Wednesday, April 11, 2012
By The Downtowner
Augusta’s downtown has been patrolled by a nine-man team for the past four years, and at the end of the year it will be up to the property owners to decide whether to keep them working.
Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative (CADI) began in early 2008 as a way to make downtown Augusta more clean, safe and friendly. Through the Great Recession and into the slow economic recovery, property owners inside the Business Improvement District (BID) have been paying .00725 cents on every dollar of their property value to fund the $ 365,000-a-year program. (Augusta Chronicle;February 4, 2012).
As the 5th year of this program approaches an end, downtown business owners will decide once again whether to continue to fund this program. It will take 51 percent of the downtown property owners to keep the CADI program in place. As a downtown regular, I decided to poke around a little bit to see how this program came into being and how business owners feel about the use of their tax dollars which now exists in triplicate for them. That’s right, property owners in the BID are being taxed three times for their city services. Not only do they pay county taxes, they pay a tax that seems to be left over after consolidation called, “Urban Maintenance and Operation.” The BID was established in 2008 which levied a third tax. How did this happen and what are they getting for all of this money?
In 2007, the DDA began their campaign to encourage business owners to form a Business Improvement District which would allow the city to collect a special tax that would be used to help with issues specific to downtown. When talking to downtown business owners about this, most recollect that public safety was the issue discussed most often. As a matter of fact, paying for an expanded public safety presence downtown was a huge selling point in getting the owners to agree to the program. Who doesn’t want more safety in downtown Augusta? It is a necessity for businesses to thrive.
As the petition drive continued and meetings were held, I have been told that many business owners who were in opposition were not made aware of the meetings and were quietly left out of the loop. In July of 2007 with petition in hand and the new ordinance drawn up, DDA director Margaret Woodard presented all relevant documents to the Augusta Commission for approval.
According to meeting minutes, Commissioner Jerry Brigham began to question how a Board of Directors would be set up since this was not mentioned in the ordinance. He commented that this needed to be spelled out since so much money would be going through the hands of the board members. At this point in the minutes, someone identified only as, “Byrd,” assured Commissioner Brigham that the business owners in the BID would be nominating and voting for their own board members, (Byrd is quite possibly Byrd Warlick the DDA attorney). Satisfied with the answer, the Commissioners proceeded with a vote to enact the new ordinance without the clarification in writing….Mistake number one.
Now let’s fast forward to January of 2008. The minutes of the very first Board of Directors meeting for CADI show that all board members had been established and were in attendance at this meeting. Who nominated them and when did the business owners vote on them? Owners I have spoken with never saw a ballot. The result and mistake number two was that the early board members were obviously hand picked by the DDA.
Business Improvement District board members:
- Donald Bailey, Davenport Bruker, Len Carter, Bryan Halterman, Tennet Houston, Paul King, Robert Kuhar, Darryl Leech, Sanford Loyd, Julian Osbon, Jeff Partl, City Administrator Fred Russell, Tillman Sauls, Berry Smith, CVB Director Barry White, and Margaret Woodard.
Sorry folks. When I think of Downtown Augusta, I think of, Bonnie Ruben, Coco Rubio, David Hutchinson, Robin Schweitzer, Oolie, Jai West, Fred Daitch, Pat Johansen…Shall I go on? Where is the true representation on this Board?
Now that a bit of the stinky history is out of the way, The question that needs to be answered, Is CADI worth another five year investment? This downtowner says, “No way!” At least not in its present state, and I have found that many downtown business owners are in agreement. Following are a few of the complaints that will have to be addressed:
- Why are we paying CADI to do what we’re already paying the city to do?
- Why was CADI never about Public Safety as we were told it would be?
- Where is all of the equipment CADI started off with? Especially those machines that suck up cigarette butts.
- Where does $350,000 a year go with only 7 employees?
- Why does CADI now charge for graffiti removal? (Business owners were initially told that would be a principal responsibility of The CADI program)
- Why does CADI take care of the Board of Education property?
- Where is our Board Representation for downtown business owners?
- Why does the DDA charge $25,000 a year to oversee this program?
- Where is the survey from the DDA that was supposed to have been delivered to business owners by the end of March 2012 (according to the February 2012 Director’s Report).
- Will those of us who are in opposition be left out of the new process?
Just think of what could really be accomplished with $350,000 a year of extra tax money with the right visionary in charge of the DDA? Just imagine what could be accomplished downtown with more downtown business owners being included in the process. Now is the time for the downtown business owners to organize, research, and take a stand. Do not let this opportunity to make a huge change pass you by. Become informed and get what you deserve, not what the DDA thinks you deserve. We are depending on you! Downtown is depending on you.***
CitysStink.net has initiated an Open Records Request (ORR) on the CADI program and other DDA initiatives. We will have more updates detailing how the DDA misuses public funds and engages in cronyism over how funds are spent and who is appointed to these boards. Stay tuned.
The Case of the Disappearing Downtown Clock
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