July 11--Augusta'sUrban Redevelopment Agency agreed Thursday to issue nearly $27 million in revenue bonds to raise up to $28.5 million in cash for ongoing renovations and a new information technology center at the Augusta Municipal Building complex downtown.
With a warning from Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer saying the city would have to "stop the project" without the funds, the five-member URA panel voted for a second time to approve authorizing the bond issue.
Despite recently discovered design issues on several of the project's floors and resulting change orders, special city counsel Jim Plunkett said the URA did not need to increase the amount of bond funding beyond what they'd previously discussed. The funds supplement existing funds set to pay at least $13 million of the estimated $40 million renovation project.
URA members agonized for weeks this spring about the impact a failure of Augusta's latest sales tax resolution, the intended funding source, would have on the bond issue and whether city commissioners realized they were on the hook with taxpayer dollars if SPLOST 7 failed.
Once agency members were persuaded that commissioners knew what they were getting into, however, three members were found to be ineligible to serve, invalidating their votes.
Then, SPLOST 7 did fail May 20, although the new SPLOST has at least two more opportunities -- in 2015 and 2016 -- to pass before the city will have to dip into property taxes for the debt service, about $2 million to $2.4 million a year, Plunkett said.
Thursday, the new URA panel comprised of former Mayor Bob Young, downtown activist Brad Owens, Libertarian party official Amanda Bryant, downtown businesswoman Bonnie Ruben and member Isaac McKinney agreed to move forward with the bond issue and then, lay ground work for more downtown construction projects.
Under an intergovernmental agreement, the URA actually owns the project during renovations, then gives it back when they're complete.
After the vote, Owens said he'd like to make the agency available for other projects, including an effort to lure Medac back to a prospective site at Fort Discovery from its planned relocation to North Augusta.
"I want to go after those jobs," Owens said, likening the billing customer service center to having a "convention every day" downtown.
While Medac's plans may have advanced too far to lure them back to Augusta, Plunkett said the URA may pass a "somewhat general resolution" offering its assistance to similar projects at Fort Discovery and other downtown sites. The panel authorized Plunkett to draft such a resolution.
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