Originally created 09/14/03

Appraiser blames Y2K for problems



Richmond County Chief Appraiser Sonny Reece's explanation for the drop in this year's tax digest generated more than a few snickers around town last week. Mr. Reece blamed much of the total $20 million loss in taxable value on computer software problems stemming from Y2K.

Odd. Nobody blamed anything on Y2K when it happened. Now folks in the Marble Palace are calling the assessors office the "cyberspaceship."

Others blame Mr. Reece.

Mr. Reece's board defends him, however. Board of Assessors Chairman Charles Smith compared his situation to that of a man accused of setting a jail on fire. The man denied it and asked why he was being blamed.

"Because you are in the cell, and you had matches," the deputy said.

"But you don't understand," the man replied. "The mattress was on fire when I got here."

A proposed state Revenue Department review of the office should determine whether the assessors office was on fire when Mr. Reece got there.

PUBLIC NOTICE: It has come to City Ink's attention that the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., the agency revitalizing the Laney-Walker neighborhood with $20 million of your tax money, has started seeking bids on demolition projects again.

For more than a year, the projects were handed to F&W Construction, the start-up company that leased Charles Walker Sr.'s old office building on 11th Street.

ANIC Executive Director Robert Cooks said the agency isn't required to bid out projects because it is governed by a board of directors.

Hiram Thompson, owner of Thompson Building Wrecking Co., didn't buy that. Fed up with being cut out of the bid process, he paid a visit to his banker, Cedric Johnson, who is also ANIC's finance chairman.

Voila! Mr. Thompson is back in the loop.

Mr. Johnson said there is no truth to the rumor that he threatened to resign from the ANIC board if Mr. Thompson wasn't allowed to bid.

"The truth is Mr. Thompson did come to me and ask me about it, and we did go back and talk about the right way to do things," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Cooks says he resumed soliciting demolition bids because he just got tired of "assumptions and presumptions" that he was doing something wrong.

"I'm trying to run a business here," he said. "It's frustrating."

On the other hand, some people think dealing with Mr. Cooks is what's frustrating. For example, there's Lenie Roos-Gabridge, the executive director of the Georgia Medical Center Authority, whose $1 million state grant to develop biotechnology research centers in Augusta is funneled through ANIC.

ANIC improperly charged the authority $23,111.29 for legal work that should have been charged to ANIC. Now Mr. Cooks is dragging his feet about reimbursing the money even though attorney Pete Fletcher sent a letter in January saying that it would be.

"We're still begging for our money," Ms. Roos-Gabridge said.

Mr. Cooks said the reimbursement is "being taken under consideration."

Ms. Roos-Gabridge and Dr. Matthew Kluger, the chairman of the medical center authority, also have been begging to meet with the finance committee to discuss the legal fees and Mr. Cooks' agreement to stop charging the authority a $1,000 monthly management fee.

Ms. Roos-Gabridge challenged the charge because ANIC does little more than dole out the authority's grant money. The authority has hired its own accountant for much less than $1,000 a month, she said.

To top it off, Ms. Roos-Gabridge cannot find any record that the fee was officially approved.

Mr. Cooks said he thinks the $1,000-a-month charge is fair.

"This issue about accounting and their legal fees is a nonissue," he said.

Easy for him to say.

Reach Sylvia Cooper or Heidi Williams at (706) 724-0851.