Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

There's a rainstorm brewing in Augusta

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Augusta Mayor Deke Copen­haver’s proposed Mills District project received a shot in the arm from University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby last week.

“The chancellor agrees that Georgia Regents University should work with the city as it continues to grow and expand downtown,” the mayor said in an e-mail to commissioners.

Huckaby has asked GRU to begin a master planning process for expansion on the medical campus and the Mills District, a major component of the Augusta Regional Collaboration project to create a culture and innovation district on Broad Street.

“This is a huge win that we should celebrate,” Copenhaver stated in the e-mail. “Of course we still want to see GRU commit to the Mills District, which we first proposed – at GRU’s suggestion – in January and February. The reason is that this would allow us to help them create the next great American university and the next great American city.”

MATCHMAKER: There were e-mail traffic jams in Augusta cyberspace Friday after it was reported that the mayor had donated $100,000 toward renovating the old chamber of commerce building on Broad Street into a coffee, jazz, co-working and collaboration space. Many folks thought he donated his own money, which raised questions about a conflict of interest and possible violation of the city’s ethics ordinance. That was not the case, however, Copenhaver said.

“I didn’t personally put up $100,000,” he said in an e-mail response to City Ink’s question about the matter. “The city budgeted $100,000 for the initiative, and I secured a $100,000 match from the private sector committed by a local philanthropist.”

FEEL SOMETHING WET AND WARM ON YOUR LEG? They might try to tell you it’s raining, but it’s really a rain tax the city’s gearing up to make you pay – and first you’ll be paying $484,452.54 for a consultant company to help implement it. It’s on Tuesday’s commission agenda, which is why I started looking at the backup material and showing it to my husband, Ernie, who worked for a county government for 20 years.

I said, “Ernie, will you look at this? They’re going to charge people who’ll have to pay the tax $157,022.10 to sell it to them in a PR campaign. And look here, they’re going to charge $17,627.93 for an initial half-day in–house planning workshop on data collection.”

“Two or three party trays from Kroger or Publix and a few e-mails to some department heads and IT people. What’s that going to cost you? $150?” Ernie said.

“It says here that the city’s Engi­neering Department will provide all necessary data, databases, documents, reports and GIS layers needed to prepare for the workshop,” I said.

“OK. Then why in the hell are they paying them $17,000?” he asked.

THE REAL COMMUNITY ASSESS­MENT: “That was Stage 1,” I said. “Stage 2 is Storm­water Legal and Education In­volve­ment. Under Community Assessment, they’ll hold an initial in-house team meeting for $8,311.99.”

“The assessment is the community doesn’t like taxes,” Ernie said. “I have just saved you $8,000, and you don’t have to take all those high-priced executives away from their jobs to have a team meeting nobody wants to be at. Nor will they remember anything that was said at it.”

“They’re going to have one of those for $8,311.99,” I continued. “Then they’re going to have two informal discussions to the tune of $26,414.92.”

“Who’s going to have them?”

“This company and …”

“Who’s going to be discussing?” Ernie asked. “This company and the county people. Not the public. Two informal get-togethers to sit down and talk.”

“Yes.”

“OK. All that is, is to grease up the county people to make them believe these people are actually doing something. Cut those two meetings out and save $26,000.”

PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT STRATEGY: “Next there’s an initial in-house team meeting on public involvement strategy that’s for $7,541.99.”

“See notes on previous two meetings,” he said with a yawn.

“They’ll also have two plan development meetings for $7,855.99.”

“They don’t have to have a meeting,” he said. “The plan is tell the public that we need this tax and why, and everybody already knows it. I’ve already seen it on TV four times. There’s no reason to spend that money. Just keep talking. That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

STAKEHOLDER PARTICIPATION: “One SWAT development meeting. That stands for Stormwater Advisory Team,” I said. “That’s $3,645.00. And two SWAT meetings for $28,207.46. Then there’s Town Hall and Neighborhood Meetings and Presentations for $43,689.92.”

“Sounds like Mary Kay conventions,” he said. “The only question is, ‘Who will win the pink Cadillac?’”

“Next is Disseminate Informa­tional Materials and Provide Information for the SWAT for $8,700,” I said.

“E-mail.”

“Next on the list is Assist Media Interaction and Media Campaign for $22,654.83.”

“Tell the media where you are. They’ll come.”

“Stage 3 is Create Master Planning List for $36,408.94. It’s for a Preliminary Capi­tal Im­prove­ment Needs As­sess­ment.”

“If supposedly professional department heads already being paid to do these very jobs can’t do that, they should be fired.”

IT’S EASIER TO SPEND YOUR MONEY THAN WORK: “Stage 4 is Storm­water Utility Implemen­tation Fee. Setting up a Funding Track will cost $25,364.90. Rate Structure and Legal Assessment, $29,799.82.”

