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Commission to discuss redevelopment loan request

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 8:16 PM
Last updated 10:49 PM
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Augusta’s Housing and Community Development department says it needs a $2.5 million loan to continue the “momentum” of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment initiatives.

The “bridge loan,” requested by HCD Director Chester Wheeler, is required because the department has spent nearly all of the $8 million the city borrowed three years ago to start the project, officials said.

At least two commissioners said they have questions about the loan request, which is item 10 on a loaded agenda going before the commission for approval at the body’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“Where’s the money going to come from?” Commissioner Donnie Smith asked.

Three years ago, the city issued $8 million in bonds, with a total debt service of $9.2 million, for the urban renewal project.

The $8 million amount was chosen based on expected annual project revenues of $750,000 from an excise tax the commission imposed on hotel and motel room rentals in 2008, according to Finance Director Donna Williams.

The Laney-Walker and Bethlehem project is guaranteed $750,000 annually from the tax for 50 years – a total of $37.5 million – in a deal struck several years ago to win support from commissioners reluctant to move forward with construction of Augusta Convention Center.

The city has about $31 million in its general fund savings accounts from which it could loan the money in anticipation of issuing more bonds in 2015, the next opportunity it has to do so, Williams said.

However, Smith questioned the impact of depleting the city’s savings on its stellar AA2 bond rating from both Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.

The ratings agencies use a complex, proprietary formula to issue credit ratings, but the amounts a government has in savings are part of the formula, Williams said.

Asked how the money had been spent, Wheeler said the city had built 19 houses, all of which are occupied, and spent the rest on contractors, land acquisition, and other expenses associated with the award-winning project.

Commissioner Marion Williams said the loan request warranted a conversation at Tuesday’s meeting.

“All those commissioners who want to rush through the meeting don’t realize the importance of dealing with the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Also up for discussion at the meeting are:

• Unveiling of the final design of a mural to adorn the Rosa T. Beard Memorial Bridge

• An update, requested by Williams, on instructions the commission gave regarding the collection of data related to racial disparties in the city’s award of contracts

• Discussion, requested by Commissioner Joe Jackson, of hiring a department director to collect disparity data and handle equal employment issues, as the city charter specifies

• An update, requested by Williams, on the city’s downtown parking plan and reconsideration of parking recommendations from a 2005 parking study

• Reconsideration, requested by Williams, of a proposal to merge Augusta Municipal Golf Course with First Tee of Augusta

Comments (43) Add comment
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Little Lamb
46367
Points
Little Lamb 08/19/13 - 10:07 pm
5
2
Insanity

From the story:

The $8 million amount was chosen based on expected annual project revenues of $750,000 from an excise tax the commission imposed on hotel and motel room rentals in 2008, according to Finance Director Donna Williams.

Will someone please tell us taxpayers how much annual revenues from the excise tax were actually received during those years?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/19/13 - 10:10 pm
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2
Eight years ago?

From the story:

Also up for discussion is an update, requested by Williams, on the city’s downtown parking plan and reconsideration of parking recommendations from a 2005 parking study.

An eight year old parking plan? Absurdity!

Little Lamb
46367
Points
Little Lamb 08/19/13 - 10:12 pm
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2
And Jesus said . . .

. . . let your yes be yes; and your no be no.

Also up for discussion is reconsideration, requested by Williams, of a proposal to merge Augusta Municipal Golf Course with First Tee of Augusta.

Amen.

Little Lamb
46367
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Little Lamb 08/19/13 - 10:16 pm
5
2
Can anyone on the Augusta Commission just say, "No"?

Every single one of these agenda items should be voted down.

Please, Commissioners, just say, “NO!

Susan McCord
127
Points
Susan McCord 08/19/13 - 10:18 pm
4
0
Lamb, annual collections of

Lamb, annual collections of the bed tax have been about $1.2 million in recent years, with $750k reserved for LWB and $350k for convention center operations.

Little Lamb
46367
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Little Lamb 08/19/13 - 10:31 pm
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2
Okay

So, they projected $750,000 a year in revenues and they collected $750,000 a year. Why do they need to raid the treasury?

Little Lamb
46367
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Little Lamb 08/19/13 - 10:35 pm
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1
I love you.

