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

Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 4:03 PM
Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 2:24 AM
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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.

Key Department Project Appproved
B Administration   $43,000,000.00
C Engineering   $50,000,000.00
D Fire   $7,500,000.00
E Fleet   $8,450,000.00
F IT   $18,550,000.00
H Planning & Development   $6,500,000.00
I Recreation   $19,000,000.00
J Sheriff   $1,439,000.00
K City of Hephzibah   $8,375,000.00
L City of Blythe   $1,975,000.00
M Augusta Authorities   $5,750,000.00
N Library   $2,000,000.00
P Outside Agencies   $21,775,000.00
    Total $194,314,000.00
    Interest - bonds 3 - 4,000,000
       
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
B1 Administrator/Mayor Project Administration $5,000,000.00
B2 Administrator/Mayor Municipal Building Renovations $30,000,000.00
B5 Administrator/Mayor Debt Repayment (GRU Cancer Center) $8,000,000.00
    Total $43,000,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
  Engineering List to be determined  
    Total $50,000,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
D1 Fire Emergency Vehicle Fleet Replacement $5,000,000.00
D3 Fire Fire Stations - 1 locations $2,500,000.00
    Total $7,500,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
E1 Fleet Roof Replacement $450,000.00
E3 Fleet Public Safety Vehicles $8,000,000.00
    Total $8,450,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
F1 IT Radio System $13,000,000.00
F2 IT TAO/TCO Software Application $4,000,000.00
F3 IT MDT Replacement $900,000.00
F4 IT Communication Infrastructure $250,000.00
F5 IT Orthophotography $400,000.00
    TOTAL $18,550,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
H1 Planning and Development Flood Reduction Program $2,500,000.00
H2 Planning and Development Demolition Program $4,000,000.00
    Total $6,500,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
I7 Recreation Dyess Park $500,000.00
I9 Recreation Lake Olmstead $250,000.00
I11 Recreation May Park $250,000.00
I14 Recreation Riverwalk $400,000.00
I23 Recreation Augusta Aquatic Ctr $1,500,000.00
I30 Recreation Fleming Tennis Center $500,000.00
I33 Recreation Minnick Park $200,000.00
I34 Recreation Pendleton King Park $250,000.00
I35 Recreation Valley Park $250,000.00
I40 Recreation Newman Tennis Center $2,000,000.00
I42 Recreation Diamond Lakes Regional $2,750,000.00
I44 Recreation McDuffie Woods Park $300,000.00
I46 Recreation Brigham Com. Center $300,000.00
I51 Recreation Butler Creek $250,000.00
I55 Recreation Eisenhower Park $250,000.00
I58 Recreation Blythe Community Pk $250,000.00
I60 Recreation McBean Community Pk $250,000.00
I61 Recreation Program Administration $1,000,000.00
I64 Recreation Boathouse Rowing Center $400,000.00
  Recreation Splash Pad Water Playground Initiative $1,850,000.00
  Recreation Playgound Unit Replacement Initiative $2,000,000.00
  Recreation HVAC Upgrades $500,000.00
  Recreation City-Wide Cemetery Improvements $500,000.00
  Recreation City-Wide Park Facility Improvements $500,000.00
  Recreation City-Wide Park Signage Improvements $300,000.00
  Recreation City-Wide Site Improvements $500,000.00
  Recreation Multi-Purpose Court Upgrades $500,000.00
  Recreation City-Wide Swimming Pool Renovations $500,000.00
    TOTAL $19,000,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
J1 Sheriff Digital In-car Video System $407,000.00
J2 Sheriff HD Body Cameras $332,000.00
J4 Sheriff Downtown Video Security Enhancement $700,000.00
    Total $1,439,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
K1 Hephzibah Facilities for Agricultural Center & Arena $1,800,000.00
K2 Hephzibah Equipment to Automate Water Meter Reading $220,000.00
K3 Hephzibah Bike Lanes $200,000.00
K4 Hephzibah Windsor Spring and Roadway Beautification $100,000.00
K5 Hephzibah Water Dept. Vehicles & Equipment $145,000.00
K6 Hephzibah Vehicles & Equip. for Public Safety $125,000.00
K8 Hephzibah Vehicles & Equipment for Fire & EMS $385,000.00
K9 Hephzibah Fire Dept. New Facilities $950,000.00
K10 Hephzibah Recreational Multi-use Facility $4,450,000.00
    TOTAL $8,375,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
L1 City of Blythe Water system upgrades $350,000.00
L2 City of Blythe Road Improvements $300,000.00
L3 City of Blythe Police Vehicles & Equipment/Computers $125,000.00
L4 City of Blythe Community Building/Library/Park $900,000.00
L5 City of Blythe WIFI access $50,000.00
L6 City of Blythe IT upgrades $50,000.00
L7 City of Blythe Paving roads $100,000.00
L8 City of Blythe Non Public Safety Vehicles and equipment $100,000.00
    Total $1,975,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
M1 Canal Authority Canal Improvement $2,500,000.00
M2 Development Authority Augusta Corporate Park Access Road $1,250,000.00
M3 Development Authority Economic Development Industrial Infrastructure $500,000.00
  Downtown Development Authority Surface Parking Lot $1,500,000.00
    Total $5,750,000.00
       
