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.