Augusta Commission seeks answers on sales tax package

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 10:24 PM
Last updated Wednesday, May 7, 2014 2:54 PM
  • Follow Government

While the Augusta Commission already approved the sales tax package and bond issue going on the May 20 ballot and 937 voters already have cast advance votes on the measure, commissioners spent much of a Tuesday meeting seeking answers about the hastily assembled package.

Al Dallas, the executive assistant to Mayor Deke Co­pen­ha­ver, revealed details about the purpose of about $5.25 million in sales tax dollars going to the mills campus proposal, to be funded up-front using the bond issue.

Dallas said the intent of Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaborative was to use the funds to acquire land in Harrisburg and surrounding Sibley and King mills to create a campus contiguous with Georgia Regents University property just across Butt Bridge.

Dallas said the collaborative plans to respond to a request for proposals from the University System Board of Regents to construct 600 dormitory rooms for GRU by July 2016, and referred to a Regents request for public-private partnerships to create the housing.

“The mayor interjected himself into GRU’s dormitory plans,” Dallas said.

The planning document specifies GRU likely will demolish approximately 220 units of medical student housing and no longer support University Village apartments off Damascus Road and hopes to complete 1,200 beds of new housing by 2018.

Commissioner Alvin Mason, who is running for mayor and opposes passage of the tax package with the hope it can be redone and presented to voters at a later date, questioned why the collaborative’s funds were bonded up-front, while public safety, infrastructure and other projects won’t have funds available until mid-2016, when a new package would go into effect.

“I think the public would want to know, more than Alvin Mason would want to know,” he said.

While the commission approved including the funds and a handful of other projects on the bond issue in an earlier vote, Dallas said he didn’t think the project was “more important. I think it’s (a) matter of timing.”

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson asked what would happen if GRU opted against having dorms on the mills campus.

“That would be a decision for this body,” Dallas said.

The meeting started with a critical tax package presentation by Lincolnton. Ga., resident Al Gray, who advertises a construction cost recovery business. His primary example was Augusta Convention Center, which he said was urged along by campaign contributions from hotel officials to builder Rick Allen, a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress. Gray also cited a “biased” news media that supported the project. Convention Center operator Augusta Riverfront shares management with Morris Communications Co., owner of The Augusta Chronicle.

Gray cited “untold millions” of city dollars flowing to the center, but when he stated another sales tax project, renovations at Augusta Municipal Building, would cost taxpayers $65 million, he was cut short by Commissioner Donnie Smith.

Smith asked whether the $65 million was “a figure you just made up” and Gray said it was, based on projected costs and “past experience” he’d had.

“I’m offended by that $65 million remark,” Smith said, while Commissioner Bill Lockett said he was offended by Smith’s comments to Gray.

On the advice of general counsel Andrew MacKenzie, commissioners did not discuss issues of the legality of the sales tax package because of pending lawsuits from south Richmond County businessman Les Morton, whose requests to stop the referendum have been denied so far by the courts.

MacKenzie insisted, however, that inclusion of funding for nongovernment entities such as Paine College and Symphony Orchestra Augusta was a legal use of the funds.

Lockett cited the Association County Commissioners of Georgia’s assertion that governments must own the improvements made using sales tax dollars.

“Those are services leasehold interests” the city has in projects completed using the tax package, such as Paine’s HEAL Complex and Augusta Mini Theater.
“It’s what they call a public-private partnership,” offered Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson. “We don’t have to run it or operate it, but the citizens still have use of it.”

Commissioners declined to approve a list of $50 million in sales tax projects for Engineering, leaving it as “to be determined” on the referendum.

Mason said if the commission reworks the package, it could benefit Engineering with a greater share of sales tax dollars.

“We just can’t rely on just SPLOST,” Engineering Director Abie Ladson said. “We’ve got to rely on the stormwater (fee). The (transportation sales tax) also. The SPLOST alone wouldn’t actually do everything, infrastructure-wise.”

In another item, commissioners tabled a decision to loan the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem redevelopment projects $2.5 million sought by Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler.

The project is allotted $750,000 annually in hotel and motel room charges for 50 years, but consultants have already spent several million the city borrowed against the collections in its first four years, with only “20-plus” houses built and a Housing Authority senior apartment complex in the works, according to Wheeler.

Wheeler said he’d reduce the consultants’ budgets and would seek alternative funding after the commission approved the loan, without which the project, which has acquired 275 lots, will stop until the next bond issue.