Ernie said the city has in-house financial and legal professionals who should be able to set up a funding track, a rate structure and make a legal assessment and save $54,000.

“Next they’ll perform a Rate Study and Cash Flow Analysis for $24,827.82,” I said.

“They have enterprise fund directors and managers who can do that,” Ernie said. “That’s why they’re there. If they’re not able to do it, they should be fired.”

“And a Stormwater Fee Ordinance will cost $25,449.93.”

“Legal department. No cost.”

“Credit manual, $9,521.”

“Nobody’s going to read the manual.”

“Now we’re down to Program Track, which includes a Program Conceptual Business Plan for $36,851.92.”

“They have professional business managers who understand planning. Commissioners running for office always claim they’ll run the county like a business. Some of our highly paid professionals should be able to perform these tasks.”

“Next is Program Cost of Service Analysis for $15,495.90 and Storm Water Business Plan for $17,130.84.”

“I thought we already talked about the business plan.”

“That was the Program Con­cep­tual Business Plan. This is the Stormwater Business Plan.”

“Same answer. They’ve got people there in the water department. They’ve got stormwater people who’ve been dealing with it their whole careers.”

“Next is an impervious cover layer for $15,499 and a billing system recommendation for $7,742.98.”

“If they haven’t got anybody in the county who can make a recommendation, then they’re in real trouble.”

“Then there’s a Stormwater Master Account File (MAF) System, $32,559.62.”

“Do you mean government people don’t know about filing?” he asked.

“And Customer Service Assistance is $8,147.99.”

“The taxpayers already feel they’ve been serviced by the government.”

I’M SO GLAD TO BE HERE IN AUGUSTA, MAINE: “Stage 5 is Man­agement of the Information Gath­ering and Planning. Additional Sup­port as Needed, $25,000.”

“It’s not needed.”

Ernie says most of what consulting firms like this do is follow a template.

“This is what they do for a living,” he said. “They do it all the time. They’re going to take the same information, the same basic planning, and they’re going to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for it, and they haven’t done anything. They got paid for it the first time they did it, and now they keep getting paid for it over and over again. It’s the same thing, except they change the name of the cities.”

Comments (31) Add comment
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PUPPYMOMMA
1344
Points
PUPPYMOMMA 10/12/13 - 07:58 pm
12
0
Ernie gets a thumbs up!

Ernie gets a thumbs up!

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 10/12/13 - 08:07 pm
6
0
I'm just thrilled that we

I'm just thrilled that we have an Economic Domino here in A/RC to make all of this happen!

GnipGnop
12278
Points
GnipGnop 10/12/13 - 08:18 pm
7
3
of course it is a waste

Nobody seems to care...rampant shenanigans and everyone just bends over and takes it...the more section 8 in South Augusta the better. I soon look for them to make local races partisan because they will already know the outcome

Conservative Man
5577
Points
Conservative Man 10/12/13 - 08:28 pm
6
3
Hmm..

let's see Deke steered $100,000 of tax dollars for this center.. the city owns the building.. then the Mayor says he secured $100,000K from a secret philanthropist.. Is this person an investor in this project.. will he profit from it? Is this person related to city officials? I remember quite well that Deke told commissioners that if they appropriated $100,000k for the center Starbucks would match it.. but I see no mention of Starbucks.. just some unnamed local philanthropist. As much as the so-called local philathropists love to toot their own horn whenever they do anything.. why all the secrecy??

Little Lamb
46364
Points
Little Lamb 10/12/13 - 11:03 pm
5
0
I'm Drowning

Are there any people who will write, call, e-mail, text, facebook or pigeonhole their commissioner and tell him/her that we want them to slow down; we want them to stop this stormwater fee? Please, please, please, tell your commissioner to stop. You will drown in this stormwater fee.

triscuit
3096
Points
triscuit 10/12/13 - 11:05 pm
8
0
I think Deke is related to

I think Deke is related to most of the secret philanthropists around here.

dichotomy
33485
Points
dichotomy 10/12/13 - 11:09 pm
7
1
"but it’s really a rain tax

"but it’s really a rain tax the city’s gearing up to make you pay – and first you’ll be paying $484,452.54 for a consultant company to help implement it"

We are governed by a bunch of arrogant, money grubbing jerks. I am not allowed to use the words I would have to use to express my absolute disgust and contempt I have for these "the solution to everything is another TAX" morons we have serving on our commission.

I have come to the conclusion that the most pervasive impervious surface around here are the heads of our numbskull commissioners. I don't care how much PR money they spend, the message will still be WE DO NOT WANT THIS DAMNED RAIN TAX YOU IDIOTS. It is nothing but a bogus bullcrap money grab and you know it and we know it and you can save your damned PR money because there are a bunch of us who hate you for advancing it.

