Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

City Ink: Augusta Commission takes easy way out with tax increase

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Augusta Commission members voted to raise property taxes last week, once again taking the easy way out by refusing to look realistically at services the city provides or discuss cutting anything permanently.

No one asks, “Why in this day and age do we need a Disadvantaged Business Enter­prise office? And what has the one we have really accomplished?”

Nor do they ask, “Do we really need a park on every corner?” At least 20 of the 62 could be closed to save several millions every year.

Or, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy everybody who uses the transit system a car than to run the bus service?” The buses don’t go into south Augusta anyway. Go all the way or don’t go.

Or, “Why do we let industry skate on their energy sales tax and make up the loss by increasing taxes on everybody else who owns property in Richmond Coun­ty?” It’s not a new tax, and they’re already getting a 4 percent break from the state. The 2 percent the city could collect will be a
$4 million loss by 2016 that property owners will have to pay.

Commissioners Donnie Smith and Bill Lockett have tried to get their colleagues to vote for the energy tax, but you know how lobbyists can lobby.

They can’t cut anything. They can’t cut recreation because the kids will be roaming the streets and getting in trouble. They can’t cut commissioners’ travel or gasoline budgets because they couldn’t fly to Texas, New Orleans and Timbuctoo to attend educational seminars.

The only thing they can do is hire more people. For example, they approved creating five new positions at a committee meeting last week, all justified or federally mandated, of course.

And that’s why they and past commissions have raided reserve funds for so many years to keep from raising property taxes. It was the easy way out.

BUT THAT WAS JUST A DREAM: Lockett says John C. Calhoun Expressway has stymied economic development, and he wants to see about lowering or removing it altogether.

Too bad he didn’t read the 2009 Westobou Vision Plan or the Augusta Sustain­able Development Agenda, a $500,000 commission-authorized master plan for Rich­mond County, earlier. Both recommended removing the elevated ramp below 15th Street.

If he had, he could have tried to get it on the 2012 Trans­portation Investment Act project list. The expressway is on the list, not for demolition but for $8 million in improvements.

Lockett is only the latest city official to propose major construction, or in his case, de-construction projects.

In 2007, then-Commissioner Andy Cheek dreamed of a canal flowing down Ellis Street in downtown Au­gus­ta, bringing tourists by the boatload to the new Venice of the South. His dream, known as the Ellis Street Option, would have involved digging up Ellis Street and creating a two-mile canal that hopefully would create a nightlife and entertainment destination. He got the idea while visiting San Antonio and seeing its riverwalk.

Some people thought Cheek had flipped out. Others called him a visionary.

One who thought he’d flipped was Broad Street businesswoman Bonnie Ruben, whose hotel and department store back up to Ellis Street.

“This is bizarre,” she said. “The whole thing. The Ellis Street Option. So a space station would be a nice option. It could hover above us and monitor traffic.”

Anyhow, she already had a canal behind her hotel every time it rained.

As it turned out, city officials projected the cost of the canal at $300 million. Cheek couldn’t muster enough votes to pursue his dream via a feasibility study, but the Downtown Devel­op­ment Authority got the green light to go forward with a $37,000 trolley feasibility study.

JUST A DREAM: Mayor Deke Copenhaver has pushed two major projects. In 2007, he and Cal Ripken Jr., the Hall of Famer who owned the Augusta GreenJackets at the time, proposed a $20 million state-of-the-art riverfront stadium to be built between 11th and 13th streets.

Sup­porters said the proposed Reynolds Street park would be “something along the lines of Camden Yards” in Baltimore and would take into account Augusta’s rich baseball history and be a year-round point of pride.

Well, as you know, it didn’t happen. Depending on your point of view, Au­gus­ta either struck out or hit a home run across the river into North Augusta.

The mayor’s other project involves converting two historic textile mills on the Augusta Canal near downtown into a campus for Georgia Regents University. Commissioners embraced the project and authorized spending $300,000 to continue studies and collect environmental data on the mills properties.

