Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Taxing task sure to trip up Augusta Commission

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If voters were to approve the $721.7 million wish list of projects for the next special purpose local option sales tax, the tax would last 20 years. At the current collection rate of $35 million a year, a lot of people alive today wouldn’t live to see the end of it, and a lot of people still unborn would end up paying for it.

So the key is for Augusta Com­mission members to look at the requests, agree on necessary projects and reduce the cost to a reasonable number. Sort of like balancing the budget. And we know how good they are at that.

Realistically, the only essential items on the list are $30 million for Marble Palace renovations and $5.5 million each for relocation of the public defender and juvenile court offices.

After that, the public needs to depend on commissioners to make wise decisions – another of their strong points.

I’M FROM THE GOVERNMENT, AND I’M HERE TO TAX … I MEAN HELP YOU: Replacing fire and police vehicles with sales-tax dollars makes sense. The downside is that Com­missioner Marion Williams gets to kick all the tires and argue about which type should be on each vehicle.

The recreation department’s $106 million request could buy country club memberships for everybody in Richmond County and pay their annual dues for the life of the tax.

The engineering department’s $370 million request would pave every road and clean every ditch the county ever had or will have. As a matter of fact, they’ll be able to build more dirt roads, so they can pave them, too. And with all that money floating around the next 20 years, will there be any need for the rain tax thundering your way with lightning speed? Or should it just dry up and blow away?

The Downtown Develop­ment Authority wants to spend $5.6 million for Au­gusta Common, Phase 2. But if Commissioner Alvin Mason gets his wish to tear down the levee, and it keeps raining like it’s been raining, they’ll need to make sure Phase 2 floats.

The DDA also wants $3 million for a downtown business incubator. That’s a lot of money to hatch more goose eggs.

The mosquito control people are itching for a new $450,000 building. I’d suggest they take a Benadryl.

The Arts Council wants $14 million for public arts implementation. I’m not sure what that is, but it sure would buy a lot of finger paint and sidewalk chalk.

You have to admit it takes a lot of chutzpah for the Augusta Regional Colla­bor­ation Corp., aka Boy King/Matt Kwatinetz, to ask for almost $12 million for the Mills District, which I do believe is for renovation of Sibley and King mills. Say what you will, those boys think big.

As for the $8 million request for Paine College’s Fine Arts Cultural Center, the $12.9 million for the Miller Theater and $1.8 million for the Mini Theater, all I can say is, “Get real.” Not that we don’t love fine arts. We do. I have a master’s degree in theater, although I’m not sure that’s a fine art. But I am sure you can’t get much of a job with it.

The request for $8 mil­lion to commit to the planned $53 million cancer research center seems like a great investment. Everybody has been touched in some tragic way by the plague of cancer.

Besides, as the sage Com­mis­sioner Joe Jackson observed, “When you put in an $8 million investment for a $43 million return, that’s a hell of a return on your investment.”

(Don’t blame me if the math is bad. I just write what they say. However, I think there’s another million or two floating around somewhere.)

BAITING THE TRAP: The political reality of having sales tax programs is the necessity to put things in the package that will garner support from all segments of the community. In other words, a little bit for everybody. The approach taken with the next round of the tax is a whole lot for everybody.

Don’t read this aloud to your children, commissioners, but there is no San­ta Claus, as former Admin­is­tra­tor Fred Russell knows all too well, seeing as how they abruptly fired him two weeks before Christmas.

NIGHTMARE ON GREENE STREET: In the “politics makes strange bedfellows” category, after rumors surfaced that Russell might run for mayor, Mason surprisingly expressed support for Wil­liams to get Russell’s computer hard drive.

Tut! Tut! Such a subtle attempt to find dirt on Rus­sell.

Williams has expressed support for Mason to be mayor and vowed he’ll “stick to him like glue.” Hope it’s not Crazy Glue.

I had a dream that turned into a nightmare last week. Mason and Williams were running Augusta, but they started butting heads over who had the floor during the inquisition of department heads and staff. Fortunately, one of our dogs was having a nightmare too and woke me up.

HEAVE HO TO THE STATUS QUO: Commissioners need five members for the Ur­ban Re­development Author­ity to oversee the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization and the city’s pared-down Urban Redevelopment Area, which includes the Marble Palace, the old public library, Port Royal and other downtown property.

Last week, they discussed how they’d appoint the members, and agreed that the commission should work in pairs, beginning with District 1 and District 2 commissioners, and so on.

So far, District 4 Commis­sioner Mason and District 5 Commissioner Bill Lockett have agreed to appoint former Mayor Bob Young.

Dis­trict 7 Commissioner Don­nie Smith and District 8 Com­mis­sioner Wayne Guilfoyle have agreed to appoint commission gadfly Brad Owens, which I hear has caused consternation among some folks who’ve been targets of Owens’ criticism.