I invite the entire commission to my place for a meeting IN MY DITCH while I make a presentation to you to explain why I do not think rural property owners should be paying to fix the pipes in the old city and a few suburban neighborhoods.

I am totally disgusted with this county and with our egg sucking commissioners. Southeast Richmond County....the DOWNTOWN RAPE AND ROBBERY SQUAD are fixing to do it to you AGAIN. And for your money you will get to enjoy the SAME DITCHES you have had for 50 years.

jmo
16213
Points
jmo 10/13/13 - 05:09 am
9
0
At what point.....

will they hit us with the famous line "It will only cost the average homeowner a few dollars a month"?

geecheeriverman
2723
Points
geecheeriverman 10/13/13 - 05:46 am
5
0
Hire another employee

They will need to hire another employee to "slop the hogs" Keep im happy you know.

nocnoc
43388
Points
nocnoc 10/13/13 - 06:48 am
5
1
T-Minus 163 days

Tax, upon tax, upon tax to feed the hunger of Downtown.
With over 65% paid by residents and NON-Downtown areas that will never
benefit from 1 penny of what is taken from them.

We are:
Counting the days 163
Counting the hours 3912
Counting the minutes 234,720
Counting the seconds 14,083,200

Voting to breakaway from the consolidated ARC,
maybe the last hope for District 8.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 10/13/13 - 07:26 am
0
0
my God, Richmond County
Unpublished

my God, Richmond County residents/taxpayers, why hasn't anyone taken the initiative to ask some important questions beyond the comment section of the AC?
Who or what is the intimidating factor? Or is it simply the apathy that allows "business" to go on as usual??

southern2
6263
Points
southern2 10/13/13 - 07:29 am
8
0
Newsflash to ARC

Newsflash to ARC Commissioners...My monthly water bill along with my property taxes are already out of sight. I thought THIS was suppose to fund the storm drain infrastructure.

Are you trying to tax the city out of existence?

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 10/13/13 - 09:20 am
7
2
Coffee, Jazz, Co-working and Collaboration Space…Heh, heh, heh

Yeah, I can see Deke, parking his bike outside, sitting around there, in his Speedos, wearing a beret and nodding his head in time with the local John Coltrane playing a saxophone. A little poetry reading later with Deke snapping his fingers. Our own Maynard G. Krebs.

Following up with Conservative Man’s line, there’s something strange about the Deke involvement with the jazz café. The original story reported Deke had put up his own money. When many pointed out in the comments that it was a conflict of interest for county money to be mixed with a public official’s in something that could result in financial gain for the official, we get another statement that it’s really not his money. He has an anonymous friend who put up the $100,000. Yeah, right. Let’s find out the exact involvement of this anonymous contributor. Is this a business deal, a loan or a gift? The public deserves to know. WHEN was this person involved in the matter? How close is he/she to Deke? In other words, was this done to get their boy out of trouble?

Oh, that line about Starbucks contributing…know what that was? It was another “just hurry up and approve the TEE Center or the hotel won’t be built.”

We rightfully give the black commissioners a hard time when they are involved in questionable wheelings and dealings. Deke shouldn’t be an untouchable when we examine improprieties.

seenitB4
88071
Points
seenitB4 10/13/13 - 08:40 am
5
0
THIS is insane!

"you’ll be paying $484,452.54 for a consultant company to help implement it."

Put a flyer in the dang billing statement & explain the damn thing!

raul
5011
Points
raul 10/13/13 - 09:31 am
3
0
Starbucks committed to

Starbucks committed to contribute 200K. Did they or didn't they?

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 10/13/13 - 09:53 am
0
0
Ben Dover of Conifer Place was the unnamed donor. LOL
Unpublished

ARC has to rate in the top ten for forcible rapes in the nation.

dichotomy
33485
Points
dichotomy 10/13/13 - 10:11 am
5
0
Giving a "consultant" $1/2

Giving a "consultant" $1/2 million for this Rain Tax thingy just goes to prove a point about our commission. If they are self-admitted too stupid to fix the ILLEGAL DUAL PROPERTY TAX AND FEE SYSTEM they are also TOO STUPID TO IMPLEMENT AND MANAGE A RAIN TAX. Why do we keep giving our money to STUPID people who have to SPEND OUR MONEY to hire a consultant to tell them what to do every time they finish up in the bathroom. And that is mostly what comes out of this commission......the stuff you leave in the bathroom when you are finished.

LillyfromtheMills
13494
Points
LillyfromtheMills 10/13/13 - 10:56 am
3
0
This reminds me of the

IRS and their dancing video - they could care less that it's our money!

allhans
23752
Points
allhans 10/13/13 - 12:10 pm
2
0
The rain tax cometh...

