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Laney-Walker loan not urgent, commissioners told

Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 8:51 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 8:56 AM
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The city’s need to borrow $2.5 million to continue a redevelopment project in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem communities isn’t as urgent as first presented, commissioners were told Monday.

City officials, who initially presented the “bridge loan” request as vital to the project’s continuing momentum, said Monday a recent sale of acquired land to Augusta Housing Authority for $777,000 had eased the money crisis and would carry the project at least through the end of the year.

“A month ago, we were told that it was a crisis situation that was requiring $2.5 million right away,” Augusta Commissioner Don­nie Smith said. “Now, not only do you not need $2.5 million, but the crisis has been abated?”

Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler, who made the loan request after the department ran through an $8 million bond issue in three years on consultants, land acquisition and construction of a couple dozen houses, said Monday he had “no knowledge” of when the city would complete the sale of land to the housing authority for its Twiggs Circle senior housing development.

“With the dollars that we are receiving,” the loan is “not quite as critical as what it initially was,” City Administrator Fred Russell said.

The commission in 2008 agreed to dedicate $750,000 in hotel room fees annually for 50 years to redevelop the historically black neighborhoods adjacent to Georgia Regents University’s downtown campus.

In 2010, the commission agreed to issue $8 million in bonds in anticipation of the hotel fees, but now that money is nearly gone and the city can’t issue more bonds until 2015.

Commissioner Alvin Mason, who asked Wheeler a detailed set of questions about the loan two weeks ago, questioned whether the “consultants” – a group that includes architects, designers and marketing strategists – weren’t doing staff-level work outside the scope of consulting. Asset Property Disposition and Melaver-McIntosh, the two consulting firms, have cost the project about $2.1 million so far.

Russell, who – along with Mayor Deke Copenhaver – has been heavily involved in the project, said because of its “somewhat revolutionary nature” consultants were hired instead of recruiting staff to do the work.

No city staff member is even paid to work on the project full-time, Wheeler said.

The handful of homeowners who have bought completed homes, meanwhile, are concerned “about the future of their investment,” said Commissioner Bill Lockett.

Stopping the project is not an option, but it needs review by “professionals with in-depth experience in urban redevelopment” which differs widely from traditional development in the challenges that must be overcome, Mason said.

The project also needs other, sustainable funding streams, he said. At a rate of $8 million every three years, the money will be gone in far less than 50 years.

Russell said Planning Director Melanie Wilson would be able to assemble a team of outside experts to review the project’s progress and report back to the commission by the end of the year, and the city’s administrative services committee agreed.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

• A committee heard Monday from a Motorola sales team and Sheriff Richard Roundtree about a proposal to upgrade Augusta’s aging radio system with a digital system for about $750,000 more than the $550,000 annually the city pays now. The upgrades would include the sheriff’s proposed installation of security cameras downtown, increase the speed and coverage of the system and allow other city departments and local agencies, such as GRU police, to buy in.

• Mary Fallen, the mother of Phillip Boynton, who died after being beaten outside Club Pure Platinum in March, urged commissioners to close the club Monday. The committee gave the club six months’ probation.

Comments (19) Add comment
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Riverman1
79418
Points
Riverman1 09/24/13 - 03:32 am
8
1
Only a Forgotten $770,000

Total chaos. So now we learn the Augusta Housing Authority has poured another $777,000 into the Laney-Walker project after Alvin Mason and the Chronicle began examining the project.

First off, who agreed the Housing Authority should pay anything for the property that the city has already paid for? Is this simply another way to pour even more tax money into the project?

Where is the 10 to 1 private investment that Copenhaver and Wheeler have been telling everyone is occurring? Is the accounting of Wheeler and the project so bad that they can demand an emergent $2.5 million, but then realize they have more money? For the millions that are being spent the results are paltry. All the city is doing is keeping administrators and “consultants” rolling in the dough. Enough!

just an opinion
2357
Points
just an opinion 09/24/13 - 08:43 am
3
0
So what does the housing "staff" do?

Ask anyone who has to deal with them. A realtor told me recently he is completing a sale (Hyde Park transfer) through their office and it would be his last. He says its just not worth the aggravation of dealing with the inept office. Maybe they should hire consultants for this to.

Pops
6937
Points
Pops 09/24/13 - 07:20 am
1
0
More "outside experts" needed

"Russell said Planning Director Melanie Wilson would be able to assemble a team of outside experts to review the project’s progress and report back to the commission by the end of the year, and the city’s administrative services committee agreed."

More people to get involved in basically a project of demolition and building new houses...........I'm sure using "outside experts" won't cost much.......

deestafford
23768
Points
deestafford 09/24/13 - 07:50 am
3
0
Is this a rat hole project down which we are pouring money that

came as a result of horse trading among the commissioners in order to fund other projects in other sections of the city?

It would seem an up to date cost-benefit analysis would be in order.

Little Lamb
43831
Points
Little Lamb 09/24/13 - 08:20 am
4
0
Credibility

Chester Wheeler has had his lack of credibility exposed. He is the emperor with no clothes. Time for a new executive director. Trouble is, there's no mechanism to get rid of him other than his own resignation. Since he has no more honor than he has credibility, that ain't gonna happen.

