An ambitious relocation plan for Augusta Utilities Department that includes the purchase of a Laney-Walker Boulevard building and renovation of the former downtown Augusta library goes before an Augusta Commission committee Monday for approval.
Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said the department wants to buy the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corporation building at 924 Laney-Walker Blvd. to house its downtown customer service office, which is to be relocated when renovations at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building begin.
Wiedmeier said the department proposes purchasing the building and its fixtures for $1.76 million, the appraised value, with the expectation that Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick’s tag office on the first floor will relocate, while Augusta Housing and Community Development will continue leasing offices on the building’s second floor.
Augusta Land Bank Authority, which also rents space in the building, acquired the nearby Mr. J’s Famous Door Supper Club last year to provide city-owned office space for Housing and Community Development, Executive Director Chester Wheeler said at the time.
The neighborhood improvement group, which has rented space in the building to city departments since 2003, collected $176,840 in city rent last year though it has dozens of unpaid property tax bills, according to tax records.
The second part of Utilities’ plan addresses the $15,000 monthly rent the department pays to house its administration, finance and engineering offices at 360 Bay St.
Wiedmeier is proposing moving those offices, which house about 40 employees, to the former downtown main library, which has been vacant since completion of the adjacent new library, and paying the high bid of $425,000 made for the property when the city tried to surplus it last year.
“There’s plenty of space for what we would need, and there was discussion of using that top floor – there are acres of bookshelves up there – for records retention for the city,” he said.
Parking, an issue for the new library, would be addressed by Utilities’ demolition of the adjacent former Talking Book Center, which was donated to Augusta by the state last year, he said.
Another Utilities change-up for committee approval Monday is shortening the utilities billing cycle from 56 days to about a month over a period of 10 months.
The time lag, in effect for decades, is no longer necessary because of faster meter-reading technology and billing software configurations, Wiedmeier said.
“I get a lot of calls where people say, ‘I know I didn’t use this water last month,’ ” he said. “It was actually from the month before, when they might have been watering grass.”
The shorter cycle, accomplished by moving the due date back two days each month, will allow the department and customers to notice and address usage issues faster, he said.
“That’s the primary thing, to give people more current information about their usage so they can adjust it and react. If a leak has shown up, they’ll know it a lot sooner.”