City has the money but not the manpower for SPLOST 5

By: Jonathan Martin Email
By: Jonathan Martin Email

March 1, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---$160 million of your tax dollars.

You voted for a sales tax because you were promised a $20 million exhibit hall; a $40 million judicial center, partly to replace the moldy LEC; and a new library for almost $15 million.

But so far, not one brick has been laid for any of these projects.

The mayor says planning these projects takes a lot more work, but the city hasn't increased staff to do the work. That has some big projects moving slower than expected.

The old candy factory downtown on Telfair Street is being torn down, making way for Augusta's new library.

Though in the early stages, it's further along than most of the other big SPLOST projects you voted for in 2005.

"I would like to see the progress expedited," Mayor Copenhaver said.

The $160 million package included plans to replace the moldy LEC with a new judicial center, some major road projects, and two new jail pods.

Mayor Copenhaver says money isn't the holdup. He says the city doesn't have enough staff members to get some of the work started.

As for the big $20 million exhibition center, the holdup there is that commissioners have yet to agree on a location.

"We have $20 million that have been approved to build that facility, and we need to get it done," Copenhaver said.

Leaders also say acquiring land has been difficult.

This all begs the question: will the outcome of SPLOST 5 be like phase 4, when voters blasted city leaders after it was revealed over $100 million had not been spent after years of promises?

"I know we're going to have a reasonable accounting of the money," City Administrator Fred Russell told News 12. "I know we're going to have a reasonable progress of what we get done."

To make sure the city doesn't get too far behind, Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard says the Commission is now working with an outside agency.

"They're feeding information to us in reference to monthly progress," she said.

While she and others want to get the jobs done fast, Beard says getting them done right is more important.

"These buildings will not be falling down as some that we did with SPLOST have done in past years," she promised.

The city is handing out a booklet called Focus Forward which lists the big SPLOST projects for 2007. These include a new air conditioning system for the Augusta museum, roof replacements for the Municipal Building, new jail pods, and the TEE Center.

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