Originally created 05/20/04

Funding is issue in station revamp



A proposed renovation of one of Augusta's historic fire stations has for the moment hit a funding fire wall of sorts with some Augusta Commission members.

The issue isn't so much whether the Central Avenue No. 7 Fire Station should be renovated to include a fire department museum sporting a 1930s fire engine and administration offices, but how it should be funded.

Currently, the proposal is to fund the renovation with $960,500 in special local option sales tax money.

At the commission's Tuesday meeting, Commissioner Marion Williams said that considering the city's tight budget this year in the midst of a deficit, the project should incorporate inmate labor to keep costs down.

"To take $1 million (for the fire station renovation) now, we would be doing an injustice to taxpayers," he said. "I'm not saying we ought to abandon this idea, but we shouldn't spend taxpayer money. We ought to get creative."

Commissioner Tommy Boyles, who supports the renovation, agreed that something might be worked out with the Department of Corrections.

He also said that the availability of $960,000 in sales tax moneydoesn't mean it all has to be spent.

Commissioner Betty Beard asked why sales tax funding is available for the station when she had been told there was no money to help with flooding on Sand Bar Ferry Road.

City Attorney Steve Shepard told Mrs. Beard the funding was made possible for the station under a different sales tax category, which allows money to be used for public facilities but not roads and bridges.

The issue was voted on twice at Tuesday's meeting - once to table the issue to receive further information about the sales tax funding, the other to approve the money. Both motions failed because of a lack of votes, sending the issue to the commission's next meeting June 1 for reconsideration.

Commissioner Don Grantham said Tuesday that spending the tax money on the renovation would not be a waste.

Fire Chief Al Gillespie said his department is paying $61,800 in rent each year for its administrative headquarters building and would save money if it moved to the No. 7 Fire Station, which the city owns.

"We need a permanent home," he said.

Commissioner Barbara Sims said such a move makes sense, as does the sales tax funding.

"It's a natural thing to house a department in a building that we already own," she said.

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