You work late, Susan. I hope you get a long night's sleep to be able to sit through tomorrow's travesty of a meeting.

PUPPYMOMMA
1344
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PUPPYMOMMA 08/19/13 - 10:47 pm
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19 houses for 8 million.

19 houses for 8 million. Thanks goodness someone in charge knows how to stretch a dollar.

Riverman1
84889
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Riverman1 08/20/13 - 12:05 am
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$421,000 Per House

“Wheeler said the city had built 19 houses, all of which are occupied, and spent the rest on contractors, land acquisition, and other expenses associated with the award-winning project.”

Isn’t land acquisition necessary anytime you build a house? Aren’t contractors always involved in house building? So the cost per house is $421,000 which is a big wowza. They are all occupied he said. How much did he get for them and doesn’t that money go back into the operations?

thauch12
6739
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thauch12 08/20/13 - 12:37 am
5
2
No, just no. For emphasis: NO

No, just no. For emphasis: NO

Pops
9006
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Pops 08/20/13 - 01:19 am
5
3
Marion Williams is a wise man

“All those commissioners who want to rush through the meeting don’t realize the importance of dealing with the taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Yeah....this is the same clown that proposes to build what amounts to a multi-million dollar giant flower pot over a portion of Broad St. He probably accidentally said "dealing" instead of "wasting".

dichotomy
33487
Points
dichotomy 08/20/13 - 06:06 am
7
3
"19 houses for 8

"19 houses for 8 million."

Whaaaatttttt?

I've seen them......WE HAVE BEEN RIPPED OFF. Some young aggressive investigative reporter needs to follow the money, especially the "land acquisition" and construction contracts. $421,000 per home. Typical government project....typical HUD project. Nothing like spending the taxpayer's money to the tune of about 4 times what they are worth. How much per copy are these mansions you're going to build in South Augusta going to cost the taxpayers? I imagine REAL people could buy a couple of REAL houses for what the corrupt process will spend on one.

I'm sure Marion Williams will not have many questions about the amount spent on the land acquisitions or any other "redevelopment" costs. He's already lined his pockets with some of that money.

The rest of the commission agenda appears to be the regular race pandering stuff and Williams wasting time reviving crap that has already been voted on. Our commission is a joke and Williams is the court jester. It would be funny if he wasn't such a crooked hypocrite.

I've reconsidered the Patch and First Tee Paul Simon horrific deal. THE ANSWER IS STILL NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!! It is just as bad a deal as the one we gave Paul Simon on the other TEE. You know......he takes NO chances.....puts nothing into it.....the taxpayers take all of the risks and pay all of the bills......all on long term contracts. He stuck us on the TEE and now wants the same deal on the Patch. NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!!!

And what is the payoff for Williams in this? Is this strictly racial to get Paine a free golf course? Everything else Williams does is either racial or for profit. What is Mr. Drag Strip's angle?

seenitB4
88078
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seenitB4 08/20/13 - 07:33 am
3
1
19 houses for 8 million

I think THAT pops off the page ...just like a flashing neon light!

Conservative Man
5577
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Conservative Man 08/20/13 - 07:44 am
3
3
Al Gray has already followed

Al Gray has already followed the money. The media does not care!

Little Lamb
46367
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Little Lamb 08/20/13 - 07:49 am
2
2
Momentum, my foot

From the story:

Augusta’s Housing and Community Development department says it needs a $2.5 million loan to continue the “momentum” of the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment initiatives. The “bridge loan,” requested by HCD Director Chester Wheeler, is required because the department has spent nearly all of the $8 million the city borrowed three years ago to start the project, officials said.

I'd like to "continue the momentum" with my boot on Chester Wheeler's behind. It is clear he cannot manage money. Someone needs to take away his fountain pen so he can't sign anymore checks until the income matches the outgo.

You can bet that Wheeler has surrounded himself with a staff making cushy salaries. Lay off some of them. Stop acquiring any more land until cash flow improves. Don't pay contractors in advance — only pay upon satisfactory completion. And you can use the familiar government tactic, furlough employees.

A good manager could get the train back on the track without a bridge loan.

