Commissioners debate stormwater options
While the Augusta Commission inched closer to the implementation of a stormwater utility fee, which would help repair Augusta’s aging stormwater infrastructure by assessing a relatively small fee on property owners, commissioners differed on the appropriateness of using SPLOST dollars to fund the maintenance.
Outgoing District 7 commissioner Jerry Brigham made it clear he would like to see General Council Andrew MacKenzie draft a resolution asking the legislature to allow the county to include maintenance in SPLOST projects, something that’s currently not allowed because of fears those funds would not always be renewed.
Brigham, however, said he thought it was time to change the rules.
“Given the state of the economy, I think it’s an ongoing problem that we need to do where maintenance is concerned,” he said. “I think it’s a funding source that the voters are already comfortable with, and I think that it would be appropriate for this commission to draft that type of resolution and also ask the various state organizations that we’re involved in to be supportive of that.”
The organizations he was speaking of are the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the Georgia Municipal Association, both of which represent the issues of local government.
“We all know the funding is short at the commission level,” Brigham said. “Maintenance is our biggest need, especially in the area of drainage. I think we need to have that tool as a part of our SPLOST program to be able to do some maintenance to work on this infrastructure problem.”
Committee Chair Alvin Mason disagreed.
“It would give the appearance of kicking that bucket down the road for somebody else to take care of,” he said, meaning the local legislative delegation that would take the request to Atlanta. “My confidence level in getting something done is not as high as it could be when I know that we could take care of it right here.”
Mason spoke of the need of an enduring funding stream like the stormwater utility fee, which Engineering Director Abie Ladsen characterized as affecting all property owners.
“We have to have an enduring funding stream, meaning one that does not close the loop, which SPLOST does,” Mason said. “[It closes the loop] either in terms of time, meaning years, or in terms of dollars, whereas if we’re talking about a stormwater fee, not only is it one of the most fair ways of getting business done, it offers you the ability to look not only at today and tomorrow, but futuristically over decades.”
Brigham replied that not only would the general public have a hard time understanding a stormwater utility fee, but SPLOST would give the general voter a chance to have his voice heard.
“Last time I checked, you and I both serve constituents, and I think that their opinion is more important than my opinion or your opinion,” Brigham said. “Anytime that they have an opportunity to vote on an issue, they have an opportunity to express that opinion. Therefore, if they want it, we will do it, and if they don’t want it, we won’t do it.”
Mason said that the TEE Center, which ended up being a drastically different project than the one voters approved, was evidence that the commission could, with six votes, make changes regardless of what the people said they wanted.
Brigham, however, continued to advocate for the resolution.
“Whether or not we implement a stormwater utility fee, I still think we ought to ask for a resolution to be sent to the legislature to allow maintenance projects to be part of SPLOST projects,” he said.
Alluding to an upcoming battle between infrastructure needs and Augusta’s arts community, both of which compete for SPLOST dollars, Commissioner Joe Jackson made his position abundantly clear.
“We need to get away from the touchy feely projects and give us better drainage and roads,” he said. You Might Also Like: