The JERK of Lincoln County?

On Tuesday April 19th, 2016 the Lincoln County Republican Party held a candidate forum at the public Library. Your Arrowflinger was there and asked the candidates very tough questions. Former House District 117 Representative Lee Anderson, now running for the Senate District 24 seat, and his wife Donna were seated the next row in front. When Lee got up to speak my questions were pointed at his previous record of voting for double digit fee, rate, and tax increases on us. Donna turned and called me a “jerk” numerous times, although the only clearly audible one was at the end, when I loudly challenged Lee to take further questioning.

Now, the point being made is that we go broke very fast paying double digit cost increases when our incomes are increasing less than 2%. Lee and Donna have a solution to this dilemma though. You see, Lee’s first cousin Superior Court Judge David Roper heads the guardian ad litem program in Augusta which became a national scandal because of the guardians’ ad looting. Now Donna is in that stable of ad lootems, supplementing their family income. We don’t have that option, do we?

None of the other candidates or their parties reacted with anger at my tough questions, only the one person divorcing parents would expect to stay calm.

Later radio talker Austin Rhodes quipped that the Andersons don’t need the money, but did the other Ad lootems who punished distraught parents with outrageous fees??

Usually the phrase “grab the wife and kids” is hyperbole in a political season, but can you families of the 24th risk having a rogue judge, rubber-stamp lawmaker, and angry guardian ad lootem wife all aligned against you in the event of divorce?

Think about it.

Watch and listen, as Arrowflinger Al gets tagged with yet another insulting label to join many other such Badges of Honor.

$200 Theater Tickets Trumped a $20 Million Cost Recovery Effort?

UPDATE: At the August 5, 2014 meeting of the Augusta Commission, the Augusta media got its panties in a wad over $200 James Brown Movie premier tickets and ruffled feathers between Mayor Copenhaver and Commissioner Bill Fennoy.

In any place other than Augusta, a request for the Augusta National Golf Club to pay up $20 million just might have attracted a camera lens.

****************************

Mayor Copenhaver, Gentlemen and Lady of the Commission, today let’s go down the Road of Good Intentions known as TIA 2010. Here is a road sign Commissioners Bowles and Lockett tried to install on this twisted road before we got to this Fiasco Junction.

This program has gone structurally bust in the 13 County CSRA region to the tune of $80 million to $140 million. Revenues are nearly 10% short versus budget. The investment projects’ costs are worse – now reported at the $538 million of 2011, but stood at $630 million when TIA passed. Worst of all is that higher number bore increases of 2% per year, but the cost of early projects is increasing more than 5%.

What happens to Augusta and its partner counties when funds run out in year 8? Augusta gets 60% of Phase 1 money, so the other counties could see Augusta’s early projects eat up their funding.

Distrust grows from Augusta swapping projects between Phases. Augusta was permitted to move the two Berckmans Road projects from the last phase to the second phase, but has a side deal with the Augusta National for a loan that moves the main project to Phase 1. The amount funded is just the $16.7 million base cost of that project. When the real costs come in, those projects could cost $2 million more. If the funds are capped at $16.7 million Augusta bears that cost. If the escalated costs are allowed to Augusta, we bear the cost.

The National’s project overruns mean promises to the people get dropped, here and throughout the region. Already $7.5 million for Municipal Transit promised didn’t get a dime in 2013.

The arrangements with Augusta and the Augusta National are of dubious legality. Nothing in TIA 2010 provides for a private entity to interject itself to secure earlier funding. The TIA citizens’ advisory panel we citizens were promised had oversight wasn’t even allowed to vote on the changes.

What of the Berckmans right of way – a TIA allowable cost? The proposed land swap with the National could be a net payment to Augusta that appropriately belongs to the regional fund. How can you separate out the complete costs of those options, like tunnels, the National wants from the TIA portion?

Finally there is the matter of trust. We cannot trust Augusta. The National paid $1.9 million an acre for its last purchase yet you are giving up 13 acres bordering the course itself with no attempt to get the National to pay – not loan – the $20 million or more their project will cost. Then look at the Highlands Avenue Project, where you are using 90% in other funds over and above TIA to meet the contracted price. All counties were to report all costs, including other sources, but Augusta didn’t. How many other games is Augusta playing with us?

In February reports flew out about the “TIA success” here. The press used a deceptive TIA funding list largely of non-TIA funds. Today legislators are meeting in Atlanta over transportation thinking this disaster actually works.
Let’s douse that notion by loudly demanding concrete action to secure that state guarantee of funding we heard in the TIA campaign.

For the Augusta National – Doing business with the last Augusta administration was high risk. Pay for your project to get free of this embarrassment now.

Augusta Commission Buries Old Sins with New SPLOST Abomination

IMG_1347

Presentation of Al Gray to the Augusta Commission May 6, 2014

This holey bucket, made up as a prop for one of your SPLOST meetings, is stunningly perfect as a depiction of Augusta’s Sales Tax Program. Properly designed, your liquidity slowly meters out one hole in the bottom, but the way this one is, liquidity spurts out all over the place, leaving the tree to wither. Augusta has been to the well too often with a bucket like this and this might be the final trip before the well is dry.