Little Lamb
43831
Points
Little Lamb 09/24/13 - 08:46 am
3
0
Not Your Job

Fred Russell is the city administrator. He's got a staff of a couple thousand employees to manage. He's got roads to maintain. He's got grass to mow. He's got parks to manage. He's got sewerage to maintain. He's got a fire department to run. He's got city building roofs to patch. Now we learn why that's not getting done. From the story:

Russell, . . . who has been heavily involved in the project, said because of its “somewhat revolutionary nature” consultants were hired instead of recruiting staff to do the work.

Russell has absolutely no responsibility for this Housing and Community Development organization. It is not in his job description. It is a stand alone organization. Yet here he is, sticking his nose in it while ignoring his actual responsibilities.

Fred Russell needs to be fired for insubordination and for dereliction of duty.

just an opinion
2357
Points
just an opinion 09/24/13 - 08:42 am
1
0
Publish titles and salaries of "staff" please.

Not trying to embarrass anyone, so names are not important. We know the outside "consultants" are earning $51,000 per month so what is the "support staff" earning?

Little Lamb
43831
Points
Little Lamb 09/24/13 - 08:42 am
5
0
Neverending Spiral

From the story:

Russell said Planning Director Melanie Wilson would be able to assemble a team of outside experts to review the project’s progress and report back to the commission by the end of the year, and the city’s administrative services committee agreed.

It sounds like the city is going to hire some outside consultants to review the work done by Chester Wheeler's outside consultants. We're doubling down on consultant fees. Anybody want to see Fred and raise him?

seenitB4
81464
Points
seenitB4 09/24/13 - 09:39 am
1
0
Carnage & even more to come

Unreal deals that cost more money from the tax payers...I say, get a backbone & get a shovel.....you need to dig a hole for some of them & cover it up with some good ole Georgia dirt.

Sweet son
9710
Points
Sweet son 09/24/13 - 10:46 am
0
0
deestafford is right!

Chester Wheeler's "Wheelerville" is just like a swimming pool! It is a big hole in the ground in which to pour "our" money! And as dee eluded to, in 5 to 10 years it will just be another 'rat hole' with those who invested wishing they had gone somewhere else with their down payment money.

Susan McCord
119
Points
Susan McCord 09/24/13 - 11:22 am
0
0
Staff?

Just an Opinion, I'm not sure what you mean. We have the hourly billing rates of the APD consultants, but I don't know of any city staff paid specifically to work on the project.

countyman
19155
Points
countyman 09/24/13 - 12:31 pm
1
1
The money is coming from

The money is coming from local hotel guest, and not local taxpayers..

Why do people continue to leave this important bit of information out?

Susan McCord
119
Points
Susan McCord 09/24/13 - 12:47 pm
2
0
Countyman, I wrote

"The commission in 2008 agreed to dedicate $750,000 in hotel room fees annually for 50 years..." But I'm not sure why we should disregard how it is spent just because it's paid by out-of-towners.

just an opinion
2357
Points
just an opinion 09/24/13 - 01:16 pm
1
0
Ok, forget the consultants $51,000 per mth check

In regards to the Community and Housing Develepment office:
Who works there? What do they do? And HOW MUCH do WE pay them?

countyman
19155
Points
countyman 09/24/13 - 01:46 pm
1
2
Susan.. My comment wasn't

Susan.. My comment wasn't directed to any of the quotes in the article..

Many people continue to bring up 'taxpayer' money every time the revitalization is being discussed.

rmwhitley
5526
Points
rmwhitley 09/24/13 - 07:15 pm
0
0
I bet it
Unpublished

doesn't put a dent in the murder rate of the Laney-Walker community.

Gage Creed
15733
Points
Gage Creed 09/24/13 - 08:09 pm
1
1
It WAS taxpayer money,

It WAS taxpayer money, because the local giverment collects the money and then GIVES it to these pet projects as hush money...

Conservative Man
5303
Points
Conservative Man 09/24/13 - 09:10 pm
1
0
Seems like...

...Chester Wheeler "Dealer", got a public smackdown from the press and some commissioners....Cool...

It's just a shame that the same can't be said about Fred "what me worry?" Russell...

City government has been rotting from the head down for some time now, and my prediction is ..it will get worse before it gets better....

tom31510
312
Points
tom31510 09/25/13 - 07:54 am
0
1
Hotel tax

Though the hotel tax doesn't come from locals, why can it not be used to benefit locals instead of being given to such a boondoggle as this. Them asking for more money was a bit premature & it bit them in the butt. It got people questioning how the project was going, and put the focus on how badly it is being run.

Riverman1
79418
Points
Riverman1 09/25/13 - 02:42 pm
0
1
All Government Income Belongs to People of Richmond County

Anyone who doesn't understand any funds the county takes in belong to the county government, which represents the people of the county, needs to bone up on his civics knowledge. If the feds give the airport millions, can that money be misused and excused by saying it's not taxpayers money?

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