SPLOST questioned at Augusta public hearing

Monday, March 10, 2014 10:36 PM
Last updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:31 PM
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The business of selling a skeptical Augusta on the city’s new special purpose local option sales tax got underway Monday.

Susan McCord
Government Reporter
Twitter: @reportr1
E-mail | 706-823-3215

Augusta Commission members finalized approval of a $194 million tax package at a morning meeting. The package will be described in a referendum and bond issue going before voters May 20.

On Monday evening, Commissioner Donnie Smith had the floor at a meeting of the West Augusta Alliance, a conservative crowd vocal about the inclusion of money for private entities such as the Imperial Theatre.

“Has any SPLOST ever come out perfect? No,” Smith said, claiming that while special projects were included, $173 million from the package was intended for infrastructure.

In the cases of outside agencies, Smith said contributions for Georgia Regents University’s new cancer center, for instance, were used to leverage greater returns. The $8 million reserved for GRU, he said, would result in $300 million in non-city investment, he said.

In Smith’s District 7, the tax package will pay for sidewalks, lighting and other improvements to increase safety; and badly-needed drainage improvements in National Hills. The package will also fund a new fire station west of Jimmie Dyess Parkway, where Smith said fire insurance is $2,800 annually for homeowners.

Those in attendance had challenging questions.

“Why is the city supporting a private religious institution?” one man asked, referring to Paine’s $6 million allocation in the tax package.

“The political environment,” Smith said, had mandated inclusion of the funds.

Richmond County school board member Helen Minchew asked about Augusta Regional Collaborative’s Mills Campus proposal, which Smith hadn’t mentioned in his discussion of the tax projects.

While the mayor’s project, aimed at converting two historic textile mills to educational space for GRU, was cut to $5 million in sales-tax dollars, “Georgia Regents has not showed their hand” about whether it is interested in occupying the mills, Smith said.

Attendee Sameera Thurmond said she had “learned a lot” from the session but needed more information.

Opposition to the sales tax package is building, said activist Al Gray. He carried a bucket with holes in it to the meeting, to pour water through to show his opinion of how the sales tax is managed, he said. “I think it’s in trouble.”

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...point to ponder
...point to ponder 03/11/14 - 12:05 am
...not the best plan…and not a good plan.

I agree with Commissioner Mason from an earlier article. This is not the best plan. Not enough input from the Commissioners or the general public.

I'm not going to support a half full glass of water…like in prior SPLOST proposals/votes.

I believe it is time to send a message to the Mayor and the Commission to get the job done right.

Believe me the additional time spent getting it done right will be worth the wait.

*Maybe after a new Mayor is elected it will make more sense work on the SPLOST…then the new Mayor will have some skin the in the game.

SB3 03/11/14 - 02:15 am
Vote No.

Then have them re-do it. Then vote no again. There is nothing special about these taxes.

GnipGnop 03/11/14 - 03:14 am
Someone should have asked

About the interest they will have to pay on the 8 million dollar loan if SPLOST is voted down....any commissioner that supported this should feel it at the polls...do not keep sending these same hacks back into office. The Paine college comment should make your skin crawl!!!

Graymare 03/11/14 - 06:48 am
What a bunch of baloney!!!!

Get the egotistical clowns out of office! "Why is the city supporting a private religious institution?” one man asked, referring to Paine’s $6 million allocation in the tax package.

“The political environment,” Smith said, had mandated inclusion of the funds. Really? What kind of ridiculous bs answer is this!?

Bulldog 03/11/14 - 08:36 am
Its the Process not the Product

In this case, the issue is not with the final product; even though I'm sure that any of us could find fault with any number of the items listed in the upcoming SPLOST vote. The primary issue is with the process. The public was not involved in any significant way in the design of this and even a number of the commissioners feel that the process was "rammed through". To top that, the reasons given for the "hurry up" process do not withstand scrutiny. Nearly half the commission is opposed to the SPLOST, but won't say why. The only way to resolve this is to vote NO and let a new Commission and Mayor rework this for a vote in 2015. The current SPLOST does not expire until 2016. We have plenty of time to rework this and find the real needs and common ground that we deserve. The complete lack of transparency in the development of this SPLOST shows why people need to insist on more integrity in their representatives.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/11/14 - 09:08 am

If there was ever a good reason to give the boot to a politician, this is it:

“The political environment,” Donnie Smith said, had mandated inclusion of the funds.

He was speaking about giving tax money to a private college. It shows Smith values political expediency over moral principles. It's time for him to go.

story1 03/11/14 - 09:19 am
Good points, Bulldog

All good points. That's the reason "No" is the correct vote. This has question marks all over it. Why was the Mayor so insistent on driving this one through without commissioners in attendance to discuss? Vote No, let the new Commissioners and Mayor work on a more reasonable plan for 2015.

