Churches in Augusta may be exempt from new stormwater fee

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News 12 at 6 o'clock/ Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

(MGN Online)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- You may see fewer potholes and drainage problems in Augusta, but it won't be free. Homeowners, businesses and even churches will have to pay up.

City officials are out of money and say they're headed to the church for a financial blessing.

Pastor Keith Weekley presides over the First Christian Church in Augusta. He says his church feeds the hungry and builds homes for the homeless.

"Whatever they would charge is a tax on the churches. No church I know of can afford to do more than what they're doing," said Pastor Weekly.

Parts of the First Amendment state "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The city says it isn't a tax but a fee.

The first phase was like a fact finding mission for the city how much money they could get, who would pay the fee. Now, it's time for implementation.

Engineering Director Abie Ladsen estimates that 90 percent of homeowners could pay $6.50 a month. Businesses and churches with more parking lot space, roads or hard surfaces could pay on the very high end of up to $200,000 a year.

He says it's all to help the city maintain the city. "I suppose, but that didn't come to my mind. I think it's a constitutional matter and it protects houses of worship," said

An emergency drainage project on Wrightsboro Road is costing the city around $700,000. City leaders say it's just one more reason the stormwater fee is needed.

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