       
Key Department Project Appproved
N2 Library Friedman Branch Library -
N3 Library Wallace Branch Library -
N4 Library Appleby Branch Library -
    Total $2,000,000.00
       
       
Key Agency Project Appproved
P1 Augusta Regional Collaborative Corp The Mills District $5,250,000.00
P2 Greater Augusta Arts Council ART Space $750,000.00
P3 Greater Augusta Arts Council Public Arts Master Plan $25,000.00
P4 Greater Augusta Arts Council Augusta Public Art Implementation $2,000,000.00
P5 Imperial Theatre Theatre Renovation $2,500,000.00
P6 Augusta Symphony Miller Theater $4,250,000.00
P7 Paine College The James Brown Community & Fine Arts Cultural Center $6,000,000.00
P9 Augusta Museum of History Building Expansion $500,000.00
P11 Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy Phinizy Swamp Nature Park $500,000.00
    Total $21,775,000.00
Comments (46) Add comment
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Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 04:12 pm
9
3
Dichotomy
Unpublished

Hey Dichotomy, how do you feel about your south Augusta Commissioner, Wayne Guilfoyle voting for this? If he doesn't have an opponent for reelection, he sure needs one.

story1
807
Points
story1 02/28/14 - 04:27 pm
13
3
That's Our Cue

We now need to get out and talk to voters and convince them to pull the lever for a "No" vote in May. The Commissioners and Mayor are taking a great risk of losing All Splost. Pass the word.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 04:34 pm
14
3
Vote No
Unpublished

Only way you are going to fix Splost is to vote No. Btw, the current Splost does not run out till 2016, so there is no hurry to pass anything now.

countyman
21299
Points
countyman 02/28/14 - 04:54 pm
4
21
Splost

How can you tell people to vote no without seeing the entire list?

Why should Columbia/Aiken pass splost and not Richmond??

Why should we continue to fight progress in Richmond? Splost is one of best ways to fund new projects, because you don't have to rely solely on the local taxpayers.

The Augusta Chronicle is only going to include the projects they perceived as being controversial..

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 04:59 pm
15
3
We see the list
Unpublished

They just voted on the list.. We can see what is in it and it is filled with pork. I am not against splost per se, but I am against this one for sure. There was no reason to rush to May.

countyman
21299
Points
countyman 02/28/14 - 05:06 pm
3
13
List

Where's the entire list of projects in the article??

