Hephzibah and Blythe are both asking for a larger share of Augusta’s new round of 1-cent sales tax revenue than in the past in order to fund projects their mayors say will accommodate expected growth in the region.
Their allocations would be included in the roughly $200 million in capital projects that Augusta staff is working to narrow down from a $700 million list of needs and wants. The Augusta Commission must approve the special purpose local option sales tax project list by March 10 for it to make the May 20 ballot.
Hephzibah is asking for $10.2 million, more than double what it received in the previous tax, for a new agricultural center, bike lanes, a recreational facility and other upgrades. Blythe’s wish list amount doubled to $2.2 million for water system upgrades, a community building and equipment.
With significant growth anticipated between now and the Army Cyber Command’s launch in 2019, city officials said infrastructure upgrades are needed to accommodate the families and workers expected to relocate there.
“We’ve got a lot to look forward to, and it’s a chance in a lifetime opportunity that we have,” said District 8 Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle. “If we don’t prepare for it and be proactive instead of reactive, we’re going to lose. We’re going to fall behind.”
Guilfoyle said because Blythe and Hephzibah don’t charge their citizens taxes, the sales tax acts as a vital funding source for building infrastructure.
The most ambitious project Hephzibah hopes to build with the tax funds is a $4.7 million recreational multi-use facility it would lease to the YMCA to generate income for the city. It would have a swimming pool and water park and would aim to attract people from south Richmond County and beyond, Hephzibah Mayor Robert Buchwitz said.
“We’re trying to create some small businesses and job opportunities and places for children to go as well,” he said.
The city hopes to build a $1.8 million agricultural center and arena on the same site as the recreational facility, which would be on a 150-acre city-owned lot between Wilson and Mims roads.
Buchwitz said the agricultural center could be a “destination place” for large events and daily activities.
The city wants to use
$1 million to build a fire station close to the Richmond County, Hephzibah and Burke County line that was denied in previous rounds of the sales tax.
Buchwitz said Hephzibah has an automatic aid agreement with Richmond County to provide fire service on the south end of Richmond County and that a new station makes sense.
“This facility would serve more south Richmond County people at this time than it would Hephzibah residents, but as we continue to grow and try to attract some of the Cyber Command people to Hephzibah, south Richmond County area, we feel like that area will grow,” he said.
The city wants $230,000 to automate its water meter system; $1.2 million for bike lanes; $100,000 for Windsor Spring Road beautification; $500,000 to connect its sewer to Augusta; and various vehicles and equipment.
Blythe Mayor Brent Weir said his city’s infrastructure needs should also be looked at as regional needs.
Blythe’s plan would use $900,000 for a new community building/library/park; $350,000 for water system upgrades; $300,000 for road improvements; $300,000 for police vehicles; and upgrades for Wi-Fi, equipment and information technology.
“We don’t have any other huge sources of funding, so when a SPLOST package comes around, we can make huge improvements to our infrastructure that wouldn’t happen any other way,” Weir said.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said its up to the commission to look at the two cities’ needs and decide how much can be spared from Augusta’s $200 million base. However, he said not preparing for a region’s needs and being overwhelmed by growth later could be more costly than planning up front.
“I do like the fact Hephzibah is looking at positioning themselves for growth as we see the impact coming from the Cyber Command and everything else,” Copenhaver said. “I’m not at all offended they’re looking outside the box.”