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.”
“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.
“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.”