Members of the city’s Urban Redevelopment Agency called for the joint meeting to be sure commissioners are aware that property taxpayers will be on the hook for debt service on the bonds if voters don’t pass a sales tax referendum May 20.
Commissioner Joe Jackson said seven commissioners had been “hoodwinked” when they voted March 11, 2013, to begin a $40 million renovation of the Augusta Municipal Building campus at 530 Greene St. without a full funding source in place.
“Did it need updating? Yes, but that’s why you put it in a SPLOST,” Jackson said.
The city’s current special purpose, local option sales tax afforded approximately $14.5 million to make renovations to the 1957 building, but not enough for the $40 million in work commissioners approved a year ago.
That money would come from the next tax, former city Administrator Fred Russell and financial consultant Dianne McNabb explained.
“It was just another way to … make a deal happen, of hurrying up and getting this thing built before we had a funding stream,” Jackson said. “That was part of the reason I wanted to fire Fred.”
A year later, Russell has been fired and opposition to the tax package assembled by the mayor in a matter of weeks to get on the May 20 ballot appears to be growing.
“Several mayoral candidates are campaigning strongly against it,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle were absent the day the commission approved the $40 million renovations, which are under way and running out of funds, according to Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer.
Only Commissioner Bill Fennoy opposed the project.
“It all boils down to the vote on the municipal building. We’re spending money we don’t have,” said Guilfoyle, who supports the new tax package.
The URA panel, which includes downtown activist Brad Owens, former Mayor Bob Young, Universal Plumbing owner Larry Jones, Augusta Technical College President Terry Elam and International Formal Wear president Henry Ingram, has twice met to discuss the bond issue, but so far declined to approve it because of concerns about servicing the bonds if the tax package fails.
“I don’t have the clarity that (commissioners) understand” that $2.9 million in annual debt service will have to come from existing city revenues if the plan doesn’t pass, Young said Friday.
On the agenda for the 1 p.m. called meeting Tuesday of the URA and the commission are discussions of a funding source if the new special purpose local option sales tax doesn’t pass, and the estimated interest rate on the bonds, which bond documents state can be as high as 7 percent.
Commissioners then have a 1:30 p.m. called meeting to receive an update on debris removal from Winter Storm Pax, while the URA panel has a 1:30 p.m. called meeting to approve the bond issue.