Plan to develop Augusta stormwater fee passes

The stormwater management program that will likely cost property owners a few extra dollars a month moved forward Tuesday after the Augusta Commission authorized its next phase of development.

The 8-1 vote, opposed only by Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, revived what has become a familiar debate over drainage infrastructure. Guilfoyle maintains his rural District 8 relies on barely-maintained ditches and little else, so people there shouldn’t have to pay a fee.

Engineering Director Abie Ladson, who has pushed for the fee for a year, said the commission on Tuesday authorized only paying consultant AMEC Inc. $484,453 to develop a stormwater management plan, including completing an inventory of all stormwater structures. AMEC will help Augusta determine where to charge the fee and how much to charge, he said.

Ladson has estimated the fee will generate up to $10 million in annual revenue to fund maintenance of aging and insufficient stormwater infrastructure that causes areas around the city to flood during heavy rains, but hasn’t spoken specifically about its impact on property owners.

Typically, as it is in Columbia County, the fee is charged to all property owners, regardless of tax-exempt status. The suburban county imposed the fee in 2000 on an area east of William Few Parkway and north of Wrightsboro Road, where most of its population lives.

Commissioner Marion Williams asked Ladson if the fee would remain in place once repairs were made. Ladson said yes, that it would fund ongoing maintenance and accommodate growth.

“It’s one of those things that we all have to do our part,” Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said of paying the fee if the commission OKs its imposition. “We have to do something. I think this is going to help address beautification” as well as improve drainage infrastructure.

“Water doesn’t stop flowing and wind doesn’t stop blowing at the district line,” quipped Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

Besides Guilfoyle, none on the commission spoke out against the fee. Commissioner Donnie Smith said it could help areas of his district such as National Hills, whose inadequate stormwater system causes certain areas to flood.

“We spend money on our road systems on a constant basis,” Smith said. “The same would apply on the stormwater system, am I right?”

Guilfoyle said the argument that, like school taxes, all should pay to help some in need did not apply.

“When you’ve got apartment complexes and you’ve got two kids in every apartment,” he said, “that apartment complex don’t pay its fair share.”

IN OTHER ACTION, the Augusta Commission:

• Recognized employee of the month, Richmond County Sheriff’s Deputy Austin Shepherd, for rescuing a homeless family he encountered while on patrol and finding them food, clothing and shelter.

• Voted to allow a meeting between General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie, attorney Colette Holt and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Coordinator Yvonne Gentry to discuss creating a program that is not race and gender neutral for the city’s award of contracts. The city has been enjoined from using the criteria since a court order declared it was unconstitutional for using outdated data.

• Approved the city’s Information Technology department moving forward with development of a city government cable channel.

• Received City Administrator Fred Russell’s recommended budget for fiscal 2014, which starts in January. The 166-page document includes a $1,500 bonus for all employees and must be balanced by Nov. 19, but currently shows an $8.5 million deficit, Russell said.

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