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Richmond County officials, candidates oppose special purpose local option sales tax package

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:14 PM
Last updated 9:42 PM
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Opposition to the next special purpose local option sales tax package is building, starting at the top.

Augusta Commission members and candidates and mayoral hopefuls are speaking out against the $194 million sales tax package that will appear on the May 20 ballot.

Three commission members voted Monday against approving the package: Bill Lockett; Marion Williams; and Alvin Mason, who is running for mayor.

Compared with the months or years spent developing prior sales tax packages, Lockett said, the few weeks’ turnaround for this one was too fast and lacked public input.

“During this extremely short deliberative process, millions of dollars of the public’s money was being allocated at mach speed,” he said Monday, calling for commissioners to “just say no” and hold the referendum in November instead.

Mason said what was missing from the package Monday were funds for infrastructure and “accountability” to ensure funds are expended properly and as planned.

In all, $50 million from the package is designated for public works projects such as roads, sidewalks and drainage. Another $19 million is reserved for recreation and parks improvements, and $7.5 million goes to the fire department.

Also included are $21.8 million for outside agencies, including $6 million for Paine College to help build an $18 million cultural center. The funding secured the support of commission member Bill Fennoy, a Paine alumnus.

Mason said better planning might have helped the city avoid implementing a stormwater fee now under development by the city Engineering Department, while east Augusta residents have suffered with insufficient drainage for decades.

“I don’t see the monies going to the areas that need it the most,” Mason said. “For those reasons and many more, I couldn’t support this package.”

Other candidates on the May 20 ballot say they oppose the sales tax package.

It “should be pushed back until the new mayor is in place,” said former nightclub owner and mayoral candidate Charles Cummings.

“The lack of infrastructure is a problem for me,” said mayoral candidate Helen Blocker-Adams.

Sen. Hardie Davis, who is running for mayor, said he had been in Atlanta serving in the General Assembly and needed to review the package more before voicing an opinion, but emphasized the process needed to be transparent.

“When we talk about taxpayer dollars, people need to know what we are using those dollars for,” Davis said.

Supporters say the funds can be used to leverage millions more for the community.

The $8 million for Georgia Regents University, for instance, will facilitate some $300 million in outside investment, while $4.5 million for Symphony Orchestra Augusta will help the organization obtain an $8 million grant, said Commissioner Donnie Smith, who supports the package.

“Once it is explained to the public and they understand how much money is actually dedicated to infrastructure and how much money is leveraged in those other projects, the arts and Paine, they’ll understand how much we need this,” Smith said.

Commissioners Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle said the package’s extra funds for Hephzibah and Blythe in south Richmond County will help the county prepare for the arrival of the U.S. Army Cyber Command, which is expected to bring thousands of military and civilian jobs to Fort Gordon over the next few years.

“We’ve got an influx of 15,000 people coming in this area,” Smith said. “We better get ourselves prepared and not get caught with our pants down.”

Guilfoyle’s district includes Hephzibah and Blythe.

“District 8 is the only place that people can move to,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get ready for this influx of people.”

Non-residents pay the sales tax, just as residents do. Augusta libertarian activist Taylor Bryant said the tax is “very regressive” and hurts the poor more than the middle class. He said oversight of the funds is limited and not everyone benefits.

“There are people that live here 365 days a year that could use another 1 percent of their income,” Bryant said.

The local party likely will help organize an anti-sales tax package campaign, as it did in 2009, but Bryant said he expects opposition to be much greater this time, in part because of social media.

“People are more politically connected now than they were four years ago,” Bryant said.

Joining the resistance Tuesday was Brandon Dial, an attorney and candidate for commission Super District 10.

Dial posted an 11-paragraph statement of his opposition to the tax package on Facebook, but invited voters to review the package and make up their own minds. He said he would support the package if it included funds reserved for infrastructure and not outside agencies.

“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,” he wrote.

Dial said the process and its resulting package are “part of the greater problem with the commission and how they do things.”

Comments (7) Add comment
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Riverman1
94246
Points
Riverman1 03/12/14 - 06:10 am
11
2
Join The Resistance

"“District 8 is the only place that people can move to,” he said.

Not exactly. There's the other county.

"Joining the resistance..."

Sounds like we are at war with an occupying power. Maybe that's truer than we think.

Then there's this: “Supporters say the funds can be used to leverage millions more for the community.”

