Originally created 08/21/05

Don't vote for a new SPLOST - vote for new Augusta commissioners



Despite the need to address a number of serious issues with a fifth round of SPLOST, it does not appear that one will be approved in the near future.

It's not about the money or the projects - it's about the Augusta commissioners.

Most citizens refuse to deposit their trust in the current group of commissioners, because they judge the majority to be inept and arrogant, and the rest as unwilling to speak up and contest bad decisions. As a consequence, there's a war of wills raging in our old town.

Citizens who are deprived of the ability to express their disapproval of commissioners from other districts have found their only voice in opposing another SPLOST. It's frequently referred to as the "starve the beast" approach.

The movement enjoys widespread public support in south and west Augusta. And an ever-growing number of well-educated and forward-thinking citizens in the inner city are joining the "rsistance." The common thread that binds them all is the vow not to consider approval for another round of SPLOST while the present slate of Augusta commissioners is in office. It's a deep-rooted taxpayer revolt that foreshadows trouble for incumbents up for re-election, and commissioners aspiring to move into the mayor's office.

ANIMOSITY TOWARD the commission in general and certain commissioners in particular has been brewing for a long time. The despicable public behavior displayed by the commissioners and the slapdash approach they employed in concocting last November's SPLOST V scheme incited protests throughout the county. But it was this past June's general-obligation bond special election that convinced thousands of property owners to join the uprising and work to achieve a change in leadership.

The Augusta commissioners - hell-bent to enforce their will - acted like arsonists using flamethrowers against property owners when they pulled their iniquitous G.O. bond attack, while gleefully watching the tax assessor's office bombard those who pay the majority of the bills (that keep the wheels of consolidated government grinding) with new and, in many cases, unreasonable property-value assessments.

Now, the aggrieved have vowed to run the commissioners out of office - one way or the other.

In the meantime, another debacle - one the commissioners claim should have no bearing on how we view a new SPLOST proposal - is infuriating the public.

In their attempt to do "damage control" and hunt for a scapegoat, the commissioners are publicly displaying their lack of due diligence and failure to exercise oversight responsibility regarding the nearly $154 million still languishing in banks from past SPLOST collections.

It's common knowledge that most, if not all, of the commissioners were unaware of the holdover SPLOST funds until an internal audit brought the issue to center stage.

Acting like a congressional committee on a witch hunt, the commissioners are dragging one befuddled city department head after another forward to explain what the commissioners should have known all along: Where are the millions in piggy-banked SPLOST funds committed, and are there any monies that can be diverted to offset the cost of a new SPLOST plan?

NOT SURPRISINGLY, the commissioners are discovering what several members of the SPLOST V Citizens Committee tried to tell them - the Public Works Department is in shambles. We couldn't get straight answers about the status of countless public works projects that should have been completed long before now, and it doesn't appear the commissioners will, either. But, at least we now know (according to the latest estimate) that there is $99.23 million's worth of such projects in limbo.

Regardless of the fact that SPLOST IV collections will cease in December, the commissioners should not attempt to put a third SPLOST V proposal before the electorate until a full accounting and public disclosure of the status of the $153.6 million in piggy-banked SPLOST funds is made.

No doubt, the failure to get another SPLOST passed is an exasperating state of affairs for all who labor in love for our community, and desire to see it grow and prosper. But you must understand the reality and seriousness of the situation: Unless we have commissioners in whom we can place our trust, all else is meaningless.

To those who lay claim to future SPLOST funds for whatever reason, I suggest this: Save your powder and devote your energies to finding and electing well-qualified candidates to represent the Augusta Commission district in which you reside, then hope for the best.

Because, so far as this citizen can ascertain, the special 1-cent sales tax in any form, for the foreseeable future, is dead.

(Editor's note: The writer served as a District 7 representative to the SPLOST V Citizens Committee.)