some who complain about the CADI, there are also many who applaud the program and have voiced their concern that it be renewed (52% of property owners). The CADI Board has assumed responsibility for the CADI program, which was previously under the jurisdiction of the DDA. We have acknowledged that changes were needed and have established a new Executive Committee and changed our bylaws to allow ANY owner of property within the BID to be nominated and elected to the Board at the annual property owners meeting which will be held in December.
The actual day-to-day managing of the CADI will be done by a to-be-determined contract company with an initial short-term contract that will allow the management to be evaluated and changed as needed. Property owners are encouraged to report their concerns and complaints to the CADI Board. To make it easier for anyone to voice concerns, complaints, and suggestions, we have established a Facebook page and a website (www.cadiaugusta.org) which has a 'contact us' link. Please take a look.

10) There are accusations that "ALL DDA and CADI Board members are crooks", stuffing their own pockets with the taxpayers' dollars. The comment has been made, even on this site, that the supporters are pushing this so they must be 'getting something out of it".
Board members are non-paid community VOLUNTEERS who, with the exception of the treasurer, have no access to the taxpayers' money. Yes, we get something out of it. We get a cleaner, safer Augusta that I can be proud of out of it! I, personally, have spent hours and hours working, voluntarily and without pay, trying to get CADI renewed because I believe that Augusta is better with it than without it. I am on both the DDA and the CADI Board. I have not gotten one red cent from it but have been the target of a lot of criticism and innuendo for doing something I believe will benefit the community as well as my own property. I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is and pay my BID tax which is a lot more than a few hundred dollars!
Rather than constantly tearing down Augusta and criticizing people who are trying to help improve it, we should be working together to make it better. Some people are getting tired of the same people attacking everything which is done to try to move us forward!

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 04/02/13 - 03:10 pm
1
1
ForAugusta...

You missed a few complaints;

1.) How can you explain that the CADI folks cannot produce meeting minutes?

2.) How can you explain that the DDA and the private company CADI share some board members?

3.) How can you explain that the Executive Director of the DDA is the person listed as in charge of the CADI company with the GA Sec of State's office, and that a sitting DDA Board member is the CFO of the CADI Company?

4.) Can you explain why the election of board officers was not done as Byrd Warlick promised it would be, which is from the ENTIRE group of property owners? (By the way, Byrd Warlick is NOT a "private attorney" he is the DDA's Attorney, funny how you represented that here)

5.) How can you expl;ain the $25,000.00 fee the DDA charged to be the conduit the funds passed through to the private CADI company?

6.) How can you explain that there has been accountability for the almost $2,000,000.00 collected? Where was it spent? Who made those choices and why isn't there any records of all these choices being made?

7.) Why were there two tax rates (not allowed by the State Law by the way) inside the single BID?

8.) Why were quite a few of the ballots/petitions not notarized as required by law?

9.) Why were the ballots/petitions not turned in with enough time for verification by the municipality as REQUIRED by the State BID law?

10.) Clarify your stance on why you feel it is OK for a few rich land owners to levy a tax on the smaller land owners, because it allowed in your interpretation of the BID law please. Seems you think having more money makes you right?

11.) Since you are quoting legal terms, why did you ignore the supporters of this BID's disregard for a majority of the State BID regulations and requirements while quoting a few areas that they might have gotten right?

12.) How can you explain the fact that if this was such a good thing you all still need to manipulate the ballots/petitions to reach a majority?

13.) How can you explain that we were told a majority of the funds would be spent enhancing security but yet not ONE RED CENT was spent of that in five years?

I think your support is based on the fact that you, as well as the other pushing this additional tax, were the direct beneficiaries of this BID and the CADI company's efforts. Seems that certain folks are pushing way too hard to get this reinstated for there to be not personal gain from it.

1.) Is in necessary? (Do we really need to impose this burden?)
2.) Is it for the greater good? (Who benefits?)
3.) Is it just?

There is no way this is for the greater good, and if your idea of "moving forward" is more taxes levied to award no-bid contracts to folks like the private CADI company, then you will never get rid of critics like me.

Your statement was correct i many places,here are a few, "This is NOT a substitute for city services." "Every property owner SHOULD be responsible for their own property." "Yes, we get something out of it...I am on both the DDA and the CADI Board...(I) have been the target of a lot of criticism and innuendo for doing something I believe will benefit...my own property."

If you are both on the DDA and the CADI Board, you are part of the problem. Period.

Brad

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 04/02/13 - 05:44 pm
0
0
I doubt foraugusta will
Unpublished

I doubt foraugusta will return to this thread to answer Brad's questions. The DDA is a sham. Downtown Augusta will not be revitalized until the people of Augusta decide to invest in that area and the Section 8 housing is controlled.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 04/02/13 - 06:42 pm
2
0
And it is denied..

Thanks be to God.

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