SPLOST VI: Taxes won and lost

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In the 22-year history of the special-purpose local option sales tax in Augusta-Richmond County, only once has a referendum failed.

A previous phase of the special purpose local option sales tax helped fund the construction of the new downtown library.  John Curry/Staff
John Curry/Staff
A previous phase of the special purpose local option sales tax helped fund the construction of the new downtown library.
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It happened Nov. 2, 2004, which was also a presidential election. It was the first time the city government presented a SPLOST package based on a dollar figure rather than a four- or five-year collection period, and commissioners loaded it with pet projects until the total reached $486 million, a figure that would have taken 10 years to collect.

"Every time we met, the amount would get bigger and bigger," former Mayor Bob Young recalls. "The people believed the mayor and the commission had gone crazy."

The vote failed, 40,318 to 24,457.

Lessons were learned -- lessons now being applied in the upcoming referendum, which Mr. Young says make it highly likely to pass this time.

A year after the defeat, the commission presented a trimmed-down package -- totaling $160 million, without the $81.4 million sports arena at Regency Mall, the $33.9 million amphitheater or the $18 million performing arts theater -- that voters overwhelmingly passed.

The proposed package going to voters Tuesday totals $184.7 million, 67 percent of it for infrastructure. That amount was pared down from an initial list of needs and requests that totaled $641.2 million. Cuts included $20 million for the downtown trade, exhibit and event center, $15 million for a TEE center parking deck, $12.4 million for a new wing to the Augusta Museum of History and $204.3 million in road and drainage improvements.

There's also significance in the timing of the election, Mr. Young said.

Before 2004, sales tax referendums had been held in March, August or September, always passing by comfortable margins.

Commissioner Joe Bowles argued to hold this election in November, saying attaching it to the general election would save the city the $83,290 cost of holding a single-issue referendum. City Administrator Fred Russell successfully argued that if it failed, under state law the city couldn't hold another election for a full year, and if it waited until November 2010 there could be a lapse in collections that would cost millions. After the 2004 failure, collections stopped for three months, costing the city $9 million.

But there's another tactical advantage to a special election, Mr. Young said. Turnout is expected to be 10 to 15 percent Tuesday.

"You want to have low turnout, because the people who are going to benefit from it are likely to turn out to vote," Mr. Young said. "You don't want to give the opposition an opportunity, and you don't want people uneducated about it voting on it, who just look at it as another tax."

An example is SPLOST IV. When the vote was held Sept. 19, 2000, only 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The measure passed overwhelmingly, 68 percent to 32 percent.

When the revised package passed in November 2005, it was during a nonpresidential election. The turnout was 41 percent that year -- likely that high because it featured a mayoral contest to replace Mr. Young, who had resigned to take a job with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- compared with 79 percent the previous November. Turnout for this November's election, which includes odd-numbered Augusta Commission district seats, is expected to be around 19 percent.

Another factor that worked against the referendum in 2004, Mr. Young said, was the perception that SPLOST projects weren't getting completed, that voters were being asked to collect nearly a half-billion dollars in sales tax with no guarantee they'd see any results.

That perception remains a challenge, considering the recent controversy over the TEE center, passed by voters at $20 million in 2005, but now projected to cost $38 million plus a $12 million to $17 million parking deck, and yet to be approved by the Augusta Commission.

City Administrator Fred Russell said voters should understand that major projects take time.

"It took us a while to find a location for the judicial center," he said. "I think the TEE center is as complicated as anything we've tried to do. You're talking about major decisions that are going to have 50, 60 years of impact, so they're trying to do it as carefully as they can."

The package on Tuesday's ballot would be the city's sixth phase of SPLOST. Dating back to the beginning, only SPLOST I funds -- $82.3 million collected from 1988 to 1991 -- have been entirely spent.

From SPLOST II, $4.2 million has yet to be spent; $29.7 million is unspent from SPLOST III; $54.2 million is unspent from SPLOST IV; and $35.9 million is unspent from SPLOST V, which is still being collected.

A review of the city's most recent SPLOST recap report shows unspent money from earlier phases to be mostly for road and drainage projects. From the more recent phases, it's mostly road projects, parks projects and public facilities such as the Webster Detention Center, the judicial center and, of course, the exhibition center.

Assistant Finance Director Tim Schroer, who is tracking expenditures from past SPLOST phases, said most of the road projects are held up because the city is waiting for matching funds from the state Department of Transportation.

"While it seems like we're just holding these funds, in essence we are, but we're waiting for the rest of the funds to come in," he said.

Large projects not only take time, but they're often funded through more than one sales tax package. That was the case with the $36 million detention center, the $67 million judicial center and the $24 million new main library.

