SPLOST projects delayed but in progress

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October 10, 2006

Money from the first four phases of Augusta's sales tax has paid for new parks, roads, and fire stations.

But millions collected from the penny sales tax has not been spent, and many projects have not even been started.

While ground has been broken on the new library project, other projects have not begun. So when can we expect your pennies to actually bring progress?

Perhaps if there's anyone who can picture the progress from pennies, it's Imperial Theatre director Lara Plocha.

"Not only did it give the Imperial insta-prominence in the community, but it added this flavor to downtown of a downtown that's growing and developing," Plocha said of the theatre's new marquee, funded largely in part through SPLOST.

While it along with new fire stations are some of the tangible completed projects, what about the new jail, improvements to parks and recreation, and major road improvements promised from the most recent package?

"Our collections are looking real good," said city administrator Fred Russell. "We've got the bonds for the exhibition center and jail rolling, we've got that money in the bank, so we're moving forward, hopefully getting ready to break some ground in the near future and put up some bricks and mortar."

But some say they've heard that before. It was this time last year we learned $153 million in SPLOST money from previous phases hadn't even been spent.

"If you're lied to once or twice, I mean I understand it taking time to get a project done, but what I don't understand is not getting to it at all," said Augusta resident Deborah Taylor.

The latest SPLOST is a $160 million package. $125 million is set for public facilities, $5 million for a new jail, $18 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $7 million for quality of life.

While only time will tell what will get done, Plocha says there is progress. But she says it's up to city leaders to let you know about it.

"To tell the community, 'This is your SPLOST money at work. This is what we're doing. This road was fixed by SPLOST money. This park is supported by SPLOST money.' So people can begin to see without that money, these things will not happen," she said.

Fred Russell tells us the budget problems have had a small impact on starting some projects because of slim staff, but he says overall he is pleased with the progress from SPLOST.

The city has collected the sales tax for almost 20 years, since 1988, and expects to start working on Phase 6 in the next few years.