“The mills project is now at a point we’ll likely be making sheets and dishrags there again before anything else happens,” a source said last week.

In the sheer number of proposed construction projects, no commissioner can match Commissioner Marion Williams, whose latest idea is to build an “urban veranda” on top of two Broad Street parking bays. The veranda would feature seating areas and green space. The plan calls for a misting station, seating areas and a “water wall” on two sides of the James Brown statue.

Williams has also proposed a drag strip for south Augusta, an aquarium and even a zoo as potential revenue generators.

It was also Williams’ idea to use goats to eat overgrown vegetation around detention ponds.

During the recent mayoral campaign, Commissioner Alvin Mason made lowering the 93-year-old Savannah River levee about 18 feet the No. 2 point in his “10-Point Advocacy Plan.”

In his campaign for the Dis­trict 22 state Senate seat, Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said he was pushing for the creation of a “college row” along Walton Way and surrounding areas to give college students something they could embrace and “call their own.”

JUST A DREAM DREAM: With all of these innovative and imaginative – not to mention expensive – proposals, you can imagine what Augusta would look like if commissioners had their way.

For starters, all the run-down houses would be torn down, and Williams’ goats would be working overtime eating all of the newly grown grass when they weren’t working on the urban veranda. Of course, they’d have to fence in Cheek’s canal to keep them from wandering over and falling in.

Through many years, numerous commissioners have wanted to solve the Regency Mall problem, but it seems to have solved itself. The trees have grown up and hidden the ugly building from view. It’s a good thing the goats weren’t there, or we’d still be looking at it.

If certain commissioners had their way, GRU wouldn’t have a new dental school or student activities building on the old Gilbert Manor property. And multi-income housing wouldn’t have replaced the crime-infested housing project off Sand Bar Ferry Road. And Cherry Tree Crossing would still be thriving.

And finally, if Mason had his way, there wouldn’t be a Costco or Cabela’s, even though he did kinda, sorta take credit for it during his mayoral campaign.

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jpbrig
181
Points
jpbrig 08/02/14 - 09:30 pm
12
1
Sylvia is the best

Sylvia is the best

itsanotherday1
43014
Points
itsanotherday1 08/02/14 - 09:50 pm
3
1
"removing the elevated ramp

"removing the elevated ramp below 15th Street."

I'm having a senior moment and can't envision what they are talking about. What "ramp" below 15th?

TrulyWorried
14164
Points
TrulyWorried 08/02/14 - 09:58 pm
7
0
Kudos to Sylvia

and she brings it to the public to recall what all took place and is taking place as they go along.
Now, get the psychiatrist I suggested in another rant and keep him/her active which I don't think will be any problem.

Gage Creed
17203
Points
Gage Creed 08/02/14 - 10:01 pm
8
2
Mixed Use

It wasn't a baseball stadium... it was a mixed used facility (Jim Jacoby don't build no baseball stadiums) EYEROLL

The Mills Campus are still a viable option for GRU and Azziz Exaggerated EYEROLL.

Gage Creed
17203
Points
Gage Creed 08/02/14 - 10:08 pm
7
1
Clyde Wells..

All this talk of removing the ramp, reminds me of the Clyde Wells cartoon with the Net at the 15th street overpass... I still get a smile thinking about that.

http://old.chronicle.augusta.com/stories/1997/11/16/met_217590.shtml

deestafford
27553
Points
deestafford 08/02/14 - 11:31 pm
6
2
Is there such a thing as a scarless lobotomy?...

Is there such a thing as a scarless lobotomy? That may explain why people who otherwise appear sane come up with crazy ideas once they are in office.

Maybe there is a secret clinic in the Medical College which performs these sub-cranial alterations within the first 60 days of a politician's being elected.

deestafford
27553
Points
deestafford 08/02/14 - 11:31 pm
3
2
Is there such a thing as a scarless lobotomy?...

Is there such a thing as a scarless lobotomy? That may explain why people who otherwise appear sane come up with crazy ideas once they are in office.