"SPLOST is for capital projects," Mr. Schroer said. "Capital projects take time."

Mr. Young said he has already voted against SPLOST VI, not because of the TEE center controversy, but because he doesn't think $12 million should go to special-interest groups that have no experience overseeing multi-million dollar projects, such as the Augusta Symphony, which is seeking $5.28 million to restore the Miller Theatre. He said more money should have been devoted to infrastructure, especially road repair.

But it'll still pass Tuesday, he said.

"There's opposition to it," Mr. Young said, "but it's not organized."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.



When sales tax dollars go unspent, it's usually because the city is waiting for matching funds from the state Department of Transportation to fund road projects, or because major projects such as the judicial center and the Webster Detention Center take time to complete, according to City Administrator Fred Russell.

Here's a look at special purpose local option sales tax spending, as of Dec. 31, 2008:

(*Not completed. Collections will end at $160 million)

Source: Augusta-Richmond County Finance Department's SPLOST Recap Quarterly Status Report, Dec. 31, 2008


- Worth every penny?

- Editorial: Send the right message: Yes!

- Sample Ballot


Of the money to be raised by extending the 1-cent sales tax, 67 percent would go toward infrastructure. The sales tax list also includes:

- $18 million for Municipal Building renovations

- $17 million to replace police vehicles and fire trucks

- $10.9 million for parks and recreation

- $10 million to pay off debt from money fronted to the Medical College of Georgia to buy Gilbert Manor public housing project

- $5.7 million for Hephzibah and Blythe

- $5.1 million toward the Augusta Symphony's restoration of the Miller Theatre

- $4 million to dredge Lake Olmstead

- $3.5 million to create a lake near Regency Mall, part of a strategy to spur redevelopment there

- $2.5 million for Paine College's Health Education Activities Learning Complex

SPLOST package grand total: $184,724,000

Infrastructure projects ($124,055,000)

Augusta Regional Airport Eastside Access Economic Development Program - Element 1 8,500,000
Daniel Field Airport Airport Terminal Renovation 2,000,000
Total:   $10,500,000
"Augusta projects"
Webster Detention Center   18,000,000
Sheriff Administration Building   6,000,000
Total:   $24,000,000
Fire department
Training Center Infrastructure   2,000,000
Total:   $2,000,000
Traffic Sign Upgrade Program   300,000
Lake Olmstead Dredging   4,000,000
Martin Luther King Drive   1,250,000
Garden City Beautification Initiative   500,000
Rocky Creek Drainage Plan / Regency Mall   3,500,000
East Augusta Street & drainage improvement   $4 million
Marvin Griffin   $4 million
Storm water utility implementation program   $3.5 million
Dover-Lyman Street & drainage improvement   $2 million
Hyde Park Street & drainage improvement   $2 million
Woodbine Road improvement   $1.5 million
Berckmans Road over Raes Creek   $1 million
Marks Church Road over Raes Creek   $1 million
North Leg over CSX Railroad   $1 million
Old Waynesboro Road over Spirit Creek   $1 million
On-call emergency construction services   $1 million
Scotts Way over Raes Creek   $1 million
7th Street over Augusta Canal   $1 million
Old McDuffie Road   $840,000
Westside Drive drainage improvement   $600,000
Berckmans Road realignment   $500,000
On-call emergency design services   $135,000
On-call emergency appraisal services   $50,000
Total:   $35,675,000
Maxwell Branch Library   900,000
Friedman Branch Library   600,000
Total:   $1,500,000
Augusta-Richmond County authorities
Downtown Development Authority   1,200,000
Development Authority of Richmond County   1,200,000
Augusta Canal Authority   4,170,000
Total:   $6,570,000
Public Services
Public Services Municipal Building Renovations 18,000,000
Public Services Grading and Drainage 4,500,000
Public Services Green Space - CSR Land Trust 500,000
Public Services Suburban Forces-Resurfacing 3,000,000
Public Services Tree Removal, Pruning and Replacement 1,000,000
Public Services Sidewalks-Rehab-Replacement 1,000,000
Public Services Curb Cuts and Sidewalks 500,000
Public Services Resurfacing - Contracts 3,000,000
Public Services General Bridge Rehab and Maintenance 3,000,000
Total:   $34,500,000
Traffic engineering
I-20 Eastbound/Riverwatch Ramp   1,100,000
Walton Way Signal Phase 2 and Streetlight Upgrade   800,000
Gordon Highway Lighting Upgrade   1,500,000
Reynolds Street Signal Improvements   575,000
Signal Upgrades   1,250,000
15th Street Pedestrian Improvements   800,000
Intersection Safety and Operational Initiative   2,550,000
Total:   8,575,000
South Augusta Transit Center   190,000
Renovation Augusta Public Transit Facilities   125,000
Transit Vehicle Purchase   420,000
Total:   $735,000
Infrastructure Total:   $124,055,000