Where does this concept stop? Anyone coming to Augusta gets a large share of their project paid for by the city? There's some kind of mathematical pyramid, socialist principle that's going to be reached eventually.

dotherightthing
75
Points
dotherightthing 03/12/14 - 07:08 am
8
2
"We better not get caught

"We better not get caught with our pants down"....ugh, really Grady? As usual we have one of our local good 'ole boys spewing their Boss Hog mentality. We are talking about our city pushing a $194 million tax package and that's his response? I have to say I appreciate the open-mindedness of Brandon Dial, who, despite opposing this, invites the voters to become informed and make up their own minds.
"Compared with the months or years spent developing prior sales tax packages, Lockett said, the few weeks’ turnaround for this one was too fast and lacked public input"...AGREED!! Too much money for too little time. How can this be decided on with so little input from the voters? Something stinks. VOTE NO!

soapy_725
44144
Points
soapy_725 03/12/14 - 07:30 am
0
0
If 100% vote NO, it will still pass. Who's counting the votes?
Unpublished

If 100% vote NO, it will still pass. Who's counting the votes?

soapy_725
44144
Points
soapy_725 03/12/14 - 07:31 am
0
0
Blacks saying NO now. When they have total power it will be YES
Unpublished

Blacks saying NO now. When they have total power it will be YES

soapy_725
44144
Points
soapy_725 03/12/14 - 07:32 am
0
0
All about who has the power to do things, spend money, etc.
Unpublished

All about who has the power to do things, spend money, etc.

soapy_725
44144
Points
soapy_725 03/12/14 - 07:33 am
0
0
Not about the Obamoney, but who gets to say how it is spent.
Unpublished

Not about the Obamoney, but who gets to say how it is spent.

soapy_725
44144
Points
soapy_725 03/12/14 - 07:40 am
0
0
ARC legal team. Willie Cheatem, Hedid Cheatem and Ben Dover.
Unpublished

ARC legal team. Willie Cheatem, Hedid Cheatem and Ben Dover.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 03/12/14 - 09:16 am
5
0
District 10

I'm voting for Brandon Dial for Commissioner in May.

I'm voting NO! on SPLOST in May.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 03/12/14 - 10:55 am
3
1
And Wayne has no opposition
Unpublished

and that's pretty pathetic. You get what you ask for Southside.

countyman
21684
Points
countyman 03/12/14 - 11:00 am
3
6
Splost

Vote yes and move this city forward!!!

The commissioner was obviously bringing up the high amount of vacant land in District 8 compared to multiple other places including Columbia County.

What's the problem if the city wants to invest $8 million into GRU and gets over $40 million in return?

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 03/12/14 - 11:26 am
2
1
Many a slip twince a cup and

Many a slip twince a cup and a lip. It does sound fine to trade 8 mil for 40. Did the writers include a prospectus? Can we see it or do we just take your word that they can flip 8 that effortlessly and without risk. Come on, we're smarter than that and it's insulting if you really get down to it. My perception is the writers are hoping just enough voters ARE that dumb. Try to give us some meat County and lay off the rhetoric. Your above that even.

Warnin
19
Points
Warnin 03/12/14 - 11:29 am
0
0
Increase revenue
Unpublished

Simply tax each masters ticked $50. We know that won't effect many locals as all the tickets go to celebrities and big shots from out of state.
Also put a special 2 week tax on cars with out of state tags. Quadruple landing fees at the airport for two weeks. There are lots of ways to gouge the rich to get what the county needs - really needs! If the symphony needs money they can raise it by playing concerts, if the university needs money they can increase tuition and fees. WHY DO THE ORDINARY TAXPAYERS HAVE TO PAY FOR EVERYTHING?

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 03/12/14 - 11:50 am
3
1
Moving the city forward
Unpublished

If I hear that one more time I will scream! yeah just don't ask any questions. Just give them your money

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 03/12/14 - 11:59 am
2
0
Hardie Har Har
Unpublished

Nice non answer by Hardie Davis. Just shows how detached he is with local issues. Obviously he has spent too much time in Atlanta. So is Helen against SPLOST? Could not really figure out her answer. If so, that is the first issue she has taken a position on.

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 03/12/14 - 06:40 pm
1
0
Here is How You Move Augusta...

...Forward.

Vote NO on the SPLOST which by the way its very approval is another underhanded attempt to avoid transparency in government while soaking the taxpayers.

By the way, someone show me the figures on where the 8 million investment in GRU is going to return a king's ransom? I see shades of the Laney Walker Overlay promises here.

corgimom
38736
Points
corgimom 03/13/14 - 12:23 pm
0
1
"What's the problem if the

"What's the problem if the city wants to invest $8 million into GRU and gets over $40 million in return?"

Oh, I don't know, like maybe the taxpayers of RC are being asked to fund a state-owned building and nobody else, anywhere in the state, is expected to do the same?

And maybe people don't much want to fund a building that isn't owned by their municipality, you think?

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