Originally created 05/19/00

Tax for judicial center divides citizens group

The citizens committee on the penny sales tax extension wrapped up its work Thursday, but some members left concerned about one item on their final list.

Several said they were concerned that the committee voted to allocate $20 million of the tax revenues to a new judicial center.

"I think what concerns me the most is with the judicial buildings being thrown into this, there are so many citizens out there that are against it," said Jimmy Smith, a member representing District 8 in south Augusta.

"And it could affect the whole thing. We may not get any of this if we don't get it passed."

Member Wayne Frazier, who represents District 6 in south Augusta, said the sales tax money should not be used for a judicial center.

"We've got enough money going into programs for accommodating criminals," he said. "That $20 million that we decided to let them have -- that I was totally against -- was a total loss. That's $20 million that we're losing."

Fred Reed, who also represents District 6, agreed.

Early in the meeting, John Schreiber asked that a notation be made that the $20 million was intended for the judicial center, the district attorney's office and municipal building improvements.

"I'm afraid the way it is right now, it looks like that $20 million is for a judicial center and by implication, improvements to the judicial center," Mr. Schreiber said.

But Leona Norton, who was appointed by Mayor Bob Young, said if the court backlog was as bad as they had been told, there is a need for more courtrooms.

"But first and above all we've got to have the DA in a decent building that's not going to go up in flames one night or fall in up on his head," she said. "It's a disgrace and an embarrassment to the second-largest city in Georgia to have the district attorney getting rained on when he sits at his desk."

During the final meeting, Mr. Frazier, Mr. Reed and members George Rush and the Rev. Johnny Hatney spoke in favor of giving the fire department its $24 million allocation early on in the five-year tax.

Mr. Rush said a house burned in his neighborhood in District 4 last week.

South Augusta does not have adequate fire protection, and the fire department does not have adequate equipment and stations, he said.

"And I believe that he (Chief Ronnie Few) needs the money up front," he said.

The fire department ought to be top priority, said the Rev. Hatney, who represents District 1 in the city. "So if there's need for more money, something else ought to be put on hold. When it all boils down, though, that which is necessary for human life ought to take precedence over anything else."

Chairman Dr. James Carter reminded the committee it is a recommending body only.

"I don't know if it's in our purview to say which agency is going to get what amount."

The committee's list will be the subject of four public hearings in June, after which the Augusta Commission will make the final decisions on the projects that will go before voters this fall.

The tax is expected to bring in more than $141 million over its five-year life.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.


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