One thing’s for sure, with Young and Owens on the authority, everything, and I mean everything, will be scrutinized. No yes men here.

THE SIGNS THEY ARE A- CHANGIN’: Can’t wait to hear the inside skinny on why Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz agreed to allow the word “Au­gusta” to be added to campus signs.

It might have been like this:

Azziz is sitting at his desk when the receptionist ushers in three members of the Georgia Board of Regents. Greetings are exchanged.

Regent Dinky NeHigh says, “Now look here, Azziz. You’ve gone a little too far this time.

“We let you name the place after us because we’re vain fools. Easy to flatter and all. But we soon realized that was a mistake, especially after everybody found out you were lying about the naming survey. And then they started that embarrassing Save the A campaign. We overlooked the wedding fiasco thing and you having the campus police haul your kids around. We even overlooked your king-sized garage addition.”

“But that was last year,” says Regent Ben Tarbaby III. “This is an election year. The political winds have shifted, and it’s not the smell of paper mills blowing from here to the governor’s office. It’s the scorched earth and burned bridges.”

To be continued next week …

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Riverman1
93832
Points
Riverman1 01/25/14 - 08:53 pm
13
2
Is There A Shadow Government?

"You have to admit it takes a lot of chutzpah for the Augusta Regional Colla­bor­ation Corp., aka Boy King/Matt Kwatinetz, to ask for almost $12 million for the Mills District, which I do believe is for renovation of Sibley and Enterprise mills. Say what you will, those boys think big."

I think Sylvia means Sibley and King mills. But Deke and Matt are spending 12 million dollars of taxpayer, county money without presenting their plans to the commissioners and public. I guess they believe they don't have to tell the public anything. Just give Deke and Matt 12 MILLION DOLLARS and shut up. Talk about a shadow government that doesn't answer to anybody, I believe we have one right here in River City.

Connor Threlkeld
998
Points
Connor Threlkeld 01/25/14 - 10:09 pm
4
1
Thanks Riverman1, you are

Thanks Riverman1, you are correct. Fixing it online and for tomorrow's paper.

Little Lamb
49118
Points
Little Lamb 01/25/14 - 10:41 pm
10
1
Mills

Yes, RM, the $12 million for the "mills district" is too vague for anyone to know what is being proposed. Is it a "study?" Is it a "concept?" Is it actual construction? If so, what is going to be constructed? Who will own it? What will it be used for?

I hate to say it, but the SPLOST lists under Fred Russell were more understandable than this one put forward by Deke Copenhaver. But then, why should Deke worry? He's a short timer. One more year and he's out of here. We taxpayers will be left to bear the burden of his bad mistakes.

Augz79
1083
Points
Augz79 01/26/14 - 12:00 am
9
1
20 years?!?!??!?!?!

Seriously??? Oh hell no. Even 10 would be too long.

Augz79
1083
Points
Augz79 01/26/14 - 12:09 am
7
2
No more money for the Mills campus

GRU doesn't want it. In case you didn't learn from the naming controversy.... GRU will do what it wants. So stop wasting money on studies.

In GRU's July campus strategy doc*, the Mills Campus idea is only even recommended if Summerville is closed so that GRU can have a non-split campus in one central location. (Which also begs the question of why Augusta wants GRU to do something with the Golf Hall of Fame property, since that just further spreads out the campuses)

* http://aug-cdn.com/sites/default/files/GRU%20Sasaki%20Development%20Stra...

dichotomy
37522
Points
dichotomy 01/26/14 - 12:13 am
16
1
They have become addicted to

They have become addicted to these "Special" taxes. There is nothing "special" about them anymore. SPLOST is just a wide open money grab. Everybody is sticking the fingers in the pie, from governmental departments to private citizens and non-profits. We have created a SPLOST monster that will not die a natural death and it is time to kill it. Look at the list of proposed spending. Most of it is nothing "special". There is very little difference between a lot of this stuff and the General Fund. SPLOSTS were intended for "special" projects like a building or facility. They were intended to be for unusual, abnormal, short term and targeted projects. Our SPLOSTS are starting to look like a 20 year boiling Mulligan's Stew with every hobo in town, public AND PRIVATE, standing there with an empty bowl waiting for their dip of taxpayer money.

These requests are pretty much out of control. And rather than do anything well, they will try to give everybody a little and do nothing well. I say pay off the municipal building (because Fred spent the money without asking us), fund the cancer center, cut the length of the tax to the number of years it would take to pay off those two things. Then come back again when those two are paid for with two or three more targeted "SPECIAL" projects and ask us for some more.

