Downtown Augusta property owners to weigh in on law enforcement plan

Property owners in the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Broad, Greene and Reynolds streets get to weigh in on the prospect of paying higher taxes to fund six additional law enforcement personnel downtown.

The nine downtown blocks, which include the city’s adult entertainment district, weren’t a part of the city’s last Business Improvement District, which funded the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative through an additional tax levy. The Augusta Commission declined last year to renew the district, which spanned downtown roughly from Eighth to 13th streets, due to property owner complaints.

Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree is proposing the new district as part of a comprehensive plan to improve safety downtown. The plan includes installation of surveillance cameras, which Roundtree said await funding authorization from the city before he’ll seek bids for their purchase, and his recommendation that the city close Riverwalk Augusta between Fifth and Ninth streets from 11 p.m. to sunrise.

“Eventually, if it works, we’re always thinking about expanding further up,” Roundtree said. “With the next five years, you don’t know what the potential for growth would be.”

The five-year districts, established under Georgia law, require approval by either 51 percent of property owners or the owners of 51 percent of the district’s assessed value. The commission authorized Roundtree to present his proposal for a new Continually Patrolled District by an 8-2 vote last week.

Roundtree said he’s obtaining a list of property owners and will mail his proposal to them in the next few days, including dates he’ll hold meetings for owners to learn more about the services.

“I think people need to see the proposal,” Roundtree said, “what they’re getting, and they can ask questions. Once they see it, I’m confident they will like it.”

Roundtree said all the deputies won’t always be downtown at once but will be assigned to work at peak hours, based on crime statistics.

Roundtree said he has spoken with the district’s “major stakeholders” such as large property owners but warned owners against judging the program before they learn more.

No property owner contacted Friday would speak on the record , but Sandy Watkins, the owner of the Sports Center in the 500 block of Broad, said she expects her landlord to increase the rent if the district goes through.

“In my heart of hearts, it’s the county’s responsibility to police,” Watkins said. “We should not have to pay extra for police protection.”

Watkins’ recommendation? “Shut down First Friday.”

The event, which started as an art crawl, has devolved into a late-night gathering of young people, most of whom aren’t old enough to patronize the venues that remain open, she said.

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