Building on the limited progress made during the first year of a consolidated Augusta-Richmond County will mean a better quality of life for residents in the new year.
Yet two big questions immediately arise: 1) Now that new administrator Randy Oliver is on board, will he be an effective manager? 2) Will commissioners return to being a policy-setting board of directors, with the budget as its prime responsibility, and stop micro-managing various departments?
Overall, things Augustans have to look forward to in 1997 include:
- A resolve by the Augusta Commission that - as services are merged and some privatized, as employee numbers are reduced by attrition and as millions more in franchise fees continue to pour in - serious debate occur about tax cut opportunities. This should not conflict with the Commission's other main goal - to make tax rates more uniform regarding the old city and the former unincorporated county area. There ought to be enough savings, coupled with the new revenues, to do both.
- Perseverance by Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke and a Board of Education majority to boost student test scores. By the way, Augusta is home to the state's No. 1 school. Why can't other schools in the system be modeled after the John Davidson Fine Arts School? Why not turn a few others into first-class magnet schools? (Education beckons as a hot topic in Atlanta, with Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, planning to re-introduce a bill for an additional, at-large seat to the usually divided 10-member Board of Education.)
- Voter approval to spread the school tax burden, since voters last November hiked taxes on Augusta homeowners with a $115 million school bond. The School Board will soon ask the state for a special March 18 referendum on a new, 1-cent sales tax that can be used to lower property taxes. The key to victory? The Board must demonstrate that voters can trust that the school system will do what it says with the money if the referendum passes. (A step in that direction, next week, would be for trustees to opt for stability by retaining Ken Echols as president.)
- Announcement by the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce's executive board that President Al Hodge - who was recently given a vague "punishment" - is on shaky ground and that new, top-notch leadership is forthcoming. Would Hodge's successor be in-house or, better yet, will a national search to fill the job take place?
- A demonstration that the usually-feuding Augusta-Richmond County legislative delegation to Georgia's General Assembly can unite for progressive legislation. (Let's see if Coliseum Authority reform, including the elimination of the presently-flawed setup, is achievable.)
- Continuing downtown revitalization, an incorporated, independent "Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau" with a better board and progress with Golf Hall of Fame construction and with the long-awaited opening of the Discovery Science Center.