Augusta groups vow to carry on without sales tax package

 

The Imperial Theatre will “go back to the drawing board” and continue to seek funds from individual, corporate and foundation donors in light of Tuesday’s failed vote on the latest special purpose local option sales tax, its executive director said.

By a slim 664-vote margin, Augusta voters rejected the $194 million tax package, which included $6 million to make further improvements at the 96-year-old theater.

Charles Scavullo said he didn’t credit SPLOST opponents for the referendum’s failure, but instead the sales package itself.

“It should have been able to stand on its own two feet,” he said. “It should have been constructed to meet the needs of the broader community.”

Fortunately for the theater, it has $1 million left from SPLOST 6 it can use to complete immediate infrastructure needs, including work on fire escapes, repainting and electrical upgrades.

The SPLOST 7 allocation plus a few million more would have enabled the theater to complete all the work it has planned, he said.

“Eight to $9 million would enable the Imperial to totally finish the venue of the theater up completely,” Scavullo said. “It’s still the challenge we’ll face, but one way or another we’ll get it done.”
Similarly, Symphony Orchestra Augusta will continue raising funds to complete plans to renovate the nearby Miller Theater, which had $4.25 million in the sales tax package.

“We’ll still complete this project,” said Executive Director Mieko DiSano. “It’s an extremely viable project that already has many supporters, and we’ve already raised a significant number of dollars.”

DiSano said the organization was disappointed the sales package didn’t pass, but will carry on.

“We have a great sector of the community that’s extremely dedicated to Augusta and Augusta’s success,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate that in our own community, our own citizens don’t want to help ourselves.”

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, a SPLOST 7 proponent, said he was disappointed and blamed himself for the tax package’s failure.

“I blame myself for not reaching out to the constituents and explaining it better,” Guilfoyle said.

Cutting funding to agencies “stops the momentum” of groups such as Augusta Canal Authority, which claimed a seven-to-one return using SPLOST funds as leverage for other grants, he said.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said he thought recent shootings at Paine College, another beneficiary of the tax package, might have dampened public enthusiasm, as did misunderstandings about Augusta Regional Collaboration’s plans to spend $5.25 million in SPLOST 7 dollars on a “mills campus” proposal to accommodate Georgia Regents University.

Smith said he expects someone to fulfill a GRUdeadline to complete dormitories by fall 2016, but was unaware if the university had interest in using the mills.

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