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Downtown 'slum' designation to be reconsidered in work session

Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 10:29 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 12:32 AM
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It’s back to the drawing board for Augusta’s plan to designate the central business district a “slum” to borrow money to renovate the government headquarters.

Susan McCord
Government Reporter
Twitter: @reportr1
E-mail | 706-823-3215

Commissioner Mary Davis said city leaders needed to reconsider all the options after the extensive plan caught the governing body by surprise when it appeared on a committee agenda Sept. 5.

“It’s back to the drawing board, in my mind,” Davis said after commissioners declined to approve the plan Tuesday. “We need to have a lot of discussion about the various options we have. We need to find a way without relying on a SPLOST that hasn’t passed.”

Commissioners voted 7-1 in March to issue $26.5 million in bonds to complete a $40 million renovation of Augusta Municipal Building, with future service on the debt derived from a sales tax referendum yet to go before voters.

There had been no discussion about the funding mechanism presented Sept. 5, however, and commissioners were taken aback by its plan to characterize and designate the entire 595-acre downtown business district as a “slum” for the stated purpose of obtaining tax savings on the bond issue for the government building.

Property rights advocate Al Gray seized on the issue and assailed the plan at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, citing Department of Community Affairs guidelines for creating an Urban Redevelopment Area that include public involvement and offer alternatives for borrowing money.

“You are not supposed to be presented with a resolution like this with no warning,” he said.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, noting he’d served on the DCA board “for many years” stopped Gray when the Lincolnton resident referred to Augusta’s “treasure trove” of “fraud and corruption.”

The plan relied on an existing five-member Urban Redevelopment Agency approved to oversee an $8 million bond issue for redevelopment in the nearby Laney-Walker and Bethlehem areas. The commission had been asked to appoint new members to the URA board, while the Laney-Walker project has run out of money and was seeking a $2.5 million loan Tuesday. Commissioners also declined to approve the loan.

Dianne McNabb, the city’s financial adviser, said DCA gives wide latitude to governments to create Urban Redevelopment Areas. Unlike a development authority, however, the URA agency can issue bonds and otherwise facilitate development of “governmental-purpose faciliites” such as the Municipal Building or educational facilities, she said.

Other financing sources, such as Georgia Municipal Association, effectively “mortgage” the facility in question, creating greater risk for investors and higher interest rates, McNabb said.

Columbia County, meanwhile, in 2011 created a similar district, approved by DCA in Martinez but avoided using terms like slum. Commissioner Bill Fennoy asked McNabb if Augusta could do the same, but she said she was unaware of the suburban county’s efforts.

“We may save $2 million over the (20-year) life of the bonds, but how much revenue will merchants lose because people don’t want to come to a slum area?” asked Fennoy, who represents the area in question. “I have yet to run across anybody that supports the language that’s in this grant application.”

Meanwhile, if the next city SPLOST fails to pass, the bonds must be serviced by operating revenues, McNabb said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett again raised questions about why the city was spending $6,000 a month for consultants Melaver-McIntosh to “rebrand” the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem districts but now is attempting to designate the adjoining central business district as a “slum.” The documents presented for approval went further, detailing the slum district’s propensity to foster disease and crime, he noted.

City Administrator Fred Russell defended the plan as the work of people “we have been using for the last 15 years.” Russell suggested a special work session on the issue, but Fennoy offered a motion to send it back to the city finance committee and would not change it after Russell’s suggestion.

Lockett offered a substitute motion to hold a work session on the matter. Needing six votes to pass, it failed 5-1, with Fennoy voting no. By that time, commissioners Marion Williams and Grady Smith had left the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson and Commissioner Joe Jackson were absent for the entire meeting Tuesday.

Fennoy’s primary motion to send the matter back to committee also failed, 3-3, with Davis, Lockett and Guilfoyle voting no. Copenhaver, whose authority allows him to schedule meetings and work sessions, requested that the session be held.

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Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 09/17/13 - 09:56 pm
7
0
Good Move

Do you commenters remember a couple of days ago when I said it was discourteous to hold this meeting on a night when four commissioners were attending an out of town training session that lasted all day? They could have rescheduled the meeting.

Still, the results are promising. Al Gray did us citizens a good service by reminding commissioners to consider alternatives and involve the people by letting us vote on whether to issue bonds. This urban redevelopment idea totally bypasses the people.

Let us vote on bonded indebtedness for the city we live in!

Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 09/17/13 - 10:06 pm
6
0
Dichotomy

From the story:

Commissioner Bill Lockett again raised questions about why the city was spending $6,000 a month for consultants Melaver-McIntosh to “rebrand” the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem districts but now is attempting to designate the adjoining central business district as a “slum.”

Good question. A while ago, Laney-Walker and Bethlehem were slums and Greene Street was a marble jewel. Under Fred (What, me worry?) Russell’s and Chester Wheeler’s leadership we have reversed the formula. Laney Walker is now the jewel and Greene Street is the slum.

Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 09/17/13 - 10:13 pm
6
0
Government Agent

From the story:

Dianne McNabb, the city’s financial adviser, said DCA gives wide latitude to governments to create Urban Redevelopment Areas, relying on as much or as little public involvement as desired.

