As most city departments have been asked to cut back, Augusta Planning and Development got the go-ahead from a city committee Monday to add 10 positions.
Pushed by new Director Melanie Wilson and based on the recommendations of Malik Watkins, a consultant with Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the additions include three codes enforcement and licensing personnel, two building inspectors and five planning staff, bringing the department’s total positions to 67.
Approved by the city’s administrative services committee, the additions will be funded mostly through grants, new revenue resulting from the staff additions and a set of fee hikes for services such as site plan and subdivision approvals that were also approved Monday.
Commissioner Donnie Smith questioned whether adding new planners would simply result in additional planning documents that will, like others, “sit on a shelf for a long time.”
Wilson said the new staff will break the plans down into strategic, implementable components that the city’s existing, long-range plans tend to lack.
Nathan Youngblood, the immediate past president of the Metro Augusta Builders’ Association, waited through more than three hours of commission discussions to speak on behalf of the changes.
“What a breath of fresh air. This is something we’ve been asking for for the past 10 years,” Youngblood said.
In other business Monday:
• Commissioners approved after a called, closed-door legal meeting approximately $75,000 in settlement payments to several Wylds Road homeowners for a sewer backup caused by a December grease clog.
• The city’s public services committee took no action on approving Turner Construction Co.’s guaranteed maximum price of $5.6 million to build a new Information Technology building adjacent to Augusta Municipal Building. Questioned about the proposal’s impact on parking, Heery International consultant Forrest White said the only option it had considered is the demolition of several small buildings on the government campus to create additional parking.
• Public Services also vetoed a bid award to the Christman Co. to serve as construction manager at risk for a new bus maintenance facility off Highway 56 and Lumpkin Road. Procurement Director Geri Sams said the firm was chosen over bidders R.W. Allen, Dabbs Williams, Allen-Batchelor Construction and ACC Construction due to Christman’s experience with the Federal Transit Administration. Questioned about environmental concerns at the site, which is adjacent to Richmond County Board of Education’s new bus maintenance facility, special city counsel Jim Plunkett said the city had no responsibility besides installing a methane vent over an area where the former owner buried waste, while Resurgens Properties is waiting for the city’s existing Fenwick Street bus barn to close and the buses to move to purchase the downtown property.