Originally created 04/16/04

Ideas on tax talked about



Augusta commissioners focused Thursday on how to structure a special local option sales tax, how long it should last if approved, and how and when it should be presented to voters on a ballot this year.

For one thing, some commissioners said, any sales tax should focus foremost on the city's infrastructure needs before funding is made available for projects such as a sports and entertainment arena that's been proposed for the Regency Mall area.

"Y'all think Commissioner (Willie) Mays sometimes talks a little bit long. He's short-winded compared to the fight that's coming over this thing if we jump up the civic center arena in front of every other thing the citizens say they want," Commissioner Andy Cheek said at Thursday's sales tax work session.

Minutes before that comment, Commissioner Bobby Hankerson asked for an update on the arena idea and was told by City Attorney Steve Shepard that his office was working with Augusta Entertainment LLC to devise a memorandum of agreement with the city.

"It's not a final document, but it is a start," Mr. Shepard said, noting that a draft could be presented to the commission next week.

Commissioner Marion Williams had a problem with an opinion by Mr. Shepard that the sales tax issue should be presented to voters on a single-question ballot to prevent possible disputes.

"I think we're fixing to make a serious mistake," Mr. Williams said, adding that if voters are asked to vote for all or nothing, "We're going to lose everything."

He said he also is "definitely against" a sales tax that would last 10 years. Commissioners decided at the end of their session that much more discussion is needed and that it would be difficult to have the plan go before voters by July 20 - one of two proposed dates. The other date is Sept. 21.

"Come July, we may be eating barbecue, but we won't be voting," Mr. Mays said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.