SHEILA C NELSON
32
Points
SHEILA C NELSON 02/28/14 - 05:23 pm
12
3
Splost package

I am not against this splost package, however it is missing so many much needed projects in Richmond County. I'M VOTING NO ON THIS PACKAGE AND WILL TELL OTHERS TO VOTE NO ALSO. And I will say that the entire current Commission needs to be voted out at the end of their terms.

pja5529
2666
Points
pja5529 02/28/14 - 05:17 pm
2
6
The list

The entire list isn't even out yet. I'll wait until I see it before deciding.

dichotomy
36254
Points
dichotomy 02/28/14 - 05:20 pm
15
2
Butterman......well of course

Butterman......well of course if Wayne Guilfoyle voted for this pork laden artsy fartsy PRIVATE ORGANIZATION SPLOST list then I am not happy about it. If he thinks ART SPACE is where our tax dollars need to go instead of getting Mosquito Control, supporting the Marshals, and improving the radio system then he is mistaken and I strongly disagree with him.

If this is the cleanest list our commissioners had the courage to come up with, if they did not have the courage to put together their own list and instead let the Boy King dictate the priorities for THEIR constituents, then they have assured my no vote and I hope the NO vote of the majority of RC voters.

VOTE NO ON THIS SPLOST and remember to call your commissioner when the mosquitos start biting. Ask them if they can send one of those artsy fartsy mural painters out with their brush to swat mosquitos. They damned sure aren't good for anything else.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 05:30 pm
9
3
Wayne talks out of both sides
Unpublished

of his mouth. He says one thing and votes the opposite. This is not the first time he has done this. Must be his buddy Joe Bowles rubbing off on him.

Wayne guilfoyle
162
Points
Wayne guilfoyle 02/28/14 - 05:40 pm
5
10
Splost

I have spent many hours working on this SPLOST project, attending the meetings, and listening to the request of Department heads and outside agencies. I developed a different list than what was purposed, mainly focusing on the needs of the county infrastructure. We also have the requests of both Blythe and Hephzibah for their infrastructure. When all was said and done at todays meeting everyone had their wants and needs for their district. I'm glad that I had the support of the fellow commissioners because we were able to increase the Engineers Dept. from 40 to 50 mill also administration, IT, fleet, Sheriff Dept., Fire Dept., Planning & Development, Aug. Authorities, Library and Rec Dept. were on the list as well which totaled 112.1 mill. which benefits us all. We also were able to get the request of both Hephzibah and Blythe request at the tune of 10.3 mill. Thru this process I feel I did the best I could and the voters can either be in favor or not, they will have the opportunity to cast their vote.

Wayne guilfoyle
162
Points
Wayne guilfoyle 02/28/14 - 05:47 pm
5
2
Mosiquito Control

The mosquito Control will be moved to the landfill and they were not forgotten.

pja5529
2666
Points
pja5529 02/28/14 - 05:52 pm
1
8
Water Park

I wonder if the Water Park was included? That would be a moneymaker for the city just like the one in Statesboro is for them.

Riverman1
90449
Points
Riverman1 02/28/14 - 06:03 pm
7
4
Kudos to Wayne Guilfoyle

Wayne sounds like a straight shooter to me.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 06:11 pm
9
3
So Wayne, if this is not the
Unpublished

So Wayne, if this is not the package you would have liked then why didn't you vote no to putting this on the May 20 ballot to give ya'll plenty of time to put together a package that everyone could live with. This is Mayor Deke's Splost package plain and simple and you guys just rubberstamped it at lightening speed. As the commissioner representing most of the southside you couldn't fight for moquito control and the sheriff's dept needs over all the artsy fartsy fluff that ended up making the cut? And why does this included anything for the mills when GRU has not even said if they are interested in it?

countyman
21299
Points
countyman 02/28/14 - 06:25 pm
4
11
Group

Maybe the commissioner realizes he is one person among multiple commissioners? Why should he vote no because he disagrees with some of the projects?

How can you expect for people who come from different back grounds, sides of town, lifestyles, etc to all support the same thing?

Why not vote yes if many of things you supported made the list?

All of the districts in the county are important to the success of the CSRA..