Maybe there is a secret clinic in the Medical College which performs these sub-cranial alterations within the first 60 days of a politician's being elected.

countyman
20120
Points
countyman 08/03/14 - 05:07 am
4
12
Work together!!!!!

There's a reason why Atlanta is the only major city in Georgia and metro Augusta has less than 1 million people(second largest in GA and 10 times smaller than ATL).. All of the ideas proposed in Atlanta didn't become reality or weren't the best idea, but the city still continued to build new things(aquarium, ferris wheel downtown, etc).. Creating new ideas and thinking outside the box is always much better than doing nothing.. Look at the Regency Mall if you need proof. Every idea may not be the best solution and doesn't have to move forward. The goal should be to create the correct atmosphere(ideas centered around moving forward) and running away from the constant apathy or cynicism... Leaders must focus on bringing in revenue from outside the CSRA(water park, etc).. The same people who claim Augusta is boring don't want the city to build anything new.. Let's work together on making Augusta more attractive instead of always pointing the finger.. Augusta is ranked third in the state for tourism and obviously the city offers something to visitors..

Every single vibrant major city in the US can offer reliable public transportation.... How can you attract major industry with subpar public transportation? The city should be working on connecting Fort Gordon, Medical District, Augusta mall, Washington rd, Peach Orchard, CBD, Augusta mall, Deans Bridge, Tobacco rd, etc with each other..

The excise tax should have been enacted for 1-2 years and they should have enacted the vacant building tax..

The GGHF site in the CBD or another spot in the Medical District may begin construction before the Mills Campus.. The mayor still deserves credit for pushing the idea of having more young people living in the urban core.. The Board of Regents is pushing for GRU to construct 1,000 new dorms by 2018 and 600 by 2016...
http://www.usg.edu/fiscal_affairs/p3_docs/APPENDIX_A-SUMMARY_OVERVIEW_OF...

The main problem in Augusta is many people don't believe the growth in RC will have a bigger overall impact on the CSRA than any individual county. Anybody who can't see the major difference between the riverfront project proposed in Augusta versus North Augusta is clearly bias.. Cal Ripken sold the team and Jim Jacoby dropped out.. Please visit the Atlantic Station in Atlanta, Ga one day(developed by Jim Jacoby).. The bias is only hurting the entire CSRA and not just Augusta proper.. How is putting down Augusta helping the CSRA when multiple counties rely on the city?
http://atlanticstation.com/

Riverman1
83807
Points
Riverman1 08/03/14 - 05:02 am
4
1
Construction?

"The GGHF site in the CBD or another spot in the Medical District may begin construction before the Mills Campus.. "

Construction of what?

countyman
20120
Points
countyman 08/03/14 - 05:20 am
2
5
GRU

The irony behind somebody who constantly makes sarcastic remarks needing the answers to certain questions..

Please read my previous comment again....

''The Board of Regents is pushing for GRU to construct 1,000 new dorms by 2018 and 600 by 2016...''

The $225 million student housing/retail development and $75 million biotech park is proposed for the GGHF site..

Dixieman
14943
Points
Dixieman 08/03/14 - 06:02 am
10
0
Sylvia is the best.

Our collective memory and conscience, and a darned good writer to boot. Long may she comment!

corgimom
32289
Points
corgimom 08/03/14 - 06:51 am
6
3
Hey, 1,000 dorms would make

Hey, 1,000 dorms would make quite an impact on Augusta, alright.

There used to be bus service in South Augusta, and then it was stopped. But with all the Section 8 people that they are moving out there, they are going to have to reinstate it.

And there used to be a water park. It closed. It's hard to sustain a water park when you have a free lake just a few miles up the road.

But Countyman, just so I know, how is RC supposed to extend bus service when they are broke? You know, a $5 million deficit?

As for Regency Mall, it is private property and the owner wanted to sell it for $52 million, when it isn't worth anywhere near that, so I don't understand your comment about Regency Mall.