We are paying 8% SALES TAX people...and that is incredibly high. ....plus a hefty property tax, garbage fees, fire department tax, and school taxes. All of that is on top of 6% state income tax, federal income tax, state and federal gasoline tax, vehicle tax, etc., etc., etc. It is time to send them a "NO MORE" message. It's time to tell the mayor that if the mills are a good deal, somebody will do something with them. Why would we fund $12 million dollars to try to force somebody to take them that don't want them? Sounds like a boondoggle job for somebody's buddy to me.

countyman
21638
Points
countyman 01/26/14 - 01:02 am
2
17
Mills Campus facts

The Sasaki Campus Assessment and the new master plan underway are two different things.. The new master plan includes the possibility of creating the Mills Campus..

Why would the mayor ask for $12 million if GRU weren't interested?
1. Higher property values in Harrisburg and Richmond County
2. Higher tax base
3. Jobs
4. Urban Renewal
5. Will attract the private sector(energy) and federal grants($200,000 EPA grant)

The state of Georgia transferred the GGHF property over to GRU, because they plan to develop the prime real estate.. The mayor of Augusta supported building the baseball stadium and the mixed-use development on the river. The plans for the GGHF site now revolve around building student dorms/retail and the biotech park..

Augz79
1083
Points
Augz79 01/26/14 - 02:03 am
10
3
Dorms on the river

Question: Why would you put dorms on the River (or at the Mills), when the classroom buildings are in the Medical District and Summerville? Dorms should be within walking distance for the students, they shouldn't have to rely on shuttle buses.

Instead of begging GRU to develop these areas, let the private sector develop it into apartments. If it's so convenient to GRU, students will naturally be attracted to the apts.

corgimom
38486
Points
corgimom 01/26/14 - 05:00 am
11
3
Congratulations to Brad

Congratulations to Brad Owens, he will be a great addition to that committee!

Finally, with he and Bob Young on the committee, some people with some COMMON SENSE!

seenitB4
97736
Points
seenitB4 01/26/14 - 06:59 am
7
1
Nightmare on Broad St

Yes mam...I can see why Sylvia had that dream..

Riverman1
93832
Points
Riverman1 01/26/14 - 07:33 am
10
2
What Worries Me

Remember the last time the SPLOST came up for vote and 99% of the commenters were against it? Yep, it passed anyway.

I do believe what we are all seeing this time is the huge amount of money being shifted to private concerns without control or safeguards. Public opinion, at least among the commenters, is being galvanized against these give-aways of HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS. They can pay friends and relatives huge salaries to do whatever they want to do. I'm sure much misuse has already occurred over the years and it's going to become more widespread as the entitlement theme grows. There ought to be a law.

corgimom
38486
Points
corgimom 01/26/14 - 07:51 am
8
3
It would be incredibly

It would be incredibly foolish to use prime real estate for dorms.

Only in Augusta would such a hare-brained plan be presented and considered.

corgimom
38486
Points
corgimom 01/26/14 - 07:53 am
9
2
As for retail- Port Royal,

As for retail-

Port Royal, anyone?

And hey, the prices of the condos at Port Royal are dropping like a rock, wonder if it'll ever hit $58,000 like before-

GnipGnop
12744
Points
GnipGnop 01/26/14 - 08:39 am
11
2
I have to laugh

when people wanna blow public funds on things and say stuff like "Higher property values, Higher tax base, Jobs, Urban Renewal" these are all code words for "the taxpayer is going to get the shaft and someone else is getting the goldmine". If it's such a dandy deal let the developers spend THEIR money and keep the profits and we collect the property taxes. Jobs for who? Whoever knows someone in the procurment office? Urban renewal? Is that like the houses we threw money at hand over fist in Laney Walker to the tune of what? 400000 a house that are worth 150000 at best? Gee, where do I sign up to throw my money out the window? Geesh....really?

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 01/26/14 - 08:41 am
10
1
Congratulations to...

...former Mayor Bob Young and Brad Owens. It is nice to see concerned citizens getting appointed to positions on our authorities. Congratulations!

badmoon426
1187
Points
badmoon426 01/26/14 - 08:50 am
8
0
As for the Augusta Regional Collaboration Authority...

...or whatever it is. Now that it is a publicly (or targeted to be publicly funded) entity I look for a year of ORR's where we will truly find out some biting questions (1) Who or What Matt Kwatinetz is getting paid for his presentations, Jazz Club ideas and whatever else he does and (2) Exactly why the mayor is willing to spend 12 million dollars of taxpayer money on the Mills Project when the Board of Regents and GRU seem to be concerned more with consolidating their current employees and facilities than this grandiose expansion plan of facilities like the mayor and his benefactors seem to be banking.

nocnoc
49218
Points
nocnoc 01/26/14 - 09:10 am
7
0
Property Taxes and SPLOSTS

1 on the reasons we are moving is TAXES.

