Augusta Commission passes sales tax plan to pitch to voters May 20

In a process criticized for its breakneck speed, six Augusta Commission members on Friday approved a $194.3 million sales tax package to present to voters May 20.

Commissioners spent a couple of hours tweaking a draft project list assembled by Mayor Deke Copenhaver before approving it, restoring $5 million of the $8 million sought by Paine College for a new cultural center and $10 million for unspecified infrastructure projects, bringing the city Engineering Department’s allocation to $50 million; eliminating two proposed fire stations and restoring $500,000 each for Augusta Museum of History and Fleming Tennis Center.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said he was tired of haggling over projects during the meeting and called for a five-minute break in which to broker a compromise. After the break, the Paine funds sought by Commissioner Bill Fennoy, a Paine alumnus, were increased to $6 million, Smith motioned to approve the package and all six commissioners – Smith, Fennoy, Mary Davis, Joe Jackson, Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle – voted “yes.”

Donnie Smith said aside from a small amount of fluff, “the rest of it is pretty good for the community” and helps “prepare the city, infrastructure-wise,” for the arrival of the Army Cyber Command, expected to bring thousands of new jobs to the region over the next few years.

With collections of the current special purpose local option sales tax around $2.95 million a month, it will take nearly six years to collect all the funds if voters approve the package. But commissioners also approved putting a $21.7 million bond issue on the ballot with the sales tax package. If approved, it would pay for a handful of projects much sooner.

Those projects include an $8 million match sought by Georgia Regents University for a new cancer center, $4.45 million for a Hephzibah multi-use recreation facility, $4 million for computer upgrades for the tax commissioner and tax assessor offices, and $5.25 million for Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaborative to advance its Mills Campus proposal.

The mills proposal involves renovating two dormant textile mills into usable space, presumably for GRU, but university officials have shown no interest in the project so far. Augusta Regional Collaborative Director Matt Kwatinetz said at a recent meeting that the plan simply needed an “anchor tenant,” whoever it might be.

Cut from Copenhaver’s draft at the request of Guilfoyle was $11 million for new facilities for the Augusta Public Defender and Richmond County Juvenile Court, which occupy rented space; $5 million for two new fire stations, sparing a third for southwest Augusta; and reductions in the amounts sought by the Imperial Theatre and Symphony Orchestra Augusta.

“Overall, I believe it’s a good package. We focused on the infrastructure; it does have some outside agencies,” Guilfoyle said.

Former Commissioner Jimmy Smith spoke at the session and sought the $10 million bump for engineering. Guilfoyle said that increase will facilitate much-needed road improvements in his south Richmond County commission district and elsewhere.

Fennoy raised issues earlier in the meeting shared by his absent colleague Commissioner Bill Lockett about the rushed process that has sought no input from the public.

“I believe that we need to take the time to hear from the voters of Richmond County, their concerns and what they want,” Fennoy said, adding that neighborhood associations and other community groups should have a chance to weigh in on the package before it is finalized.

The entire process was accomplished in about a month, after Copenhaver informed commissioners in January that GRU had to have the $8 million match by July. While funds won’t be collected until the present sales tax package expires, probably early 2016, the match demand coupled with changes in state election dates and laws mandated the election be held May 20, Copenhaver and other city officials have said.

“After getting a package approved, we have public meetings,” Copenhaver said.

If the sales tax package fails, the city must wait a year to present it again to voters. Counties can no longer call special elections just for a special purpose local option sales tax, so the next opportunity will be November 2015, Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer said.

Copenhaver added that if the package isn’t passed May 20, a new mayor and several new commissioners up for election will want to “put their stamp” on the package.

The requests by outside agencies require the agencies to raise a 25 percent match within two years, and demonstrate they are able to complete the projects, Schroer said.

The revised package included $19 million for Recreation, Parks and Facilities based on a streamlined set of projects requested by Recreation Director Bob Levine at a Thursday work session.

It also included $2 million for library improvements, $2 million for demolitions, $2.775 million for Greater Augusta Arts Council and $1.5 million for a Downtown Development Authority surface parking lot.

KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
BAdministration $43,000,000.00
CEngineering $50,000,000.00
DFire $7,500,000.00
EFleet $8,450,000.00
FIT $18,550,000.00
HPlanning & Development $6,500,000.00
IRecreation $19,000,000.00
JSheriff $1,439,000.00
KCity of Hephzibah $8,375,000.00
LCity of Blythe $1,975,000.00
MAugusta Authorities $5,750,000.00
NLibrary $2,000,000.00
POutside Agencies $21,775,000.00
  Total$194,314,000.00
  Interest - bonds3 - 4,000,000
    