Comments (20) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Lori Davis
1006
Points
Lori Davis 05/07/14 - 05:09 am
10
2
Thanks Susan McCord

Thanks Susan for an even handed article. I happened to be at this Commission meeting, and this article covers the events better than usual. One thing I would like to add is that Commissioner Donnie Smith was an extreme embarrassment to the Augusta Commission yesterday with his remarks to Al Gray. Mostly the use of a bullying tactic toward a private citizen. We all know that Donnie Smith is for SPLOST. In the lawsuit Against SPLOST, records show that SPLOST 6 paid for some type of helipad for the Ga. Stat Patrol. This item was included in a list of items that took SPLOST dollars but was never in a SPLOST package voted on by the Augusta Commission. If this is in fact true…..Boy oh boy!!! VOTE NO SPLOST!!!

LuvMyTown
2009
Points
LuvMyTown 05/07/14 - 06:20 am
2
10
Keep Property Taxes Down Vote Yes on SPLOST

Vote Yes for low property taxes.

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 05/07/14 - 06:34 am
10
0
No Down Side

Everyone agrees that there is NO downside to killing this SPLOST and revisiting it after the new commission and mayor take office. There are far too many questions about this one to approve it now. Lets get some real transparency into the process this time and get our infrastructure fixed first. Priorities have to be determined in the light of day. Not in some closed door meeting with zero public input! Voting NO on the current SPLOST is the only rational answer!

nocnoc
49615
Points
nocnoc 05/07/14 - 06:46 am
8
1
Why are the Taxpayers funding GRU

after the way they screwed AUGUSTA over?

Is Downtown aware they are now HQ'd out of Atlanta and are slowly dividing up Medical fields with UGA and others?

Why the KING MILL area, prying eyes want to know.

nocnoc
49615
Points
nocnoc 05/07/14 - 06:51 am
8
0
VOTE NO on SPLOST

Until it is cleaned up, De-porked and $50M is allocated in specific binding detail.

Why should the taxpayers pay taxes, so Downtown can give it away or make others richer?

Graymare
3809
Points
Graymare 05/07/14 - 07:04 am
10
1
"Augusta Commission seeks answers on sales tax package"...

Then why in the world is this package on the ballot? Let all "nongovernment entities" raise their own money. And if GRU is so interested in the mills, then let them buy the mills outright with no middle man (ARC) involved. They're sticking the knife in us and want us to twist it for them. Great article. Vote no!

Riverman1
94246
Points
Riverman1 05/07/14 - 08:19 am
13
1
Donnie Smith Looks Like Howdy Doody

Donnie Smith’s orchestrated vitriolic attack on Al Gray has to make you wonder what he’s trying to do. When Gray informs us what the Municipal Building renovation is going to end up costing, why does that anger Donnie Smith? Is it Gray’s revelations about the TEE Center that actually angers Smith? What’s up with this antagonistic cross examination, that Smith must have learned from his girlfriend, of citizens providing the Commission with information? What if during a Commission meeting a private citizen began to attack the character of Smith in such an adversarial courtroom manner? How long would the Mayor Pro Tem (or Mayor if he were there) allow such uncouth behavior to continue? Smith needs to publicly apologize and whoever pulled his strings to make him do his Howdy Doody dance should too.

JRC2024
10536
Points
JRC2024 05/07/14 - 07:26 am
9
1
Donnie Smith is a cop and

Donnie Smith is a cop and will always be. You know how they act. What he did was uncalled for and he should be made to say he is sorry. Citizens have the right to present ideas and the commissioners need to remember they were elected by the citizens.

Conservative Man
5578
Points
Conservative Man 05/07/14 - 07:41 am
10
0
I watched yesterday's

I watched yesterday's commission meeting on line and was appalled by what I saw. District 7 should be embarrassed and ashamed at the behavior of their Commissioner Donnie Smith. He took the occasion to behave like a bully towards a concerned citizen who was presenting the reasons why the SPLOST 7 package should not be passed. I urge all citizens, and especially those in District 7, to take the time to view the exchange between Donnie Smith and citizen Al Gray when the Commission meeting comes available on the city's website. It is truly illustrative of a man who represents YOU and it is shameful.

itsanotherday1
48409
Points
itsanotherday1 05/07/14 - 07:47 am
10
0
I will bet Donnie Smith a

I will bet Donnie Smith a steak dinner that Al's numbers will come closer to the truth than what was budgeted.

