Augusta goat pilot project moves forward

A small herd of goats will help keep vegetation under control at two or three fenced detention ponds under a pilot project approved by Augusta Commission on Thursday.

The project, modeled after similar ones in other cities and placed on the agenda by Commissioner Marion Williams, will cost only about $500 for the purchase of a few goats, Engineering Director Abie Ladson said.

Of the city’s approximately 700 detention ponds, “right now, if we can keep 25 percent of them cut, we’re doing good,” Ladson said.

The agenda item, a light moment at the end of the commission’s first meeting in its newly-remodeled chamber, prompted a few jokes.

“If I’ve got to break the tie, I vote goat,” Mayor Deke Copenhaver said.

Commissioners Bill Lockett and Grady Smith noted that someone might take one of the goats.

“On the Fourth of July, we double the guard out there to make sure nobody gets a goat,” Smith said.

Also on the agenda

• Williams bristled at a motion made by Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle to move several of Williams’ “discussion” items, including a discussion about “employees who misrepresent information” back to a committee.

“Any commissioner has the right to put any item on the agenda,” Williams said. “I need to have discussion.”

When the body voted 7-2 to refer the items back to committee, Williams asked City Clerk Lena Bonner to place them on the next regular commission meeting agenda.

• The commission also approved 10-0 awarding a bid to Cypress Golf Management of Orlando, Fla., to manage Augusta Municipal Golf Course, to the chagrin of Augusta businessman Paul Simon.

Simon has presented a proposal to share management and resources between “The Patch” and adjacent First Tee of Augusta. He told commissioners Thursday his plan was preferable to Cypress’ because it was local, benefited youth golf at First Tee and was approximately $100,000 cheaper per year due to lower travel, accounting and equipment expenses.

Recreation Director Bob Levine said Cypress’ expenses were included in the course’s nearly-complete operating plan, but that all expenses would be itemized in each of Cypress’ requests for payment from the city.

The bid award calls for Augusta to pay the firm $3,000 a month to run the course, starting late this summer, then $5,000 a month once it breaks even. At that point Cypress will give 70 percent of course profits to the city.

“The cash register is in Augusta,” Levine said. Money “goes from the register to the finance department.” Cypress will provide monthly reports of rounds played, food sold and other items, he said.

Guilfoyle said he wanted to question Levine further about the contract details, but Lockett, who has opposed several other efforts to outsource the golf course, called for the vote. Simon objected.

The commission approved the bid award 10-0.

• The body also gave a $2.5 million loan to the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem project. Finance Director Donna Williams said the loan was “frontloading money to make it available to the project,” which receives $750,000 annually in hotel-motel room fees under a 50-year agreement. The city agreed in 2010 to issue bonds in advance of those fees, but the project ran through the funds ahead of its next opportunity for a bond issue, in 2015.

• The group also agreed, on Lockett’s motion, to increase Procurement Director Geri Sams’ salary to $113,000 annually to put it on par with other city department heads of similar experience, education and responsibility.

Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant said based on a study, while most department heads are paid above market rates, internally they are not fair.

The raise passed 6-4 with commission members Mary Davis, Guilfoyle, Donnie Smith and Grady Smith opposed.

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