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 06:43 pm
11
3
Rush
Unpublished

Countyman, that is why you do not rush something like this. The mayor created a false deadline to try to force commissioners to pass HIS SPLOST package. They bended under the pressure yet again. They should have waited, held more meetings and allowed the public to get involved in developing the package and put it to a vote in November. But the mayor knew if they held off he might not get his pet projects included.

pja5529
2666
Points
pja5529 02/28/14 - 06:45 pm
7
7
Butterman

Maybe he realized he needed to compromise. Everyone isn't going to get everything they want.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 06:49 pm
10
3
No one compromised. Deke got
Unpublished

No one compromised. Deke got what he wanted and six commissioners just rubberstamped it. Compromise would have been holding this vote off till November so everyone could have had a chance to go through this package carefully and allow more public input. They rushed these workshops at the last minute and held at times when most commissioners and the public could not even attend.

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 02/28/14 - 07:03 pm
11
3
No public money

For profiting entities. Very disappointed in Wayne. I will be moving back to ARC in the next year and you can be sure I will get involved in Augusta politics. Someone needs to stand up against the downtown waste and the rogering the tax payers get in the name of progress.

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 02/28/14 - 07:03 pm
5
3
No public money

For profiting entities. Very disappointed in Wayne. I will be moving back to ARC in the next year and you can be sure I will get involved in Augusta politics. Someone needs to stand up against the downtown waste and the rogering the tax payers get in the name of progress.

pja5529
2666
Points
pja5529 02/28/14 - 07:44 pm
4
9
Doesn't appear

Doesn't appear to have as many pork projects as people thought...which is why I waited until the whole list was available.

pja5529
2666
Points
pja5529 02/28/14 - 07:47 pm
7
2
Radio System

BTW I see the radio system several of you mentioned was actually included.

GnipGnop
12692
Points
GnipGnop 02/28/14 - 07:53 pm
12
3
It shouldn't have any!

SPLOST should be for improvements to infrastructure. It should not be for people to use to fund their pet projects. You want to make money for arts have fundraisers. It's gotten to the point that everyone thinks they should just be able to hold out their hand for funding. As far as the mills campus? They make billions at MCG. Let them pay for it themselves!

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 08:09 pm
11
3
SOA, the artsy fartsy space,
Unpublished

SOA, the artsy fartsy space, Matthew K"s mystery mills, Paine College... all pork projects.

pja5529
2666
Points
pja5529 02/28/14 - 08:24 pm
3
10
A little over 10%

Not exactly "full" as people were claiming. I don't mind this amount, anything to bring more culture and class to downtown. Lets face it, if more people come downtown, that equals more foot traffic, which equals more businesses which will equate to more public safety in an area that's badly needed. People whine and complain about downtown and how unsafe it is, how the riverwalk doesn't hold up to its peers (Savannah and Columbus) and how theres nothing to do downtown. You can please some of the people but not everyone is going to be happy.

nocnoc
47190
Points
nocnoc 02/28/14 - 08:27 pm
9
2
This is one of those times

I'll have to disagree with what Wayne has done.

I will have to strongly recommend a

NO VOTE

nocnoc
47190
Points
nocnoc 02/28/14 - 08:36 pm
8
2
WHEN WILL THE VOTERS GET

A detail line by line summary of:

Who gets Funds?
What they will use it for?
When then will use it?
Why they were justified in getting $$$$ despite the overwhelming
ARC Infrastructure Problems, which have gone unaddressed for so
long.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 02/28/14 - 09:07 pm
5
3
Wayne Says Sell It
Unpublished

More like Wayne Just Bought It

Graymare
3620
Points
Graymare 03/01/14 - 07:31 am
10
1
Not at this time

The arts should all be held back until the next splost go around. Love the arts but, sorry, not in this economy. And does Paine have their act together to warrant something built there? Why should the commissioners have to pacify each other to come to an agreement? Aren't they supposed to be doing what is best for the county? Just spend money on what the county "needs". The "wants" have to wait until a better time. We don't need everything on that list. Unless, of course, you want to act like a big deal to your buddies for having twisted arms of the commissioners who were told to show up. With something so important you would think they would ALL be there!

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