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 05/07/14 - 07:48 am
11
0
Donnie Smith

I reside in District 7, and I am indeed embarrassed and ashamed to be represented by Commissioner Donnie Smith. He is more than a disappointment; he is also a danger, in that he votes for bigger Augusta government and is the quintessential fascist (favoring transfer of government funds to private organizations and individuals).

story1
807
Points
story1 05/07/14 - 08:05 am
9
0
Stand UP and Vote this mess DOWN

The only way to silence Donnie and the other supporters is to vote No on this Splost. How many times should the Symphony, Imperial, Paine, Mini Theater etc. be allowed to come before the tax payers requesting more handouts?

lgr
240
Points
lgr 05/07/14 - 08:11 am
10
1
low property taxes

voting for SPLOST has never and will never keep property taxes down. my property taxes have gone up and up . my property taxes are based on an assessment that is pie in the sky. it is assessed at about $20000 more than any property in my neighborhood has sold for since before the Great Recession. just tax yourself into the poor house

nocnoc
49615
Points
nocnoc 05/07/14 - 11:21 am
6
0
THE SPLOST

If this Rolling Honey Wagon passes they should use $1 or 2 Million of the Admin Fee to conduct an INDEPENDENT Forensic Audit each year of all expenditures.

BTW: If ARC puts $$$$$ into a bank account does that mean they get to collect 1% interest on the deposits?

1% on 9.7 Million Average per quarter, over 5 years is a big pocket full of change.

Sweet son
11762
Points
Sweet son 05/07/14 - 01:21 pm
0
7
We are all entitled to have a bad day!

Maybe it was Donnie's turn. He's a good person, cop and commissioner so give him this one and watch his behavior in the future.

Conservative Man
5578
Points
Conservative Man 05/07/14 - 01:38 pm
5
0
Sweet..

…if Donnie did " have a bad day"..he should man up and apologize to Al and his fellow Commissioners.

.But judging by how animated and condescending he was yesterday, he clearly believes everything he said and everything he did…

So I'm not giving him a pass until he apologizes. My instinct tells me he'll do that when pigs fly.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 05/07/14 - 02:40 pm
5
0
Bad Days
Unpublished

Donnie seems to have a lot of "Bad Days". Also a "good commissioner" would be adamantly opposed to this SPLOST giveaway.

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 05/07/14 - 03:28 pm
2
1
I guess the truth
Unpublished

hurts. Comical censors strike again.

rebellious
22034
Points
rebellious 05/07/14 - 06:10 pm
4
0
SPLOST VII NO

I am firmly opposed to this package as presented. Paine, the other Arts concerns, the Cost Overruns on the Marble Palace overhaul....all together violate the spirit, if not the law, of Special purpose taxes.

And I am sick of the term "Offends me"! Offense is a nebulous term and changes with the wind. Either you disagreed with the $61 million number, or you are angered because it was brought up, or you have an issue with the methodology by which it was derived. But "Offended"? Give me a break.

Loose cannons are usually removed and then mothballed. If you lash out at everyone, one day you look around and find yourself on an island. Do I criticize Smith? Not really, because a different issue, different day and it could have been Mason or Williams raining Hell down on you. This is Augusta Guvmint. Citizens (taxpayers) need not appear. If we want any stuff out of you we will squeeze it out of you. We will do what we think is best for you, then send you a bill for it.

Right on
221
Points
Right on 05/07/14 - 06:37 pm
3
0
Infrastructure only!!!!!!

Infrastructure only!!!!!! Please!!!

Right on
221
Points
Right on 05/07/14 - 06:37 pm
1
0
Infrastructure only!!!!!!

Infrastructure only!!!!!! Please!!!

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 05/07/14 - 07:05 pm
1
0
Current SPLOST
Unpublished

Does not expire until the second half of 2016. We can hold off on this and get a sensible package without all the pork to special interest to put back on the ballot next year. I am all in favor of a sensible SPLOST. I am against this rushed package with $millions in giveaways to special interests. The money for The Mills campus should be removed until their is a firm commitment by GRU to move forward with this project.

Pops
14680
Points
Pops 05/07/14 - 07:26 pm
3
0
Did Nancy Pelosi

have anything to do with this stinking crate of pork? Let's hurry up and pass it so we can find out what's in it........

Butterman
3696
Points
Butterman 05/07/14 - 07:31 pm
0
0
Current SPLOST
Unpublished

Does not expire until the second half of 2016. We can hold off on this and get a sensible package without all the pork to special interest to put back on the ballot next year. I am all in favor of a sensible SPLOST. I am against this rushed package with $millions in giveaways to special interests. The money for The Mills campus should be removed until their is a firm commitment by GRU to move forward with this project.

Back to Top
loading...
Top headlines

Stormwater fee to fund Columbia County repairs

Columbia County is set to invest an additional $600,000 in its aging stormwater system next year, with the hope that more money and manpower will result in half as many repair orders and fewer ...
Search Augusta jobs