Non-infrastructure ($60,669,000)

"Augusta projects"
MCG-Gilbert Manor Debt   10,000,000
Project Management   2,000,000
Total:   $12,000,000
Fire department
Emergency Fleet Replacement   9,500,000
Total:   $9,500,000
Public Safety Vehicles   7,500,000
Total:   $7,500,000
New Headquarters Library   1,000,000
Total:   $1,000,000
Outside agencies
Historic Augusta, Inc. Wilson & Lamar Historic Sites 125,000
The Augusta Symphony The Augusta Theatre District Project 5,283,600
The Augusta Symphony Augusta Mini Theatre 716,400
Pendleton King Park Foundation Pendleton King Park Connectivity Improvements 200,000
Delta House Inc. Lucy Laney Craft Museum of Black History 600,000
Augusta Museum of History Augusta Museum of History 600,000
Jessye Norman School of Arts Handicap Access Project 95,000
Imperial Theatre Theatre Improvements 1,000,000
Boys and Girls Club E.W. Hagler Club Renovations 500,000
Augusta Urban Ministries Roof Replacement 175,000
Paine College Health Education Activates Learning Complex 2,500,000
Golden Harvest Food Bank New Building 250,000
Total:   $12,045,000
Capital Equipment   150,000
Existing Structural Improvement Fund   950,000
Augusta Common   100,000
Dyess Park   800,000
Lake Olmstead   600,000
May Park   150,000
Old Government House   200,000
The Boathouse   450,000
Elliott Park   100,000
Fleming Park   250,000
Fleming Tennis Center   600,000
Augusta Soccer Complex   150,000
Diamond Lakes Regional   1,350,000
McDuffie Woods   200,000
Augusta Golf Course   300,000
H. H. Brigham   250,000
Valley Park   250,000
Wood Park   50,000
Butler Creek & Hwy 56   500,000
Brookfield   100,000
Eisenhower   100,000
Warren Road   150,000
Blythe Community   500,000
Jamestown Community   200,000
Augusta Marinas   50,000
Lake Olmstead Stadium   100,000
4-H Camp   50,000
Community Wide Tennis Court Resurfacing   150,000
Community Wide Swimming Pool Renovations   900,000
Recreation Planning - Master Plan   200,000
Administration   1,000,000
Total:   $10,900,000
Intergovernmental allocations
City of Hephzibah   4,424,000
City of Blythe   1,300,000
Total:   $5,724,000
Information technology
Network Assessment Remediation   250,000
Redundant Fiber Ring   250,000
Digital Orthophotography   500,000
Software Application Consolidation   1,000,000
Total:   $2,000,000
Non-infrastructure Total:   $60,669,000

Note: Numbers might not add up exactly because of rounding

Comments (13) Add comment
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dickworth1 06/15/09 - 04:59 am
Vote NO to splost! The

Vote NO to splost! The commissioners, Fred Russell, tax assessors office, Steve Kendricks, ex-mayors, can you guarantee
our property taxes will not go up for the length of splost? You keep saying if this fails, property tax will go up, what's new, mine goes up every year with or without this splost, so why would I vote to pay an additional tax. Bob Young showed how
much he cares for Augusta, go on back to Atlanta. It is time for
Augustans to make a stand on taxes and stop this freewheeling
of our money for whatever the city decides to spend it on, how
about taking trips to Hiwaii for a convention or let's spend a million or two on studies to see why it gets hot in July! Sounds
great! Vote NO on the splost tax.

Riverman1 06/15/09 - 05:11 am
It is apparent the tactics of

It is apparent the tactics of the pro-SPLOST folks are to label those who are against it as uninformed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The facts are that the opponents are far more informed and adhering to the time tested principles of finance. Keep on believing you can pay with future sales taxes and one day you will run into Tony Soprano in Augusta asking you why you haven't paid. Deke against Tony...what a horrific vision for Augusta.

Ga Values
Ga Values 06/15/09 - 05:57 am
vote no, too much pork

vote no, too much pork

Barf Obama
Barf Obama 06/15/09 - 06:30 am
Get it right. Vote NO !!!!

Get it right. Vote NO !!!!