Sweet son
Sweet son 03/11/14 - 10:53 am
Graymare is right in challenging Donnie Smith's comment about

the donation to Paine College being 'political.' What is 'political' about giving money to a private college that is supported by the United Methodist Church that has a terrible record on handling it's finances?


As others are saying: 'Just Say No' to SPLOST.

countyman 03/11/14 - 11:29 am

Have people honestly looked around different parts of the county? Do you really think waiting until 2015 or 2016 is acceptable? How do you expect for the city to attract companies, business, etc in the mean time?

Augusta is competing against multiple cities for jobs and we don't have ability to wait forever..

How many public meetings did Columbia or Aiken counties hold before the commissioners approved their final splost packages? The public community will create their own wish list, and the process won't be any much different. The people in South Augusta don't have the same opinions compared to residents living in Summerville. The commissioners would still have to create a final product and many people would disagree with several items..

The majority of the commission voted for the splost.. How can half of them be against it?

The majority of people will vote yes, because the alternative is even much worse.. The alternative consist of arguing for another 2 years about what projects should make the list.. Several new commissioners might be vote in this year and then you'll have to start the process over again. It the end nothing still might not get done..

The art of politics is the willingness to compromise and not hold the city hostage because you disagree..

dichotomy 03/11/14 - 12:18 pm
"The Paine college comment

"The Paine college comment should make your skin crawl!!"

It does make my skin crawl. That kind of blackmail, to fund a PRIVATE entity with taxpayer money, is exactly the "political environment" that has Augusta in the condition it is today.

However, so does funding bridge taggers and symphonies make my skin crawl. Just another example of politicians playing "trade YOUR money" for the benefit of their special interests and their "special" friends.

Kill this thing and keep killing it until it comes back with ZERO private organizations and entities in it.

UGAFan22 03/11/14 - 12:39 pm
Why I am voting against SPLOST VII

Why I am voting against SPLOST VII
Brandon Dial, Super District 10 Candidate

On May 20th, the voters of Augusta-Richmond County will be asked to vote up or down on a $194,314,000.00 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) package. I am voting against SPLOST VII. Here's why:

First, I believe the tax package is too unwieldy; unnecessarily transfers public dollars to private entities; and lacks sufficient funding for infrastructu...re. The original purpose of the SPLOST law, as enacted by the Georgia General Assembly in 1985, was to provide a sales tax mechanism for counties to finance capital expenditures. With each new SPLOST package, we (the voters) are asked to redefine capital expenditures to include fewer and fewer dollars for infrastructure and larger and larger sums for private groups.

I am not opposed to the theory behind the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or many of the allocations contained in SPLOST VII, but I cannot in good conscience vote for a tax plan that includes $21,775,000.00 for outside agencies.

For example, it defies logic, for taxpayers to be asked to invest more money in the Mills District proposal. This time, the Augusta Regional Collaborative Project is asking for another $5,250,000.00 for a project that Augusta State and the Medical College of Georgia (now GRU) have shown zero interest in so far.

Why not reallocate that $5,250,000.00 back to investments in roads and bridges in South Richmond County and drainage improvements in West Augusta?

I am not opposed to the arts and our great theaters and museums, but I am opposed to transferring public dollars to these private entities, especially when the private entities have expressed little to no interest in the money.

Had the Commission removed the nearly $22 million requested by outside agencies, I am sure there would be little to no opposition to the package. As your Super District 10 Commissioner, I will support future SPLOST packages that are clean. That is, packages that include revenue for infrastructure without allocations to outside agencies.

Next, the SPLOST package was pieced together in a little over a month to meet the swift deadlines required to place the matter on the May 20th ballot. That month included a snowstorm, an ice storm, and even two earthquakes! The quick cobbling together of the package followed Commission work sessions that were sparsely attended not only by the public, but also by members of the Commission. As a result, the voters are left with a $194,314,000.00 package in which they had minimal direct and indirect input. Unfortunately, voters were not given an adequate opportunity to attend meetings, discuss potential allocations, and lobby their Commissioners on the size and scope of the package.

Lastly, there was an unnecessary rush to put SPLOST VII on the May 20th ballot. The current SPLOST, version VI, will not expire until early 2016. As a result, the new Commission and the new Mayor will have an ample opportunity to craft a new proposal after entering into a meaningful dialogue with county voters on the size and individual items to be included in the package.

While I personally will be voting against SPLOST VII, I urge all residents of Augusta-Richmond County to review the package, follow the news, communicate with your elected officials, and make an informed decision on your own.

Sweet son
Sweet son 03/11/14 - 01:28 pm

What a great summation of the whole SPLOST thing and especially your recommendation for people to watch, listen and learn and then make their decision at the ballot box!

Lori Davis
Lori Davis 03/11/14 - 01:57 pm
What have we accomplished in a year?