The rain tax cometh...

countyman
20229
Points
countyman 10/13/13 - 01:49 pm
1
5
Facts

Why are the same people consistently negative about everything related to Augusta? The same few people now bringing up the collaboration center always have something negative to say. The same commentators just said the Mills Campus would never happen, and DR. Azziz wasn't interested. Numerous people said the city is wasting their time with the proposal, and should move onto something else. Well the facts suggest the Mills Campus is becoming reality.

Richmond is only following behind Columbia/Aiken counties in terms of the storm water fee.

The collaboration center is old news, and obviously some people are so caught up in the negativity they don't remember any positive news. The $100,000 from the private sector, and $200k from Starbucks has already been discussed multiple times.

It's not hard to find private money when you're becoming progressive. Representatives from the city, Fort Gordon, SRS, Rural Sourcing, Georgia Power, GRU, etc all now have a place to share ideas to help bring growth to Augusta.

countyman
20229
Points
countyman 10/13/13 - 02:15 pm
1
4
The only people who thought

The only people who thought Deke personally gave the money are sheep of the Augusta Chronicle, and never really have anything positive to say anyway. The media will do anything and phrase any words different in order to get ratings.

Deke mentioned the $100k private donation back in January 2012.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/government/2012-01-19/augusta-mayor-di...

The mayor brought up the $200k contribution from Starbucks in October 2012.
http://www.wrdw.com/news/politics/headlines/Only-on-12-Mayor-talks-Mille...

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 10/13/13 - 01:04 pm
3
0
Mills Campuses

Hey, I hope the mills campuses and any spreading out of MCG-ASU happens. I don't think there is enough student population to justify student housing there, but that could change and most of us hope it does. We are simply raising questions about Deke's involvement with the jazz café and the whole concept of spending money on that building. Can you give us confirmation with some kind of Starbucks' statement that they are chipping in $200k?

By the way, I believe all the IM Pei designed construction, such as this building, is superb, historical and should be protected.

countyman
20229
Points
countyman 10/13/13 - 01:47 pm
1
2
Facts

Why are you calling the collaboration center a 'jazz cafe'? The renovations include a coffee shop, art gallery, bar, jazz club, etc.

The main purpose of the building are the new offices to share ideas, and have a community gathering place.

I don't know of any existing structure that allows the representatives from Fort Gordon to discuss important things facing our community with GRU.

Mr. Kwatinetz worked for Starbucks, and helped them decide on the Corporate Park in South Augusta. Mr. Kwatinetz was then hired to lead the ARC project.

Starbucks personally donated $200,000 to the Augusta Regional Collaboration. The renovation of the chamber of commerce building might didn't need their $200k, and they probably will use it towards another project.

There's been talks of expanding the collaboration centers across the county including the Regency Mall site in South Augusta.

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 10/13/13 - 02:09 pm
2
0
For what it's worth, you

For what it's worth, you posted the same link twice above.

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 10/13/13 - 02:11 pm
3
1
Somewhere to Smooch

"I don't know of any existing structure that allows the representatives from Fort Gordon to discuss important things facing our community with GRU."

We need a building downtown to talk with Ft. Gordon? Heh. There are many, many existing structures in the city and on Ft. Gordon to talk. If that doesn't work for you, meet at a bar.

countyman
20229
Points
countyman 10/13/13 - 02:26 pm
1
3
Okay, I went back at changed

Okay, I went back at changed the previous link.

Please name the many existing structures that provide the oppurtunity for all of industry, companies, businesses, etc in the area to discuss important issues?

The building will allow for the leaders from SRS, Rural Sourcing, GRU, Georgia Power, etc a place to collaborate.

The building also provides the oppurtunity for regular citizens to get involved in the process.

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 10/13/13 - 02:40 pm
2
1
If a new building were built

If a new building were built every time there was a meeting we would soon use up all the space in the CSRA. That would be like building something for everyone named Smith......or maybe Johnson.

Sweet son
10539
Points
Sweet son 10/13/13 - 03:42 pm
2
0
All of the stormwater BS is as bad as the Downtown Development

Authority authorizing 1 million for Riverwalk when all that was requested to straighten it up was a shade over $100,000. Incredible! Seems like the stormwater infrastructure stuff should be paid for with SPLOST which is already a tax we are paying. I'm sure there is plenty of SPLOST money that is wasted!

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 10/13/13 - 04:02 pm
2
1
I still would like to know

I still would like to know who is going to be playing economic dominos?
Is a collaboration center a place where one plays economic dominos?
If we go there to play economic dominos with Matt Kwatinetz, will this type of arrogance be routinely displayed?

http://www.wjbf.com/story/23661701/consultants-warn-about-jobs-talk

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 10/13/13 - 05:55 pm
2
1
Use the TEE

"Please name the many existing structures that provide the oppurtunity for all of industry, companies, businesses, etc in the area to discuss important issues?"

My goodness, your spent $40 million on the TEE, use it.

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