March 19, 2013
By The Outsider
Like a zombie in a B horror movie, bad ideas never really die in Augusta. Instead, they lurk in the shadows waiting for the next sequel to make their attack on new unsuspecting victims. Such is the case with the latest efforts to resurrect the CADI program (Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative). Just three months after the Augusta Commission rejected renewing the downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and its companion CADI program, proponents are on the schedule at this afternoon's commission meeting to speak out in favor of giving the program a second life.
It's being packaged as a "new and improved" CADI, but upon closer inspection, it's just more of the same. CADI proponents made a big deal about distancing themselves from the Downtown Development Authority and its executive director Margaret Woodard in hopes that severing ties with the DDA would improve the chances for a 2nd shot at renewing CADI. However, the CADI board of directors is full of the same DDA cronies today as it was before. Byrd Warlick, the attorney for the DDA is on the agenda at today's commission meeting speaking out in favor of renewing the program. Natalie McLeod, who serves on the CADI board of directors is also a member of The DDA. Sanford Lloyd also serves on both the DDA and the CADI board of directors. Paul King and Bryan Halterman, who both have long associations with the DDA, also both serve on the CADI board of directors. In fact the board of directors of CADI is nearly identical to what it was last year. Nothing has changed.
Also, we found that certain property owners are represented on the CADI board of directors even though they have not paid their property taxes, and thus into the Business Improvement District. Travers Paine III, another CADI board member, also signed the renewal petition for Augusta Green Inc at 811 Broad St, a property where he also serves on the board of directors. Public records show that 811 Broad St is delinquent for $6,762 in property taxes from 2012 and is also delinquent for 2011 property taxes, yet Mr. Paine still serves on the board of directors for CADI, which wants to impose a tax on other downtown property owners to fund its operations. Should representatives of properties delinquent in their property taxes be allowed to serve on the CADI board of directors?
Only minor changes have been made to the CADI proposal that failed to win over commission support this past December. In this latest incarnation, all property owners within the district will pay the same tax rate. Augusta Riverfront LLC, the owners of the Augusta Marriott, were paying a lower rate under the previous tax district. Beyond that though, it is still mainly just a glorified cleaning service that will cost downtown property owners around $350,000 per year. Critics of the program still question the high cost of a program that employees only about 7 to 8 workers making around $9 per hour. And independent audit has yet to be conducted to determine just how the approximately $1,750,000 that was collected over the previous 5 year period of the business improvement district was spent.
In this latest CADI proposal, there is no mention of public safety, and many downtown business owners say that was how the business improvement district was sold to them in the first place. CADI critics also question the need for an additional tax on downtown property owners when the city seems to be doing a good job keeping downtown clean. They cite the recent St. Patrick's Day parade which fell on a Saturday. City cleaning crews were out in force this year picking up trash soon after the parade ended. It was a different sight last year when sidewalks were strewn with trash and empty beer bottles for days following the event. That was when downtown had CADI. Critics of the program say that this illustrates that CADI was merely displacing city services for which downtown business owners were already paying. Under the guidelines for creating a business improvement district, these services should be supplemental rather than a substitute for existing city services.
The refrain from CADI proponents is that a majority of downtown property owners signed a petition wanting renewal of the program; however, upon closer inspection, that is bending the truth, to say the least. An Augusta Chronicle report revealed that only 78 individuals were responsible for the 116 signatures in favor of renewing CADI. Bryan Halterman was responsible for a dozen signatures. Paul King provided 8 and Alonzo Boardman provided 6. According to the Chronicle report, all 116 signatories only represents about $103,066 of the taxes collected in the BID. That's less than a third, but proponents still claim that renewal of CADI represents the will of a majority of downtown property owners.
There has been virtually no outreach to downtown property owners who opposed CADI last time and no effort to include their concerns in the process.
Since it would take unanimous consent from commissioners to add consideration of approval of CADI to today's agenda, no action is expected on the program's future today. However, the way in which CADI proponents managed to get on the agenda to speak after the deadline had passed is raising some eyebrows. Only a commissioner or the mayor can add someone to the agenda to speak after the regular deadline has passed. Byrd Warlick was apparently added by District 1 Commissioner Bill Fennoy, who is also asking that commissioners add renewal of CADI to today's commission agenda. CADI critics are calling foul saying that this last minute maneuvering denies them a chance to speak out against the program. Last December, renewal of CADI failed to receive the needed 6 votes for passage, but now there are 4 new faces on the commission.
Beyond the CADI issue, this disturbing trend of agenda items being brought back before commissioners over and over again after already having been rejected begs for reform. Also, if speakers can be added to the commission agenda after the official deadline has passed then opponents should be afforded the same courtesy. If commissioners want to take unanimous action on something at today's meeting perhaps they should consider imposing a minimum waiting period before previously rejected agenda items can be brought back before the commission. Also they should consider reforming the process for citizens to be placed on the agenda to speak before the commission. Either make it easier for all citizens to address the body at the last minute (Columbia County allows citizens to sign up to address commissioners right before the meetings) or end the favoritism that allows commissioners to add certain people to the commission agenda at the last minute, thus circumventing the process and denying opponents the right to speak.
Critics of the CADI program though say it is time to put a stake in the heart of this monster once and for all.***
Facts from the 2012 CADI ANNUAL REPORT
Segway/Bike 3283 yearly hours or 9 hours a day to accomplish the following:
- 59 Yearly Panhandle reports or about I a week
- 5605 Yearly merchant visits or 15 a day or 2 and hour
- Assistance per year 767 or 2 a day
- 1939 handbills removed or 5 a day
- 11 Police assistance calls for the years or less than 1 a month
- 6 Augusta Cares calls or one every two months
- 58 bags of garbage removed per week from the public trash cans
IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?