Originally created 08/20/04

Cheek wants cap on center's cost



Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek pushed to cut the cost of the proposed judicial center by $20 million Thursday so that it would not exceed $60 million.

Mr. Cheek said many of Augusta's judges have come to him privately and said the proposed building is too big and too costly.

The judges said court facilities are not fully used now and that the city does not need to spend $80 million on the center.

Mr. Cheek said the commission needs to set a cap on the project and stick to it.

"You don't do government projects by giving someone a blank check," he said.

Mr. Cheek's comments came during a meeting Thursday in which commissioners continued working to cut a $738 million list of requested Phase 5 sales tax projects to $380 million.

The deadline for completing a list of projects to place before voters is Nov. 27 if officials hope to have time for the Richmond County Board of Elections to meet and call for the sales tax referendum.

Projects they all agree should be funded have been placed on a "straw list," which is what Mr. Cheek said he hoped to do with the judicial center.

Commissioner Don Grantham said that Mr. Cheek has some good ideas but that the proposed cut was too big to make without consulting the judicial center committee.

"I'd hate for them to get a notice from us tomorrow morning we've changed the scope of the whole thing by putting it on the straw ballot and knocking $20 million out of it," he said.

Mr. Cheek said the city didn't need to build a Taj Mahal three times the size of the Municipal Building that it could not afford to staff.

"I'm all for green space and a judicial complex," he said, adding that it was not necessary for every government function to be in one building.

"Columbia County built a very nice building for half that," he said. "We need to give them a dollar amount and use the additional savings for some of our other work."

Commissioners will discuss the issue further during Monday's sales tax meeting, and members of the judicial center committee will speak.

Another proposed project that went on the straw list, but with a question mark, and is certain to come up again Monday was Commissioner Betty Beard's proposal to spend $12 million to transform the inner city.

The plan she outlined would be designed to improve living conditions and enhance community pride. Prospective projects include buying property, creating a black heritage open-air museum, creating a James Brown Museum and creating a black volunteer fire station museum at old Sand Bar Ferry Fire Station that would include a computer and literary center.

"This is a place that has to be pulled up," she said. "If it is pulled up, the whole community is pulled up."

After detailing the project, she said: "Why do I ask for this? We have a historical area out there, but it is an embarrassment to us."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.