GnipGnop
12286
Points
GnipGnop 08/20/13 - 08:41 am
2
2
He brings this up every meeting til he strong arms it's passage

An update, requested by Williams, on instructions the commission gave regarding the collection of data related to racial disparties in the city’s award of contracts...there should be a limit on how many times the same subject can be brought up...jeez even the chronicle limits their letter writers to once a month!!

Riverman1
84889
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Riverman1 08/20/13 - 09:46 am
4
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Scott Hudson did some

Scott Hudson did some excellent reports about the management of ANIC finances a couple of years ago.

corgimom
33151
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corgimom 08/20/13 - 10:55 am
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0
Could someone print a list of

Could someone print a list of the 19 houses? I'd like to look them up on Zillow.

justthefacts
22194
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justthefacts 08/20/13 - 11:00 am
0
3
This is unbelievable

The gov't underestimating the cost of a project? Say it ain't so.

countyman
20232
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countyman 08/20/13 - 11:50 am
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5
Facts

I can tell some people don't spend much time in the urban core of Augusta.

How can you miss the new streetlights, roads, demolished homes, parks, commercial buildings, etc in Laney Walker and Bethlehem?

Riverman1
84889
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Riverman1 08/20/13 - 12:16 pm
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2
All Housing Developments Have Other Costs

Any housing development has to buy land, build roads, water, sewage, drainage and install street lights. Still they can sell beautiful $200 K homes and make money. Believing all the money went to infrastructure is myopic. These houses are cheaply built....especially if you consider the $421,000 per house cost.

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
8295
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ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 08/20/13 - 12:18 pm
3
2
Urban Core

How long before these new Homes, Parks, Streetlights and Commercial Buildings need to be demolished? I'm very familiar with that area and all the money spent there for the last 30 years may as well have been dumped in the sewer!

Sweet son
10539
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Sweet son 08/20/13 - 12:29 pm
2
2
Wheeler is self serving!

He wants to keep the momentum so he can keep his job!

Come back in 10 years after we see how the 8 million dollar houses look!

countyman
20232
Points
countyman 08/20/13 - 12:57 pm
2
3
Comparing land acquisition in

Comparing land acquisition in the suburbs versus the urban core is much different.

The majority of neighborhoods in the suburbs were built without having to demolish anything except the trees.

The last 30 years can't be compared to the present... The city has never invested this much into the area especially at one time.

The Laney Walker project has added over $4 million to the local tax base, and has a 7 to 1 private/public ratio.

Riverman1
84889
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Riverman1 08/20/13 - 01:14 pm
4
3
Yeah, but the suburban

Yeah, but the suburban housing developments had to build roads, lay pipes, wires, drainage and so on. Houses in Laney Walker were demolished by Thompson wrecking for $3,700 each. F and W, the company with ties to Charles Walker charged twice that. The infrastructure and even graded land was already there. By the way, guess who started ANIC? Yep, none other than the same Charles Walker.

raul
5011
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raul 08/20/13 - 01:30 pm
3
1
May be worth the extra money

May be worth the extra money for a full audit on Mr. Wheeler. $421K per house is unbelievable.

AutumnLeaves
8052
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AutumnLeaves 08/20/13 - 01:50 pm
1
2
Good grief, in a story where

Good grief, in a story where two people are named Williams, please put the first names throughout the story? BTW, is 50% of the population of this city named Williams? You'd think so, with the number of stories, good, bad and ugly in the paper about different people named Williams, nearly every day! Especially on Thursdays in the Richmond County Neighbors section.

Sean Moores
525
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Sean Moores 08/20/13 - 02:20 pm
2
0
@ Autumn Leaves

Thank you. I will have someone look at that and add names for later references.

Sean Moores
525
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Sean Moores 08/20/13 - 02:22 pm
2
0
Coverage questions

If anyone ever has a coverage question or comment, send me an email. sean.moores@augustachronicle.com

countyman
20232
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countyman 08/20/13 - 03:50 pm
2
5
Why do some people like

Dichotomy... You can stop using the words 'taxpayer money' in terms of the recent improvements. The 1.5 million visitors who come to Augusta don't live here. The hotel/motel tax brought the changes to the neighborhoods.

I know several people on here love to bash Augusta, but milliona of people love Augusta. They realize we have challenges similar to any other city, but were moving forward.

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