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
B1Administrator/MayorProject Administration$5,000,000.00
B2Administrator/MayorMunicipal Building Renovations$30,000,000.00
B5Administrator/MayorDebt Repayment (GRU Cancer Center)$8,000,000.00
  Total$43,000,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
 EngineeringList to be determined 
  Total$50,000,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
D1FireEmergency Vehicle Fleet Replacement$5,000,000.00
D3FireFire Stations - 1 locations$2,500,000.00
  Total$7,500,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
E1FleetRoof Replacement$450,000.00
E3FleetPublic Safety Vehicles$8,000,000.00
  Total$8,450,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
F1ITRadio System$13,000,000.00
F2ITTAO/TCO Software Application$4,000,000.00
F3ITMDT Replacement$900,000.00
F4ITCommunication Infrastructure$250,000.00
F5ITOrthophotography$400,000.00
  TOTAL$18,550,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
H1Planning and DevelopmentFlood Reduction Program$2,500,000.00
H2Planning and DevelopmentDemolition Program$4,000,000.00
  Total$6,500,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
I7RecreationDyess Park$500,000.00
I9RecreationLake Olmstead$250,000.00
I11RecreationMay Park$250,000.00
I14RecreationRiverwalk$400,000.00
I23RecreationAugusta Aquatic Ctr$1,500,000.00
I30RecreationFleming Tennis Center$500,000.00
I33RecreationMinnick Park$200,000.00
I34RecreationPendleton King Park$250,000.00
I35RecreationValley Park$250,000.00
I40RecreationNewman Tennis Center$2,000,000.00
I42RecreationDiamond Lakes Regional$2,750,000.00
I44RecreationMcDuffie Woods Park$300,000.00
I46RecreationBrigham Com. Center$300,000.00
I51RecreationButler Creek$250,000.00
I55RecreationEisenhower Park$250,000.00
I58RecreationBlythe Community Pk$250,000.00
I60RecreationMcBean Community Pk$250,000.00
I61RecreationProgram Administration$1,000,000.00
I64RecreationBoathouse Rowing Center$400,000.00
 RecreationSplash Pad Water Playground Initiative$1,850,000.00
 RecreationPlaygound Unit Replacement Initiative$2,000,000.00
 RecreationHVAC Upgrades$500,000.00
 RecreationCity-Wide Cemetery Improvements$500,000.00
 RecreationCity-Wide Park Facility Improvements$500,000.00
 RecreationCity-Wide Park Signage Improvements$300,000.00
 RecreationCity-Wide Site Improvements$500,000.00
 RecreationMulti-Purpose Court Upgrades$500,000.00
 RecreationCity-Wide Swimming Pool Renovations$500,000.00
  TOTAL$19,000,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
J1SheriffDigital In-car Video System$407,000.00
J2SheriffHD Body Cameras$332,000.00
J4SheriffDowntown Video Security Enhancement$700,000.00
  Total$1,439,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
K1HephzibahFacilities for Agricultural Center & Arena$1,800,000.00
K2HephzibahEquipment to Automate Water Meter Reading$220,000.00
K3HephzibahBike Lanes$200,000.00
K4HephzibahWindsor Spring and Roadway Beautification$100,000.00
K5HephzibahWater Dept. Vehicles & Equipment$145,000.00
K6HephzibahVehicles & Equip. for Public Safety$125,000.00
K8HephzibahVehicles & Equipment for Fire & EMS$385,000.00
K9HephzibahFire Dept. New Facilities$950,000.00
K10HephzibahRecreational Multi-use Facility$4,450,000.00
  TOTAL$8,375,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
L1City of BlytheWater system upgrades$350,000.00
L2City of BlytheRoad Improvements$300,000.00
L3City of BlythePolice Vehicles & Equipment/Computers$125,000.00
L4City of BlytheCommunity Building/Library/Park$900,000.00
L5City of BlytheWIFI access$50,000.00
L6City of BlytheIT upgrades$50,000.00
L7City of BlythePaving roads$100,000.00
L8City of BlytheNon Public Safety Vehicles and equipment$100,000.00
  Total$1,975,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
M1Canal AuthorityCanal Improvement$2,500,000.00
M2Development AuthorityAugusta Corporate Park Access Road$1,250,000.00
M3Development AuthorityEconomic Development Industrial Infrastructure$500,000.00
 Downtown Development AuthoritySurface Parking Lot$1,500,000.00
  Total$5,750,000.00
    
    
KeyDepartmentProjectAppproved
N2LibraryFriedman Branch Library-
N3LibraryWallace Branch Library-
N4LibraryAppleby Branch Library-
  Total$2,000,000.00
    
    
KeyAgencyProjectAppproved
P1Augusta Regional Collaborative CorpThe Mills District$5,250,000.00
P2Greater Augusta Arts CouncilART Space$750,000.00
P3Greater Augusta Arts CouncilPublic Arts Master Plan$25,000.00
P4Greater Augusta Arts CouncilAugusta Public Art Implementation$2,000,000.00
P5Imperial TheatreTheatre Renovation$2,500,000.00
P6Augusta SymphonyMiller Theater$4,250,000.00
P7Paine CollegeThe James Brown Community & Fine Arts Cultural Center$6,000,000.00
P9Augusta Museum of HistoryBuilding Expansion$500,000.00
P11Southeastern Natural Sciences AcademyPhinizy Swamp Nature Park$500,000.00
  Total$21,775,000.00

Mayor pushes for SPLOST OK today
Mills proposal seeking $12 million, still no GRU interest in campus
SPLOST work session scheduled Monday
Museum, others seek SPLOST funding
SPLOST lets residents vote on taxing selves
Augusta arts groups request SPLOST funds for venues, cultural projects
Hephzibah, Blythe want more sales-tax funds
Augusta Commission seeks to narrow SPLOST projects to about $200 million
Augusta Commission sets work session to discuss SPLOST
Local match needed by state before Georgia Regents University Cancer Center funds released
Complete Approved SPLOST VII Project List (.pdf)

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