The time is now for the Augusta Commission to decide the projects to be paid for by renewing the local special option sales tax. The matter will be placed in front of voters in a special Sept. 19 referendum, but only if commissioners come to agreement on prioritizing the projects - and soon.
The list will address a variety of critical capital spending needs that Augusta has, but the one some commissioners have the most trouble with is the approximately $20 million being dedicated to a new judicial center.
The center is estimated to need about $35 million, so the balance would have to be raised later, and right now the thinking at City Hall is that a certificate of participation (or COPs) bond - that's a bond people don't get to vote on - is the way to go.
It may be. The problem with the judicial center is that it has low support among voters, who don't see a need to build a huge building for the use of judges and criminals.
That's not all courthouses are for, of course, but with the attitude a lot of voters seem to have toward the courthouse project, they aren't likely to pass a traditional general obligation bond - especially if it's on the same ballot as the sales tax referendum.
That is a shame. Go to most any city or town in the country and look for the heart of the community - it will be near the courthouse. Courthouses represent our belief in a nation of laws, and are at the center of our democratic system. Their location and architecture, as well as their utility, should be designed to do a community proud.
In this case, the entire courthouse project's costs can't be included in the sales tax referendum, because voters would almost certainly shoot down in flames all the other much-needed projects listed therein.
But we do think voters can be sold on approving the $20 million to get the courthouse started. That amount shouldn't crowd out the other projects.
While it's hard to support backdoor bonds, there is a crying need for a new court facility, and it's possible that a COPs bond will be needed later to complete the new courthouse.
City commissioners should not take the $20 million off the sales tax list. But they must be up-front with voters: The rest of the money will have to come from bonds, and that will affect property taxes.
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