Augusta's 1998-99 tax rates will stay the same, including a special 5-mill property tax for the downtown area.
Augusta Commission voted 6-3 on Tuesday, with Ulmer Bridges, J.B. Powell and Moses Todd voting against continuing the tax that affects those who own property in the downtown business district.
Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard was on vacation and didn't attend Tuesday's meeting.
Commissioner Willie Mays argued against continuing the tax if it was going to be used only in the riverfront area. He said all the money was going to eight entities that are paying the most taxes in the downtown area and control 51 percent of it, and not being spread around.
Mr. Mays supported continuing the tax once colleagues agreed to add provisions that supporters of the tax have to come back by Sept. 30 with a consensus from downtown property owners on how the money should be used. Supporters also must have separate lists of completed projects and proposed projects that include all of the downtown business district.
If a consensus is not reached on the types of projects by Sept. 30, Mr. Mays said, he will be the first to call for repeal of the tax and call for all money to be refunded to property owners.
The amount of the refund would be about $180,000, Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver said.
"I'll vote for it -- the projects -- if the money will be used to do more and be more inclusive than it has been.... instead of putting all the money in just one pocket of town," Mr. Mays said.
"Some areas have been neglected. That's where the opposition to this tax has legitimately developed," Mr. Mays said.
Outside the downtown area, the owner of a $100,000 house in Augusta's urban district without homestead exemption will pay $1,518 in property taxes. The owner of that same house in the suburban area will pay $1,128, tax officials said.
A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property.
The 5-mill property tax affects only business property in the downtown area, from Sixth Street to 10th Street and from the Savannah River to Greene Street.
The special tax on downtown property owners was levied in 1976 to pay for the sunken parking bays on Broad Street with the understanding it would expire once the 20-year, $1.175 million loan was paid off.
That loan was paid off last year but board members of Augusta Tomorrow and Main Street Augusta wanted to continue the tax in order to build a parking deck at the intersection of Eighth and Reynolds streets. The groups said they'd also use the money for streetscape and sidewalk improvements, but had no specific plans in place.
William Thompson, president of Augusta Tomorrow and Sun Trust Bank, which is the largest taxpayer in the district, asked commissioners to continue the tax while Augusta Tomorrow goes back to the drawing board to come up with a plan that all 130 downtown property owners could support and one that would not involve financial involvement from the city.
Mr. Thompson presented a list of the largest property owners. They are:
Jimmy Davison, owner of Davison's Auto Service, said the special tax benefits the big property owners, not the small ones and needed to be ended.
"I went to that emergency meeting Augusta Tomorrow had at the Imperial Theatre where they took a poll of how many people would support continuing this, and 68 percent of the folks didn't want it," Mr. Davison said. "We don't need a $3 million parking garage that's smack dab in the middle of two other parking decks that aren't even used."
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