Copenhaver lays out plans for Augusta's future

Mayor Deke Copenhaver said if the voters who re-elected him Tuesday like what he's done so far, they'll love what he's going to do next with the new members of the Augusta Commission.

"There's nothing we can't do now that we have the strong team we have now," he said. "It's taken a few years to put the team together, but the citizens are going to be proud of this commission."

Copenhaver was re-elected with 64.3 percent of the vote, while two incumbent commissioners he supported were also swept back into office by decisive margins. One of the two newcomers he supported for commission seats also won.

Incumbent District 2 Commissioner Corey Johnson was re-elected with 65.5 percent of the votes; District 4 Commissioner Alvin Mason with 62.2 percent, and newcomer Wayne Guilfoyle, whom the mayor called "a long-time friend," won the most votes among three candidates in District 8 but might be facing a recount that could lead to a runoff against Doug Lively.

"One key thing here is all incumbents running without opposition got over 60 percent," he said. "I think that is an endorsement of the way this government is running and the way we're handling ourselves."

Don't think, however, that Copenhaver plans to ease up anytime soon. He has plans, one of the first ones being to "put the house in order" and give City Administrator Fred Russell the authority to run the day-to-day operations of the government.

"And that I would like to do within the next three months," he said.

Before year's end, the city must balance a proposed general-fund budget with a $9.4 million deficit without a big property-tax increase or drastically cutting services.

"I think restructuring is going to be key," he said. "That's going to save us several million dollars."

There has been much speculation that some long-time employees will be asked to retire, and some employees will be terminated, but the mayor would not elaborate on that.

"We're not exactly sure how it's going to work, but I trust our finance department and our administrator to work with the commission to try for a budget we can all live with," he said.

Within the next six months, he said he would like to see the city move forward on some of the initiatives outlined in the Augusta Sustainable Development Agenda. Within the next year, he expects to see more major economic development, such as Costco, which announced last week it will build a store at the Village at Riverwatch property.

"Within the next four years, I would like to see Augusta become a sustainable model for smart growth and development and see us further our reputation as a world-class mid-size city," he said.

Copenhaver said he also wants to continue the city's community re-development initiatives, such as the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem model that is slated to receive $37.5 million from hotel-motel taxes over 50 years.

When asked whether he will continue to push for a baseball stadium on the Golf and Gardens property, he said he had been saying for years that his ultimate goal was to get the property out from under a government bureaucracy and back on the tax rolls.

"And I firmly believe the private sector should have the predominant influence on the development of the property," he said. "I believe it could work as a public/private partnership, but we have to see what the private sector is willing to bring to the table."

When asked whether he will speak out more about crime in Augusta, which was opponent Lori Davis' challenge to him during the campaign, he said he would continue to work with the sheriff on crime issues and actively engage the community in helping.

"The prayer vigil and march at Thankful Baptist Church was a good first step, and we need to build on that," he said.

On a personal level, Copenhaver said he wants to cut 30 minutes off of his Iron Man contest time next year.

Goals for Augusta

RICHMOND COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT 6 INCUMBENT JACK PADGETT: Touted increasing the graduation rate, decreasing the dropout rate, and continuing to manage the district's finances during prolonged tough economic times.

The district must effectively use federal grant money it has received or is expected to get shortly, and brace for another expected mid-year state funding cut, he said. Those grants include Race to the Top, from which Richmond County is expected to receive $16.6 million in a four-year period, and the School Improvement Grants, which saw about $1 million each awarded to improvement efforts at Glenn Hills, Josey and Laney high schools.

SUPER DISTRICT 10 COMMISSIONER-ELECT GRADY SMITH: He expressed an immediate interest in eliminating "Mickey Mouse" perks, starting at the commission level, that might be extravagant during lean times, communicating with companies interested in doing business here and examining ways to avoid furloughing employees who might already be experiencing hardships.

WAYNE GUILFOYLE, WHO COULD FACE A RUNOFF FOR THE DISTRICT 8 COMMISSION SEAT: Three to six months from now, he hopes to be meeting with department heads to figure out ways to improve efficiency and save money. A year from now, Guilfoyle said, he hopes to have his platform of creating jobs and fostering growth in south Richmond County well under way.

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