When you have a $12 million parking deck funded with sales tax built on land you did not own, that is a pretty big hole. When you have $2 million of sales tax funded kitchen equipment you were not supposed to pay for, exchanged for land that was supposed to be donated, that is a doubly big hole. When those sales taxes build a facility that drain the general fund, to the tune of $250,000 a year for 50 years to pay staff that were free under another agreement, that hole becomes a gaping maw. When you use sales tax to fund a municipal building and don’t use the right contracting, $20 million doubles to $40 million, on the way to $65 million. When you don’t recapture what contractors owe you, you lose $750,000 on your sewage contract, close to $150,000 on an office building, and untold $ millions on a convention center. Those are the big holes. The liquidity lost from myriad smaller ones may be greater, because Augusta doesn’t even have a sales tax program control manual built into its sales tax management contract.

The liquidity coming in from SPLOST, shouted to the heavens in timely initiatives designed to promote the SPLOST vote, isn’t there and won’t be there. For instance, past Splosts made streams of interest income that have evaporated and been further diminished by use of high cost or inefficient banks, as Columbia County may be learning.

People get excited about lining up with the holes in your new SPLOST too. The Marriott folks want a $1 million skywalk, we see. Before giving them the money, which a former commission approved, wouldn’t it be prudent to see if there are offsetting charges from Augusta back to the Marriott? The Augusta citizens whom I was helping two years ago looked into several areas potentially offsetting that $1 million but were stonewalled by Fred Russell. Most of those centered on the Conference Center contract that was extended.

The biggest hole of them all is a chasm where truth should be. When the “news media” is so embedded in the subject of a story, as the Chronicle was with the Convention Center management, even their closest allies lose. Poor Rick Allen, the Tee Center contractor, believed what he read in the daily newspaper and became so un-witting that there were any loose ends that he accepted $7,000 in campaign donations from the top Marriott executive.

Augusta has another year to take the time to fix all the holes in SPLOST while the city and the region wrest with the burgeoning TSPLOST debacle which centers on Augusta also.

Take the time. Fix the holes. There are not many whole buckets of money left.

The Costly Energy Bills from Hardie Davis

This week Augusta radio talk show host Austin Rhodes of WGAC was heard being dismissive of the 7% increase in homeowner electric utility bills over the past five years from the controversial Georgia Senate Bill 31, which passed in 2009 with help from Senator Hardie Davis. SB 31 was heatedly debated because the bill guaranteed Georgia Power a separate 11.5% return on two new nuclear reactor units being constructed at Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River in Burke County, giving opportunity for all manner of cost-shifting hanky-panky. The law also came under fire for paying advance profits of over $1 billion over and above the costs of building the units. The Georgia Public Service Commission, who had the staff to evaluate the technical parts of the bill and who actually has the rate setting authority in the state, was bypassed by the legislature, prompted and cheered on by a flock of as many as 70 lobbyists clogging the aisles. Finally, the legislation exempted industry from the onerous special rate increases, meaning that the full burden falls on small businesses and residential payers.

Augusta’s Senator Hardie Davis was hardly alone in focusing on the jobs created for several thousand workers, many of them temporary construction craftsmen, while disregarding the costs to the millions of Georgians of the burgeoning rates.

Let’s take a look at the effects of SB 31 so far on a residential power bill. On top of the SB 31 costs, one must also add the additional 1% TIA 2010 or TSPLOST tax that Hardie also voted for. The Hardie Tax and Rate Increase Total is nearly $13.

Hardie Power

Now consider how much the wages to cover that 7% increase have increased since 2009 to the latest available in 2012. WHOA! The average Georgian has actually lost almost another percent because of wage reductions. (Now to be honest the TSPLOST tax did not come in until 2013 but it certainly is in the mix now.)

The Hardie cost increases are compounding every year against falling wages and salaries.

To conclude, that is a power play Augustans cannot afford.

All the confirmation Austin and everyone else should need was said by fellow WGAC show host Clark Howard in the clip below.

Hardie Davis is Georgia Power’s best friend. Can Augusta afford him as its mayor with such disregard for the people?

Enron Accounting Revisits DOT

On February 5 of this year the time of the groundbreaking for the Riverwatch Parkway Extension Project, WAGT TV26, WJBF Channel 6, and the Columbia County News-Times all incorrectly reported that the $34 million project was being funded wholly out of TIA-2010 funds, also known as TSPLOST.

The TIA funds for the project came out of the 75% funding level list approved by voters within the Constrained Projects List. There is a project cost estimate found in the details. That paints a truthful picture. Nearly $11 million for the project is reserved out of DOT highway and fuel taxes and there is a $3.3 million cost overrun already, leaving $20 million in TSPLOST funding.

You know there is something screwy when that many news outlets get it wrong and are all using the same number.

Well it didn’t take long to find the source. It was DOT, who came into the TSPLOST debate tarnished and smarting from Governor Sonny Perdue accusing them of “Enron Accounting,” but seems back to their bad habits by putting out a webpage showing TIA spending that looks to be TIA, alright – Totally In-Accurate. A Lincoln County project is only $1 million of TIA funding, but DOT listed it as $4 million. Wrightsboro Road in Augusta is shown as $19 million TIA funding, but it is only $2 million.

If DOT wants to reestablish its credibility after its flirtation with Enron Accounting they sure have a funny way of showing it.

How they are going to fund the huge cost increases with revenues collected so woefully low would make an Enron Accountant strain.

Lincoln County Commission Gets a TSPLOST Blast

In June 2012, Georgia’s proposed Transportation Investment Act, called TSPLOST all over the state, was being debated before coming up on an election ballot.

The Lincoln County commissioners were drooling over the new tax money. They didn’t like this message.

The words of warning were played and replayed on Lincoln County’s cable television network which reaches nearly every household in the county.

The election was held and the people of Lincoln County turned TSPLOST down despite the support of the elected officials and the Chamber of Commerce.

Home rule died with the TSPLOST vote.