Atlanta is a big city because it was the junction point for 5 railroads. And now it is the junction point of 3 major interstates, whereas Augusta is not.

seenitB4
87110
Points
seenitB4 08/03/14 - 07:18 am
2
5
Well now,

I would rather see a Ferris Wheel in downtown than a chopped off highway..or a canal.

Put one up countyman.

justthefacts
21768
Points
justthefacts 08/03/14 - 08:11 am
3
0
Countyman

You sure a way of whipping up the hornets...

Gage Creed
17203
Points
Gage Creed 08/03/14 - 08:43 am
3
2
Point of Order...

The people who claim Augusta is boring... are the people who have all of these hare-brained ideas...

norton.. you might want to catch up on the viability of Atlantic Station

historylover
8529
Points
historylover 08/03/14 - 09:00 am
2
1
Mass transit

would fix so many broken things in this county and CC too. It would ease up the traffic during the day and people without cars or a ride could still work even if the job was far away. I can remember getting on the bus near Lumpkin Road in the 70's and taking it downtown to meet my friends from the Hill who had done the same. We would shop, eat hotdogs, whatever, all day. Then we'd ride the buses home before dark. I also remember the Ft. Gordon buses that were blue that carried the service men and women and their families around town.

Corigmom, I know the system is out of money in Augusta, but just think what buses could do for tourism. When you visit Chattanooga, a hugely successful city, you can ride their electric buses for free all over town. They make their visitors feel welcome. More tourists equal more dollars (and not just during Master's week.)

MrClen1944
233
Points
MrClen1944 08/03/14 - 09:03 am
2
1
Countyman, get real.

Countyman, get real.

dichotomy
32902
Points
dichotomy 08/03/14 - 09:05 am
5
4
countyman..."Leaders must

countyman..."Leaders must focus on bringing in revenue from outside the CSRA(water park, etc).."

NOOOO......this "focus" on building stuff to bring in tourists DOES NOT even pay for itself, witness our budget shortfall....it's a failed policy....AND has caused terminal ROT in 50% of the geographic area of the county due to neglect of those areas while spending all of the money DOWNTOWN. Anything you have gained from "tourists" you have LOST by depreciated property in South Richmond County and ZERO growth on the south side with 1000's of acres of terminally vacant land. BECAUSE NOBODY WANTS TO LIVE HERE.

And....who the hell wants to be like Atlanta anyway???? It's a rat's nest.

" The city should be working on connecting "

The "city".....the "city". You speak as if the "city" has it's own money. The "city" does not have any money. Who do you expect to pay for this bus service. Me? Me out here in South Richmond County with NO sheriff's response, inadequate fire protection, terminal ambulance response, 200% overpriced garbage service, and going to be RAIN TAXED for my DITCH. Me who just had their property taxes raised on property that is being taxed at a value that is 30% higher than what it can be sold for on the market. Me who has had the city create a Section 8, rotting, no-man's land between me and that tourist mecca of DOWNTOWN Augusta?

You can have all of the bus service you want AS LONG AS THE FARES ARE HIGH ENOUGH TO PAY FOR THE ENTIRE SERVICE.

I'll make a deal with you countyman. You have those knuckleheads DOWNTOWN lower my tax rate to 6.4 mils like Columbia County, value my property according to the law at MARKET VALUE, and charge me the market rate for garbage service, and then those commissioners CAN BUILD ANY DAMNED THEY CAN PAY FOR WITHIN A BALANCED BUDGET.

raul
4859
Points
raul 08/03/14 - 09:16 am
3
2
Nobody in RC would use public

Nobody in RC would use public transportation as long as they could afford private transportation and traffic congestion was still reasonable. And if you are using public transportation in Augusta, generally you do not have much of a disposable/expendable income to buy unnecessary goods and services.

willie7
955
Points
willie7 08/03/14 - 09:23 am
0
0
I wish Augusta had more
Unpublished

I wish Augusta had more people like Countyman. We would make more progress. Would like to meet him!!

laylagigi2
22
Points
laylagigi2 08/03/14 - 09:41 am
7
1
You need real leaders in

You need real leaders in those commissioners seats instead of just a lot of talking about nothing to make this town grow. The is the worst case of leadership i have seen in many towns i've been living in! Being a calif native this town has a lot of none visionary leaders that think only of them self!!