Tots 06/15/09 - 07:09 am
Bob Young was telling the

Bob Young was telling the truth about them counting on a low turn out.And the fact we the opposition,being the true property owners are'nt organized.They are counting on us to be LAZY and STUPID.Dont give them that satisfaction.Show them your not stupid and you understand this splost is wrong and at the wrong time.They will come back nexit year.VOTE NO PLEASE GET OUT AND VOTE.

dhd1108 06/15/09 - 07:30 am
why the crap are they

why the crap are they spending millions renovating the current municipal building when a new one is poppin up on walton way?

lifelongresidient 06/15/09 - 07:56 am
splost money still unspent

splost money still unspent from previous years!?!?!?!?!?!?, i think that money is used to generate intrest revenue just sitting in the bank...and now they want another splost to generate more tax revenue to be left unspent??????...I THINK NOT!! and whose to say that property taxes will not go up anyway, the more money collected the more money that will be spent by those 10 "mental midgets" on the commission

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 06/15/09 - 08:08 am
Someone on another article's

Someone on another article's comments had a good point. We should vote NO on this SPLOST until all the unfinished projects from previous SPLOSTs are finished. Then we can begin again (hopefully with a better list of projects). We don't need to give $6 million in sales tax money to the Augusta Symphony.

disssman 06/15/09 - 08:25 am
In looking at the sample

In looking at the sample ballot, It is obvious that someone is double talking. The ballot says" 169 million to be spent on programs OWNED OR OPERATED by augusta or the various appointed authorities within a special area known as the "Augusta Project. . Now either we own the "outside agencies" and their employees are city employees or the ballot is bogus. If we own them then where are the taxpayer representatives on the various boards? BTW who knows of a plan called the "Augusta Project" that is on the books, what is it when was it on the Agenda and when was it approved?

crackertroy 06/15/09 - 09:50 am
Haha, notice the "Related

Haha, notice the "Related Articles" the Augusta Chronicle suggests you read. Why not suggest the "uninformed" naysayers read the editorials that expose the weaknesses of SPLOST? There's no such thing as "unbiased" journalism anymore. Too bad Bob Young is right, it probably will pass because all the special interest and their crowd are a lot more organized than those of us voting against the continuation of SPLOST.

crackertroy 06/15/09 - 10:26 am
It appears the special

It appears the special interest alone could make up 15% of the population: Augusta Regional Airport, Daniel Field Airport, the entire Richmond Co. Police force, Augusta Symphony, Paine College, Imperial Theatre, just to name a few who have vested interest in SPLOST monies.

MyTake 06/15/09 - 11:17 am
Two wrongs do not maike a

Two wrongs do not maike a right. This is the game that the commissioners have been playing and guess what - it doesn't work! The SPLOST does nothing but collect money to keep Augusta going, in a way that shares the cost with people from the surrounding area. Do the smart thing and vote YES.

lifelongresidient 06/15/09 - 12:04 pm
why is public money going to

why is public money going to build a new gym/athletic center for a provate college??? if the money is to be earmarked for paine college why not it be used for scholarships for students or to help defray some of the tuition costs??? that way all of the attending students could benefit from lower tuition and fees instead of a select few....i have no problem with funds going towards institutions of higher learning as long as it helps lower the ever increasing costs, instead of going to benefit the sports programs...wait i forgot thais georgia where sports is king, and education is the "red-headed stepchild"

mad_max 06/15/09 - 12:27 pm
"You want to have low

"You want to have low turnout, because the people who are going to benefit from it are likely to turn out to vote," What he means to say is that they hold a special election because the welfare folks have plenty of time to go vote for it and working people are more reluctant to take time off of work to go vote in a special election. We need to put an end to these expensive SPECIAL ELECTIONS and have these issues as part of the regular Novemeber elections. VOTE NO on SPLOST. Let them know that we are watching the rediculous antics of the commission and the administrator and have deemed them unfit to spend our money. VOTE NO ON SPLOST.

Taylor B
Taylor B 06/15/09 - 07:12 pm
Anti splost folks uneducated?

Anti splost folks uneducated? Really? I know that 6 is less than 7, and that means a vote NO on this is a tax cut. Property taxes cannot be raised due to a cap. The pro side are misleading the public, but I digress.... We, the Libertarian Party of the CSRA oppose this in principle, due to unfair taxation to consumers in Richmond County. The special intersts want this for one thing, money. Money that is taken forcibly from one and given to another. Every consumer not a resident of Richmond will pay our bills, with no representation from our government. Lastly, who made the decision to let the government pick winners and losers in passing out this money? Is it fair to ASU not to get a new sports building when Paine does? Is it fair to build the Miller, taking business out of private bars and clubs downtown? We at the LPCSRA do not think so, and encourage everyone else to take a stand tomorrow. VOTE NO, and sleep better knowing liberty has risen by 1% in Richmond County.

Barf Obama
Barf Obama 06/16/09 - 07:21 am
Don't be fooled. Vote No!

Don't be fooled. Vote No!

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