Originally created 01/15/04

Sales tax renewal to go before voters this year



The sales tax is back.

Depending on how quickly a list of projects can be agreed upon by a 21-member review committee, the renewal of the 1-cent collection could go before voters as early as this summer or as late as November, when a presidential election is held.

A referendum must go before voters sometime this year to continue the collection of the tax without interruption in 2005.

The special purpose local option sales tax review committee met Wednesday for the first time in months to consider a draft list of projects totaling $320 million.

The committee held 15 town hall meetings throughout the county last year so its members could hear public comment. Now they are charged with finalizing that list, using public comments to help them make important funding recommendations.

The committee will meet again this month, after a tally of those comments has been prepared for their review.

"Our job is to put something in the public domain that will pass," said Monty Osteen, one of two co-chairmen for the sales tax panel.

One project, a south Augusta amphitheater, has been lopped off the list since the public comment period. Others have been added, including funding for the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of African-American History and a neighborhood revitalization effort in the Laney-Walker neighborhood.

The final project list lies in the hands of Augusta commissioners.

The review committee has voted to single out three high-dollar projects for separate consideration by voters: $60 million for a sports and entertainment arena at Regency Mall, $25 million for a performing arts center and $2.9 million for renovations to the downtown civic center.

If none of those measures passes but the general referendum question does, it would take about seven years to fund the remaining $232 million worth of projects. The penny tax collects about $32 million a year.

About 45 percent of the proposed sales tax projects involve public facilities, including a new judicial center and jail pods. Another 40 percent would pay for infrastructure and equipment needs, such as drainage control and fire equipment upgrades.

The remaining collections would pay for quality of life and community projects, such as a library, parks and recreation facilities, and arts and education groups.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.