Originally created 05/26/05

Commissioners want 'what if' plans



Augusta might not need to spend $80 million on a new judicial center because of a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision that could streamline court procedures in the Augusta Judicial Circuit.

That possibility was brought up when Augusta commissioners met Wednesday to talk about the $312 million special purpose local option sales tax package they will put before voters Nov. 8. Before that vote, however, voters will be asked to approve or reject two general obligation bonds totaling $160 million, the fate of which could greatly affect what projects go into the sales tax package.

One bond totaling $100 million would fund part of the proposed judicial center at James Brown Boulevard and Walton Way, with the rest going for jail and sheriff's office space. The center is expected to cost $80 million; $60 million of that would come from the bond.

The other, a $60 million bond, would help pay for a sports arena at the Regency Mall site.

The Supreme Court order that calls for the judicial circuit to begin case assignment, the system used in the rest of the state, is expected to move defendants through the court system faster, said city Administrator Fred Russell. And that would reduce the number of courtrooms and jail beds needed, he said.

Commissioner Willie Mays asked what would happen if voters passed the general obligation bond for the judicial center and the city didn't need that much money to build it.

"Could you divert $15 million from the bond and use it for another project?"

City attorney Stephen Shepard said the bond referendum would allow the city to issue bonds up to $100 million but that the city would not be bound to issue that much. Commissioners directed Mr. Russell to prepare "what if" plans in case the bond issues fail and some of the costs, such as jail space, have to be put into the sales tax package.

"I'd like to see a what-if list," said Commissioner Bobby Hankerson. "If the ($100 million) general obligation bond fails, something has got to come out of the SPLOST."

Commissioner Barbara Sims asked Mr. Russell to reduce the $312 million sales tax package by removing $100 million in public works projects until the board receives an accurate accounting of which projects in previous sales tax issues have been completed.

"I'd really like to look at those public works jobs before we go and put another $100 million on the ballot," she said.

Mrs. Sims also asked the board not to wait until the last minute to get the final tax package together, as it did last year.

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