Local match needed by state before Georgia Regents University Cancer Center funds released

 

While bond funds for the new Georgia Regents University Cancer Center are unencumbered, the reality is they won’t be spent until a private match is in the bank, officials said Tuesday. And that could put Augusta officials hard up against a deadline to get special purpose local option sales tax funding.

The Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission has sold $45 million in bonds to finance the $62.5 million project and the university has committed to raise $12.5 million, with another $5 million in bond funding next fiscal year.

Technically, the bond funds are available and would not require a match to be spent, a GSFIC official has said.

But the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget does require on large projects such as this that at least two-thirds of the matching funds in the bank before it will let the project move forward, said Teresa MacCartney, the director of the office and the state’s Chief Financial Officer.

“What I always want to emphasize is we don’t want to go down a path of building these buildings and then, if we don’t have the local match, we’ll get to a point where then we have to go in there and change the scope or we have to come back and put in more state funding,” she said. “So we really want that guarantee.”

While GSFIC would release the funds to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, that agency reports to the Office of Planning and Budget, MacCartney said.

Because the bond funding was issued this fiscal year, the agency would like to see the private funding in the bank by June 30 “if we want to be able to stay on track and get this building going,” she said.

If not, “we would probably just let it sit there until we could get the commitment and get the funding from the local” contributors, MacCartney said.

If the philanthropy appears to be a problem, “then we would have conversations with GRU,” she said. “But I’m not going to tell you we would pull the funding. We would have to have conversations with GRU on how to move forward.”

But Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said it was his understanding that if the university and its partners can’t meet the deadline “then those funds will end up going someplace else.”

So he believes the time is now to get that done, and he would like it to be through $8 million in the next SPLOST. A philanthropic gift to help the university reach its commitment “would be contingent upon the city getting our portion of the funding,” Copenhaver said.

That would put the city under a difficult deadline because the state and federal primary date where the SPLOST referendum will appear was moved up to May 20. That would mean the Augusta Commission would have to pass the SPLOST referendum by Feb. 10.

But Copenhaver believes the frantic push to get it done will be worth it.

“I don’t believe the importance of building the cancer center here can be overstated,” he said. “This facility would have the opportunity to impact the lives of not just local citizens but citizens throughout Georgia and throughout the Southeast. For me that’s something our city should not pass up.”

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