One year ago at the March 2013 membership meeting of the West Augusta Alliance, Commissioner Donnie Smith stood in front of the WAA membership, and vowed that within 6 weeks, it would be announced what was going to happen with the Historic Harrisburg Mills. I was WAA President at the time. He was so excited, but could not tell us why. He was beside himself, about to burst. He said that everyone would love the plan. It was sure to turn around the Harrisburg Mill Village. Fast forward….. Nothing new in this last year except 5.5 million to a guy named Matt Kwatinetz who came into Augusta under what we are now hearing might be questionable circumstances. Did he or did he not work for Starbucks as was told to the Commissioners? Did he or did he not help to bring Starbucks to Augusta? Did Augusta,"hire him away from Starbucks," to help our city. Funny thing is, I haven't seen anything in his resume or Linkedin account that gives mention to Starbucks. Maybe I have overlooked it. I said all of this to say. Why in the world are we giving money to a collaboration project that blew in with a guy from Seatlle WA? Can anybody else help me here? In Mr. Kwatinetz's defense, he did come into Harrisburg where he held a series of meetings encouraging folks to come up with a Community Benefits Agreement in case something really happened with those mills,so that those involved in the redevelopment would know what the folks in Harrisburg wanted. I personally was not privy to those meetings until well down the road. Seems certain folks in the beginning were systematically left out. Has anyone yet cared what we in Harrisburg have wanted, I mean, FOR REAL? Harrisburg proper has not received one dime of SPLOST money from the time Betty Beard was a Commissioner, straight on to Matt Aitken and now Bill Fennoy. Harrisburg has huge infrastructure problems, yet only the Mills are being discussed. It will take more money than anyone is willing to talk about to bring these Mills into environmental compliance, and that is just for starters…I am still waiting to hear from Commissioner Donnie Smith just what he was so excited about a year ago. I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now. I would be very pleased to be proven wrong. Now that seriously would make my day.

Augz79 03/11/14 - 02:47 pm
Paine College for the Mills -- Buying Black Votes 101

Anyone questioning the $ for Paine should question why such a blatant buy-out of a black vote -- done openly, check the Commission minutes -- was necessary in the first place.

The main reason that Deke and company want to push through a May SPLOST is so that they have a 2nd chance to put a SPLOST up in November if this one fails. Even though a new mayor (and commission) will be elected in the May and July (run-off) votes, the new office-holders will be sitting around twiddling their thumbs until next January. Meanwhile, the current lame-ducks will be able to write another shopping list for a November SPLOST if this one fails. Loud-mouth Williams (love him or hate him) sees through this, and this is one reason he is actually a good force to have on the commission.

If the "white" pet projects (The Mills, The Miller, The Imperial) were removed, maybe they wouldn't have to openly "buy" a black vote? It's TEE Center/Laney-Walker all over again. Deke has openly stated the Mills as a priority for his last year in office. The Mills are not coming off the SPLOST list as long as Deke is in office.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/11/14 - 04:19 pm
@ UGAFan22

Thank you, Mr. Dial, for your comment up above. I live in West Augusta. I vote. I plan to vote for Brandon Dial in the May election, and I also plan to vote NO to the SPLOST referendum in the May election.

raul 03/11/14 - 04:21 pm
“Georgia Regents has not

“Georgia Regents has not showed their hand” about whether it is interested in occupying the mills, Smith said. Really, Donnie? Anyone who has half followed this issue knows GRU isn't interested.

Conservative Man
Conservative Man 03/11/14 - 05:27 pm

5.5 mil for the mills is a drop in the bucker for what it will take to get that place up to compliance…at least for residential purposes…Are Augusta taxpayers willing to be on the hook for any monies after that?…it's well known that GRU wants NOTHING to do with these mills…The mills may have a purpose but THIS isn't it…

Also, it seems that a loud and vocal chorus of Augustans are questioning the whole purpose of continuing this current SPLOST…I say GREAT!!

…The article mentioned Al Gray…It seems I've heard him say.."If we don't build it , they can't steal from it"….I submit that that is the real reason certain "politicos" are pushing this tax…

I'm NOT against building and trying to improve the city but again THIS is not the way nor the time to use this particular vehicle to do it….

nocnoc 03/11/14 - 09:00 pm
I have said my fill on this Pork Barrel

I'm Voting NO

It must either be pulled and resubmitted without "Political Necessities" or Outright defeated.

Last time I checked
There was no need for taxpayers to shank hands with BOSS HOG, or his downtown cronies to get proper services.

Deconsolidation is coming

This SPLOST is just another wake up call.

Deconsolidation can be done on a District by District level and
I and willing to bet Dist 8 will be 1st having the other 2 Richmond County Cities.

Gage Creed
Gage Creed 03/11/14 - 09:16 pm
"The majority of people will

"The majority of people will vote yes, because the alternative is even much worse.. The alternative consist of arguing for another 2 years about what projects should make the list.. Several new commissioners might be vote in this year and then you'll have to start the process over again. It the end nothing still might not get done.."

If you read this and still want the SPLOST... you deserve everything you get.

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