Officials are proposing a special law enforcement tax district to fight crime downtown.
But the numbers simply don’t justify it.
Despite a high-profile and egregious beating of a couple on downtown’s Riverwalk May 3, the area is not home to disproportionate numbers of crime.
Indeed, a May analysis by The Chronicle shows that area night spots that are hot spots for crime are spread throughout the county. Some of the biggest draws for crime reports are in south Augusta.
According to the May news article:
“During the past five years, sheriff’s deputies were summoned to 27 downtown clubs 227 times, but officers responded to 312 other incidents – including three homicides – at 26 clubs in south Augusta.”
Only one downtown club, the Soul Bar, with 23 criminal reports over five years, was even in the top 10.
In a more recent analysis, The Chronicle learned the downtown district ranks 15th in the county for person-on-person crime.
Yet, the city wants downtown property owners to voluntarily pony up over $354,000 to hire more deputies just for downtown.
And the thing is, you know they wouldn’t be just for downtown; they’d certainly respond to other areas of the city if needed.
And while being asked to tax themselves another $354,000, we’d ask downtown property owners to consider the law of unintended consequences: You’re being asked to put an additional tax on downtown at a time when the city center desperately needs to grow and to entice more businesses and residents there. How can additional fees help that effort?
In actuality, it’s the opposite of what’s needed even to fight crime: What would make the riverfront safer, in truth, is more people. More people living, working, shopping, eating, strolling there. There is safety in numbers. Making it more expensive to do all that would create a new disincentive to luring them there.
The proposed taxing district is being called a “Continuously Patrolled District.” It might as well be called the “Continuously Taxed District.” The district would follow quickly on the heels of – and in the exact footprints of – the happily defunct Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative. That taxing district, which likewise zinged property owners for hundreds of thousands in extra taxes, under-performed and was mercifully allowed to expire this year.
It’s doubtful property owners are going to get very excited about “Son of CADI.”
“It seems like it’s CADI all over again,” downtown property owner Robin Schweitzer told The Chronicle’s Susan McCord.
We would argue that even if the numbers of downtown crimes were disproportionate, which they’re not, it’s wrong to tax one area of the county for extra police protection. If we want to go down that road, should we enact special law enforcement taxes on other areas of town?
What about other government services? Should certain users of other government services be taxed more?
Let’s not open that can of worms. Law enforcement is a countywide obligation. Our taxes should reflect that.