By Corporal Gripweed
"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development"
Today, December 18th, in the Commission chambers, there may be a vote to decide the future of the troubled BID/CADI program....or maybe not.
As of this writing, it is unclear if the Director of the DDA, Ms. Margaret Woodard, has the necessary signatures of downtown property owners to even bring the issue before the Commission... If not, the BID will die a whimpering death at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, as it should.
What began as a five year experiment with a Business Improvement District, has turned into a failed program, that has been mismanaged from the very start, beginning with the way it was sold to downtown businesses and property owners.
Ostensibly it was promoted to be primarily a security force of off duty officers and trained security professionals to augment RCSO during large downtown events. The bonus would be that graffiti removal and cursory clean-up would be provided when needed as well.
This, however, would not be free. Property owners would have to pay another separate tax on top of those already paid to provide these extra services. But here's the kicker: each property owner got a vote for each property that they owned, so the largest property owners got the most votes and of course they were most likely to be able to afford the tax. Giving the "little guy" virtually no say in whether this extra program was needed, much less whether they could afford it. And small business owners who leased their space got no vote at all, but ended up having the new tax tacked on to their rent anyway.
So, the petition was circulated among those who were in favor, and those who were on record as opposed were ignored and kept out of the process. In fact, the BID was gerrymandered in such a way to insure that property owners who were opposed where excluded altogether. Most businesses east of 6th street were excluded. The BID does not cover all of downtown, but rather a a select portion that the DDA believed they could convince a slight 51% of property owners to approve. You see.. if it did included all of the recognized Central Business District, it would have never come close to getting the needed signatures for approval.
So... no surprise as to the result...The BID was passed --- to the tune of over $350,000 a year which the DDA exclusively controls. There have been no audits or accounting as to how this money has been spent. After 5 years, we are talking about at least $1,750,000!!
|The DDA rewards its cronies at the expense of others|
Fast forward to this year:
After the failure of the program to address clean-up after this years St. Patrick's Day Parade, some people in the community began to question the program and in particular the leadership of Ms. Woodard.
It has become obvious that this program has been mismanaged from the very beginning. The promises made to property owners concerning security-- the MAJOR selling point of the BID 5 years ago-- were never implemented.
At best, the BID/CADI has become nothing more than a perfunctory garbage pickup service that even Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said "had been done (previously) as well by prisoners". Any graffiti removal was performed at businesses who liked the program (aka cronies of the DDA) and NOT performed at those who opposed it...even though they pay the tax as well, lending further credence to the cries of favoritism within the DDA.
|DDA Director Margaret Woodard|
It's no secret that this writer and City Stink are not fans of Ms. Woodard and the DDA, but I would go further and ask that the Board of Directors of the DDA, which includes Paul King, be called out concerning their obvious lack of fiduciary duty. They are responsible for handling hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer monies and have failed in that duty.
If Ms. Woodard is able to get the needed signatures to bring this before the Commission for a vote, I sincerely hope enough Commissioners will understand that there is no need to renew this unneeded and mismanaged program. If somehow she does manage to pull out of thin air the bare minimum of signatures needed at the last minute, commissioners should realize that this does not indicate support of the majority of business and property owners downtown. What instead it does represent is a rigged attempt to make it appear that way.
At this point, the reputation of the DDA is so tarnished, that the next logical step is to replace Ms. Woodard with someone who has the confidence of downtown business owners and who can effectively do the job of actually promoting downtown development and economic retention. Woodard has failed to to this. The other option is to completely defund the DDA bureaucracy to ensure that it receives no more support from county taxpayers. What value are south Augusta taxpayers getting from having their money diverted to bureaucracies like the DDA anyway? Certainly that money could be better spent elsewhere, right?
One need only look at the beginning and the development of this program to understand why it turned out the way it has -- .its failure rests squarely upon the shoulders of the current Director of the DDA and its officers. It was sold on deception and is only serving to put an extra burden on small downtown business owners. Commissioners would be wise to pull the plug on this failure and completely reevaluate the role of the DDA altogether.***