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Slum designation tops commission agenda Tuesday

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Designating downtown Augusta a “slum” will expand the reach of a board overseeing a redevelopment effort that needs a $2.5 million loan to continue, in two matters going before the Augusta Commission on Tuesday.

The decision to use the designation – for the stated purpose of issuing $26.5 million in bonds to renovate the Municipal Building – has upset commissioners, who didn’t learn details until it appeared on last week’s committee meeting agenda. Columbia County avoided using the term in 2011 when it created a similar redevelopment district to lure businesses to Martinez.

“When that was committed by the commission, we were assured that we wouldn’t have any problem getting financing,” Commissioner Bill Fen­noy said. “Now all the sudden, we’ve got strings attached. Those strings should have been presented back in March when they talked about doing a complete renovation of the municipal building.”

Last week, the finance committee voted 3-1 to approve the designation, which City Administrator Fred Russell and special bond counsel Jim Plunkett said was the cheapest option for issuing the bonds. It will be serviced in part by next year’s special purpose local option sales tax, which voters have yet to approve. The agenda item goes back before the commission Tuesday.

Included in the same agenda item Tuesday are appointments to an Urban Redevelopment Agency the city created years ago to oversee another bond issue, funded by a hotel bed fee, to redevelop the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. That board would also oversee the downtown redevelopment district.

Board member Erick Montgom­ery, who is resigning, said he was unaware the Laney-Walker and Beth­lehem projects needed a $2.5 million “bridge loan” to continue efforts at the time Housing and Com­mu­­nity De­velopment Director Ches­ter Wheeler requested it last month.

The loan, accompanied by a set of responses to commissioner questions about the need for it, also goes before the commission Tuesday.

The city is paying Asset Property Disposition, a project management firm, $45,000 a month and Melaver McIntosh, a marketing and strategy firm, $6,000 a month to redevelop and rebrand the historically black neighborhoods, but commissioners have questioned why the city spent $8 million in three years but only built a handful of houses. Documents provided by Wheeler show the project envisions constructing 400 residential units over 50 years, the length of time it receives $750,000 annually in bed taxes.

Fennoy said commissioners have been instructed to bring nominations for the redevelopment board to the meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who opposed the designation last week because its funding source wasn’t guaranteed, wanted to know who benefits from calling Augusta a slum.

“We’re trying to shove something down in 11 days that took Columbia County 11 months,” he said.

City Finance Director Donna Wil­liams said consultant Dianne Mc­Nabb will present financing alternatives to the designation Tuesday. Williams said that should voters reject the next round of the sales tax, the city could cover debt service on the bonds using capital outlay funds but that it would deplete the source almost entirely.

Commissioner Marion Williams said he wasn’t as concerned about the “slum” designation as he was the commission’s lack of information about it.

“Nobody shared it with us,” he said. “Nobody shared it with me. It should have been discussed.”

Commissioner Grady Smith said he wished the state would remove the derogatory terms from the law but could deal with it.

“I don’t get bent out of shape about stuff like that. As long as you don’t insult my mother or my family,” he said.

Instead, Smith said he hoped real change was on the horizon downtown and that someone would take the lead.

“If we had a lot more personal pride in our inner city and downtown we could do a lot of self-cleanup ourselves,” he said. “I’m tired of the excuses.”

Other items going for commission approval Tuesday include:

• Approving a rezoning application by the Nixon Trust and James Johnson for a 69-acre site at I-20 and Bobby Jones Expressway for an apartment and retail complex. William Johnson, who lives in the nearby Foxhall subdivision, said he and other neighbors remain concerned about inadequate sewer capacity after recent spills have sent raw sewage into Cranes’s Creek and Rae’s Creek. Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said Monday that the 18-inch line servicing the complex is sufficient and that the spills were caused by maintenance issues the department is attempting to address.

• A decision to post a Request for Pro­posals to replace First Vehicle Ser­vices, which has maintained the city fleet and equipment for a decade, after commissioners raised issues about unnecessary repairs.

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Little Lamb
45869
Points
Little Lamb 09/17/13 - 06:51 am
4
0
Board

Susan McCord reported:

Included in the same agenda item Tuesday are appointments to an Urban Redevelopment Agency the city created years ago to oversee another bond issue, funded by a hotel bed fee, to redevelop the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. That board would also oversee the downtown redevelopment district.