Gage Creed
17203
Points
Gage Creed 08/03/14 - 11:13 am
2
2
Cali Visionaries...

Ummmm can you say Pelosi, Boxer, or Feinstein? No thank you...

Gage Creed
17203
Points
Gage Creed 08/03/14 - 11:16 am
2
2
Sprint Metro Market 2

Coming not so soon to the GGHF property near you.

Riverman1
83807
Points
Riverman1 08/03/14 - 11:31 am
3
2
Countyman said, "The $225

Countyman said, "The $225 million student housing/retail development and $75 million biotech park is proposed for the GGHF site.."

So the idea of using the Mills property for student housing, etc., is not on the table?

GnipGnop
12227
Points
GnipGnop 08/03/14 - 04:04 pm
7
2
People will always complain

about taxes being raised. I know I will. I think the biggest complaints are because they are being raised without anything being done to cut the waste. All those wasted studies for big bucks. Also, in NA, trash service once a week along with recycling and a yard waste container (and they pick up everything once a week) is about 18 bucks a month. You can't tell me someone isn't getting their pocket lined in the Augusta trash deal. Why wasn't a bidding process used? Why should people in South Richmond County pay for things downtown for a for profit college to benefit from? Why do we waste money on all these extra hands in the pot? The DDA, coliseum authority etc. etc. Why do we pay someone such big bucks to be a ribbon cutting PR man with assistants? Augusta is a wasteful, political, cronyism joke.

AutumnLeaves
7667
Points
AutumnLeaves 08/03/14 - 11:56 am
4
0
Unbelievable. One of the few

Unbelievable. One of the few roads you're not falling into the holes that are made by not resurfacing the roads level with the manhole covers, not to mention the potholes, and they want to take it away from us? One of the smartest things this city ever did was make that simplified and quick route into the city and the medical district and they're talking about taking it away? What a dumb, dumb, dumb move that would be!

Little Lamb
45908
Points
Little Lamb 08/03/14 - 12:26 pm
4
0
Dorms

Countyman posted:

The $225 million student housing/retail development and $75 million biotech park is proposed for the GGHF site..

If Grooo spends $225 million on dorms/Starbucks store plus $75 million for a research complex on the GGHF site, then you can kiss the "Mills Campus" idea goodbye (and good riddance, Matt).

Darby
25608
Points
Darby 08/03/14 - 12:57 pm
2
1
Good column,

Sylvia.

I know what I'd cut if I were the King!

countyman
20120
Points
countyman 08/03/14 - 01:27 pm
1
1
Augusta

Corgimom... I think you and Sylvia need to visit South Augusta in the near future.. The bus system never stopped in South Augusta, but the routes should expand to include Tobacco road.. The city of Augusta has millions in the reserves and TSplost includes money for public transportation.. The water park in Evans closed due to insurance rates and not the number of visitors.. The city of Statesboro is much smaller than Augusta and they've already expanded their new water park... The city has to buy the Regency Mall sooner or later, because the private sector won't invest the money.. Birmingham and Atlanta were separated by around 35,000 people in 1940.. The city limits of Atlanta is now close to 300,000 larger and the metro is five times bigger than metro Birmingham..

Dichotomy.. What has the city built in order to attract outside money besides the Riverwalk or TEE Center?? The Riverwalk continues to attract visitors even with the lack of development.. The TEE Center is responsible for the first new hotel to open in the CBD in decades..

Raul... The number of bus riders would easily increased from the current 3,000 to 6,000 if the system were reliable... The number of people on Fort Gordon alone who need access to the system is paramount..

Riverman... The idea of using the former Mills is on the table and the GRU master plan should reveal the details to the public..

amarie525
2515
Points
amarie525 08/03/14 - 02:04 pm
0
0
Atlantic Station

Just google it, lots of crime. Retailers are moving out.

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