I hope Dianne McNabb is removed from her position as city financial adviser. She obviously does not value, does not seek, does not trust the desires of the people she supposedly serves. She is a person to be distrusted by us citizens.

deestafford
34577
Points
deestafford 09/17/13 - 10:44 pm
6
0
Are we about to see a blind hog find an acorn

in that the Commission may make the right decision?

Riverman1
99598
Points
Riverman1 09/17/13 - 10:58 pm
12
1
Told ya Deke didn't like Al.

Told ya Deke didn't like Al.

Brad Owens
5068
Points
Brad Owens 09/17/13 - 11:37 pm
8
0
Watching Deke ...

It was interesting to see Deke actually get upset at something... Fred lost his cool here as well... interesting stuff here.

Lori Davis
1042
Points
Lori Davis 09/18/13 - 06:32 am
8
0
We should all thank Al Gray

We should all thank Al Gray for yet again coming to the aid of the Augusta Tax payer. The treatment Deke and Fred gave Mr. Gray was uncalled for. And for Ms.McNabb, if she thinks no one will know if Augusta is designated a slum or not, she has never been on Facebook. She also seemed to me to encourage the lack of citizen involvement as she made perfectly clear on several occasions that this was an option.

Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 09/18/13 - 06:33 am
6
0
Next meeting in two weeks

Let's see, Bill Fennoy's motion to send the matter to a committee to begin working on alternatives failed, 3 - 3.

Bill Locket's motion to hold a full commission work session to begin working on alternatives failed, 5 - 1.

So, I guess we'll have to wait two weeks until the next commission meeting to get a motion to pass for any action to take place. That's probably a good thing. People need to think before they act.

Am I the only one who thinks it is a bad idea to hold a commission meeting when there are only six commissioners in the room?

Riverman1
99598
Points
Riverman1 09/18/13 - 07:08 am
8
0
Deke schedules meetings

LL, Deke schedules meetings and I'm sure he knew exactly how many would be there since we all knew. He also knew Al Gray would be speaking. Devious Deke.

BamaMan
2871
Points
BamaMan 09/18/13 - 07:40 am
6
0
Words

You've heard the saying, "you can never take back words". Well, damage is done sirs.

seenitB4
104047
Points
seenitB4 09/18/13 - 07:41 am
3
0
Talking points

How hard is it to learn from the Columbia county commish...try it sometimes....

dichotomy
39372
Points
dichotomy 09/18/13 - 07:59 am
8
0
"Deke actually get upset at

"Deke actually get upset at something... Fred lost his cool here as well... interesting stuff here."

Yeh, life is a beach when the voters start paying attention and asking questions. ..

Hey Deke and Fred.....IT'S OUR MONEY. You THINK it's YOUR city....but it's OUR MONEY. We would like a say in how you spend it BEFORE you spend it. And we are tired of these "oops, we know we told you $20 million but now we are spending $40 million (or more)."

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:09 am
0
0
ARC cannot & will not lock all taxpayers. Taxpayer revolt. NOW
Unpublished

ARC cannot & will not lock all taxpayers. Taxpayer revolt. NOW

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:11 am
0
0
Officials say "they do not need the consent of the governed"
Unpublished

Officials say "they do not need the consent of the governed"

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:13 am
0
0
Stop this Now. S.C. Native American shut down the court system.
Unpublished

Stop this Now. S.C. Native American shut down the court system.

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:13 am
0
0
Withhold you tax money. Demand accoutability. Or, Ben Dover.
Unpublished

Withhold you tax money. Demand accountability. Or, Ben Dover.

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:15 am
0
0
ARC taxpayers are good at b__ching. Super at Bending Over.
Unpublished

ARC taxpayers are good at b__ching. Super at Bending Over.

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:16 am
0
0
Woe is me. My government is corrupt. Somebody help me.
Unpublished

Woe is me. My government is corrupt. Somebody help me.

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:17 am
0
0
Slum is correct. Try to get into downtown. From any direction.
Unpublished

Slum is correct. Try to get into downtown. From any direction.

soapy_725
44600
Points
soapy_725 09/18/13 - 08:18 am
0
0
These ARC clowns are raping and pillaging. Do you care?
Unpublished

These ARC clowns are raping and pillaging. Do you care?

Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 09/18/13 - 02:57 pm
4
0
Minutes

Clerk of Commission Lena Bonner publishes minutes of Commission meetings and they are supposed to be on the city's web site. It would be interesting for Al Gray to read those minutes and be sure that what he actually said is published accurately.

Conservative Man
5579
Points
Conservative Man 09/18/13 - 07:45 pm
2
0
Lena Bonner has been out for

Lena Bonner has been out for months now. Just a matter of record, Nancy Morowski has taken the helm. Ms. Bonner could not be swayed. Will leave it at that.

Little Lamb
50775
Points
Little Lamb 09/18/13 - 09:09 pm
1
0
Thanks

Thank you, Conservative Man. I am out of the loop. But, still, checking out the minutes of Al Gray's presentation versus what he really said should be interesting reading.

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