Looking at Walton Co. & Barrow Co. they have far less Government spending of Social Issues compared to ARC. Less Added mandatory "SERVICE FEES", No Rain taxes, No constant spending on things like $$ Million Civic Center, hotels, parking decks, Mills, Defunct Golf Gardens, Theaters/Arts and or the every few year misc Broad St / CBD $$Million projects. ARC wants the residents to pay for spending, while it tries to dream of being Ga's East Border Atlanta. ARC has just too many people wanting .... something.

Sales Taxes are but another example.
I am not alone in saying, I save well over $1000 a year, just shopping in North Augusta due to various GA/ARC vs NA/SC taxes.

http://www.city-data.com/county/Richmond_County-GA.html
http://www.city-data.com/county/Barrow_County-GA.html
http://www.city-data.com/county/Walton_County-GA.html

An in case anyone is wonder what Columbia County looks like.
http://www.city-data.com/county/Columbia_County-GA.html

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 01/26/14 - 09:47 am
8
0
Thanks guys..

I was completely surprised by this nomination.

I am humbled by this appointment and I will do my best to serve our community through the URA.

Thank you Sylvia Cooper for the kind words.

Transparency and accountability.

Brad

countyman
21638
Points
countyman 01/26/14 - 02:20 pm
1
7
The comments pretty much tell

The comments pretty much explain the recent history of Augusta. Let's blame Dr. Azziz the outsider, and ignore the main problem hurting the city. Many small towns/cities in the US are EXTREMELY safe, but they can't attract the large employers and the creative class.. How much safer can you make Jimmie Dyess or Riverwatch Pkwy? The city providing new jobs, businesses, and redevelopment can help lower the crime rate. Let's provide the necessary amount of public safety and provide the citizens with multiple amenities to enjoy..

Why does the 18-30 age group continue to move away to bigger cities? Did they move for safety reasons? Did they move because Augusta is pretty boring? What type of growth will make the city of Augusta stand out? Growth in the suburbs? Growth in Harrisburg, Laney Walker, or the Regency Mall area? The only way you can separate yourself away from the pack is by doing something different.

How can you deny the potential of the Mills Campus? The solar farm(private sector) and the EPA grant are just the beginning.. Who is begging GRU to develop anything? The mayor of Augusta didn't even want GRU to initially develop the GGHF site... The baseball stadium and the mixed-use development were the main priority... Governor Deal transferred the GGHF property to GRU, because Dr. Azziz wants to develop the property.. Why do you think Dr. Azziz wanted the land to be transferred to GRU instead of the city?

The majority of condos at Port Royal are over $200,000 and will increase once the developer finishes completing the Discovery Plaza(old Fort Discovery) renovations.. The GRU plans for the GGHF site include the $225 million dorms/retail development and the $75 million biotech park..

The word 'urban renewal' is the definition for the redevelopment of moderate to high density areas..

Conservative Man
5578
Points
Conservative Man 01/26/14 - 12:20 pm
3
0
I for one…..

….don't deny the potential for the Mills Campus….but lets face the cold hard reality that 12 million is a drop in the bucket towards what it would take to clean up the mills….

I had a relative who worked for the president of the now defunct Clearwater Finishing Plant in Clearwater…

They were told in no certain terms that the solvents and other poisonous chemicals stored in and around that place would keep it uninhabitable for decades..

What does that facility look like now?..a ghost town…

I submit that with the MUCH longer history of operation of King/Sibley the carcinogens are even greater….

Is Groo OR the taxpayers willing to cough up hundreds of millions in order to make their place even remotely inhabitable…

The only ones I see willing to spend this kind of cash are those who feed at the public trough...

Augz79
1083
Points
Augz79 01/26/14 - 01:30 pm
3
0
Greetings Countyman...And

Greetings Countyman...
And now the flip side to the Kool-Aid:
* Who is begging GRU to develop anything? The City of Augusta, that's who.
* Deke wants GRU at the GGHF because the baseball stadium fell through. Nevermind that it's nowhere near the rest of the GRU campuses except by car or shuttle.
* Deal transferred GGHF to GRU because it's a state entity. Azziz is no dummy, he's not going to turn down free riverfront land.
* Azziz has not said anything about wanting to develop the Mills. He has been what you call *being diplomatic about it*. A study is being done, and in the end he will do what is in the University's best interest. (sound familiar, Save the A'ers?)

Perhaps at the next meeting of the Mills Campus planning group, they could have a group reading of He's Just Not That Into You.

Sweet son
11651
Points
Sweet son 01/26/14 - 01:32 pm
5
0
Pie in the Sky wish list!

All government departments know how to play the budget request game. They all ask for twice as much as they could possibly need thinking they might get the half they really/might need.

The commissioners should automatically cut the request number in half and tell the departments to come back with something more realistic.

I also agree that the term for the splost is too long and that commissioners have lost sight of what a splost should really be for.

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