1-cent sales tax is pushed

Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham asked a commission committee Wednesday to approve a resolution requesting that area lawmakers call a referendum on a new 1-cent sales tax for public safety and transportation.

Mr. Grantham said the proposed special local option sales tax increase would allow the sheriff's office to retain and add deputies and support the fire and marshal's departments.

It would also allow the city to provide free bus service to residents, he said.

"Everyone is participating in the sales tax program," Mr. Grantham said. "This is not just something that's put on the burden of property owners. This is spread across everyone."

Augusta's penny sales tax is as low as that of any county in the state, he said.

The tax would raise about $32 million a year, which would go directly to public safety, transit and the emergency 911 center.

Commissioner Joe Bowles asked whether a property-tax rebate for the amount of penny tax collected could be considered, but Mr. Grantham said he did not want the resolution to become too convoluted.

Mr. Grantham said he wanted the administrative services committee to approve the resolution so it could be given to the area legislative delegation in Atlanta as soon as possible.

Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard, a member of the committee, said she could not vote for the resolution because she didn't know enough about it. She said she doesn't favor any more tax increases because of concerns about the current state of the economy, but would have an open mind when it is discussed at the next committee meeting.

The committee received the proposal as information.

Also on Wednesday, the public services committee voted to reinstate an additional Augusta Public Transit route to Augusta Mall. A 90-day study will determine the need for the peak-hours route, Administrator Fred Russell said.

Last year, the commission voted to cut an Augusta Mall route during the peak hours from 6 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. The route would alleviate overcrowding on the current Augusta Mall route, APT director Heyward Johnson said.

Augusta Mall route 12 was overcrowded 114 days during the period between February 2007 and January of this year, according to statistics gathered during that time, Mr. Johnson said. Mall walkers and many riders who work along Wrightsboro Road would benefit from the peak-hours route, Mr. Johnson said.

Reinstating the route would cost the city $45,000, Mr. Russell said. The route would begin immediately upon approval by the full commission.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The administrative services committee would have to approve the resolution before it can be given to the area legislative delegation in Atlanta.