These commissioners must really think long and hard over whether these board members are the best and brightest Augusta can muster to oversee this talley that may soon grow to over $100 million dollars.

I fear they are not. I fear they may be manipulated by the Chester Wheelers and the Fred Russells of the world.

just an opinion
2631
Points
just an opinion 09/16/13 - 10:14 pm
7
1
$45,000 + $6,000 per month for mgt & re-branding?

That's ridiculous! NO TO THE LOAN. Give the deputies a raise instead!

rebellious
20685
Points
rebellious 09/17/13 - 01:09 am
6
0
Have we no shame?

Come on commissioners!
One, you are spending extravagant money on nothing more than the residence of the government of the people, for the people and by the people.
Two, you are spending money at a time when taxpayers are struggling to pay their bills, yet you appear to be buying the hog you want to ride high upon.
Three, you are proposing a plan to borrow, through bonds, money which you propose will be paid back by a SPLOST we have not voted on. The presumption is preposterous, even arrogant. With the current voter sentiment, I would be surprised if taxpayers would vote for any more taxes they can vote down.
Four, you continue to bloat projects above and beyond the average persons ability to accept. And elevators as an excuse? The Marble Palace has them now. Don't tinkle down our backs and tell us it is raining!

Stop the madness....NOW! This is absolute insanity!

seenitB4
86904
Points
seenitB4 09/17/13 - 06:14 am
4
0
Gone With The Wind--aftermath

You are looking at Tara after the war....broken down houses & fields in disrepair....a small carrot & a half eaten radish....tattered & broken but Scarlett will survive....Rhett(Rebellious) You will find the solution but maybe in different fields......peace & good wishes my friend.

Little Lamb
45869
Points
Little Lamb 09/17/13 - 07:20 am
4
0
Maintenance

From the story:

Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said Monday that the 18-inch line servicing the complex is sufficient and that the spills were caused by maintenance issues the department is attempting to address.

Maintenance is Augusta's Achilles heel. The culture is to let city property and city infrastructure deteriorate. Fred Russell wants only to build new projects, and even to turn remodeling into major projects involving millions of dollars with architects and consultants siphoning off the baby back ribs leaving the citizens with the knuckles. Preventive maintenance would save us a lot of money. But that takes work. It takes paying attention day after day.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 09/17/13 - 09:07 am
0
0
Three 4 inch pipes empty into one 1 inch pipe. ARC Logic.
Unpublished

Three 4 inch pipes empty into one 1 inch pipe. ARC Logic.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 09/17/13 - 09:08 am
0
0
Three five lane hwy's empty into one two lane hwy. CC Logic.
Unpublished

Three five lane hwy's empty into one two lane hwy. CC Logic.

dichotomy
32799
Points
dichotomy 09/17/13 - 01:45 pm
4
0
"$45,000 + $6,000 per month

"$45,000 + $6,000 per month for mgt & re-branding?
That's ridiculous! NO TO THE LOAN."

We see this in EVERY project this city takes on. What it amounts to is that our highly paid department heads and their staff are too incompetent to manage the projects they dream up so we not only have to PAY for the projects, we have to PAY for someone else to manage the projects that our DEPARTMENTS should be managing. And the amounts we pay for all of this diddling is horrendous. And this is in ADDITION to the salaries we are paying the employees in our own departments.

If they want to continue paying consultants, management companies, and glorified advertising agencies, I SAY FIRE ALL OF THE COUNTY EMPLOYEES, THE COMMISSION, AND THE ADMINISTRATOR AND RUN THE WHOLE DAMNED COUNTY WITH CONTRACTORS AND ONE SMALL OFFICE OF CONTRACTING SPECIALISTS THAT KNOW HOW TO SPEC A CONTRACT AND GET THE BEST PRICE. We don't have any of those right now either.

bubbasauce
20603
Points
bubbasauce 09/17/13 - 10:41 pm
0
0
Dichotomy you hit the nail on

Dichotomy you hit the nail on the head. Total incompetence across the board. I would get rid ( Terminate, Fire ) them all. Period!

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