Downtown Parking

In today’s paper, Augusta residents again got to read about the DDA’s proposal to install parking meters on Broad Street. link to article. You can find my other post regarding downtown parking here: link.

Reading today’s article made me wonder how the city will enforce the parking meters should the proposal pass. It stated that the private company who will install the parking meters will “handle enforcement duties for the first five years”. What exactly does that mean? Are they just writing tickets on behalf of Richmond County?

Also, what court is going to be charged with hearing appeals from the parking tickets? As you may remember, the Augusta Chronicle has reported, in an article from May discussing the enforcement of the 2 hour parking limit, that the “city has no court assigned to hear appeals from ticketed motorists, so it cannot make them pay the [parking] fines”. link

What is the point of issuing fines if they can’t be enforced?

Of course, I am sure the county will saddle the Magistrate Judges with the duty of hearing all of the parking fine appeals. I would put money on that causing the county to have to hire another judge. I wonder if Woodard accounted for that additional expenses when she stated that the parking meters would net the county around 3 million after 10 years?

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Parking in Downtown Augusta

It seems like the downtown parking meter debate comes around every year. Apparently Marion Williams is now championing the idea of adding parking meters: click here. Marion Williams is the same commissioner that proposed the boneheaded “veranda concept”: click here.

The Downtown Development Authority has been pushing to add parking meters from fifth to thirteenth street. The main problem parking area I, and everybody else, have seen is around the 900 block of Broad Street where many popular restaurants and stores are located.

Why not just install parking meters in the couple of blocks around that area? Is it necessary to install parking meters throughout the entire downtown?

One of the few good things that parking meters downtown would bring is more traffic to the mostly unused parking garage that cost the city 12 million dollars.

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Augusta’s District 7

What in the world is going on with naming a replacement fo District 7′s Commission seat? It has now been over 2 weeks since Donnie Smith, District 7′s Commissioner, resigned from his seat. It only took a week for the Commission to appoint a replacement for Joe Jackson after he abruptly resigned last month. Yesterday the Augusta Chronicle ran an article on the likely replacements: Echols, Frantom, and Harris.

One has to wonder why there is, at least from the outside seems, a lack of urgency to appoint a commissioner for District 7. For those who follow the local government, it is fairly easy to guess as to why there was a rush to appoint the commission rushed to get Hasan aboard yet has no urgency to appoint a District 7 replacement.

As the Donnie Smith fiasco has unfolded, I began to think about the District 7 race between Smith and Echols two years ago. I am sure the majority if not all of Smith’s voters now wish they had voted for Echols. During his campaign, Echols pledged not to vote for any property tax increases.

Smith, on the other hand, recently voted for the tax hike, then retreated after the appararent outcry from District 7 residents. Presumably so Smith could save face with his district, Smith voted “no” in the final vote that increased the tax burden.

The vote on the tax increase ended in a 5-5 tie with the mayor casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the tax increase. If any one of the 5 “no” voters had abstained, the tax increase would have failed. This tactic has been used repeatedly in the past.

Have any of the 5 “no” votes answered the question on why they didn’t abstain? The voters in those districts need to demand answers because their vote was basically a vote in facor of a tax increase.



Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to go to Atlanta a couple of times. I met some friends over there and we decided to go out to dinner. How were we going to get there? One of my friends from Atlanta suggested we use Uber. I had read about Uber before but had never used it.

It was a great experience. We ended up being picked up by a late model large SUV. It was very clean and the wait to be picked up was short. The driver was very polite. And most importantly, it was much cheaper than a taxi or  driving service. It is simple to use, you just download an app on your phone, request a pick up, and pay through paypal.

I have seen ads that Uber is coming to Augusta. It makes me wonder what kind of response Uber will receive from the local taxi companies, the commission, and the law enforcement. The Oxford, Miss. police department has been ticketing Uber drivers for violating a newly enacted ordinance preventing services such as Uber from operating without paying to be a licensed taxi company. You can read about that here

Memphis similarly created a similar ordinance that similarly banned Uber if the drivers did not pay the taxi fees. The Memphis newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, came out against Uber stating they believed it was a matter of public safety.

My friend who lives in Memphis, wrote a a letter to the editor refuting this assertion. You can find his letter here (subscription required). Basically, he states that Uber already does a more thorough background check than that required by the city ordinance. Further, because of the GPS technology employed by Uber, it would make it virtually impossible for a driver to commit a crime against a passenger and get away with it.

I am anxious to see how the local authorities handle Uber when it gets to Augusta. I am sure the taxi companies will lobby hard against Uber (as they even opposed a city bus stop near Fort Gordon).

The Richmond County Code appears to be broad enough that an Uber driver would be required to pay the taxi regulatory fee. Ordinance Number 1400, adopted April 16, 2013 defines a taxicab as a vehicle “regularly engaged in the business of caryying passengers for hire….” Uber will likely argue that because the drivers use their personal vehciles and aren’t full-time professional drivers, that the vehicles cannot be considered to be regularly engaged in the business.

Uber is able to offer affordable transportation because, in part, they do not have to pay the costly regulatory fees. It will be interesting to see how Augusta handles Uber when it arrives.

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The Augusta Tax Hike and Your Property Assessment

On July 28th I commented on the millage rate increase passed by the Augusta Commission. After what was apparently a strong showing of displeasure by the taxpayers, the Commission voted no to the tax increase.

What changed? Mary Davis and Donnie Smith, who voted in favor of the increase less than a month ago, did not support the increase yesterday. I have found no public comment regarding the change of heart.

Some people have commented that instead of raising the millage rates to increase tax revenue, the county assessor should reassess and increase the value of  properties. Last year when I appealed my tax assessment (successfully) I got a first hand look at how the assessor’s system works.

Pursuant to the relevant statute, the property is supposed to be assessed at its fair market value on January 1.  In preparing my appeal, I looked at all the sales in my neighborhood over the last several years and the values at which the houses were assessed.

By looking at the MLS and other online listings and comparing those listings to the property records kept by the assessor’s office it was apparent that the assessor’s office does not have accurate information on MANY houses in the neighborhood. Numerous houses have second levels or other amenities which are unaccounted for by they assessor’s office.

By adding the unaccounted for square footage, the city would stand to gain a significant amount of money without raising the millage rate. This could be effectuated by simply comparing the tax assessor’s records to the for sale listings online.

That brings me to my second point:  The assessment for many houses (not the ones with unaccounted for square feet) is already well above the house’s fair market value. Fair market value is defined as “the amount a knowledgeable buyer would pay for the property and a willing seller would accept for the property at an arm’s length, bona fide sale.” O.C.G.A. Section 48-5-2(3).

After studying the sales in the neighborhood and comparing them to the assessed values of the properties, it is apparent that the tax assessor already assesses most properties above their fair market value. To advocate for a blanket increase of assessed values is simply wrong.

In short, the people who believe another way of going about the tax increase would be to increase the assessments of properties have it right with respect to increasing the accuracy of the property records. However, many, if not most, properties are already assessed above their fair market values.


The Augusta Riverwalk

Last week, on July 23, 2014 the Metro Spirit published this article about the Augusta Riverwalk on its website.

A couple of takeaways from the article:

1) confirmation that the Jessye Norman Amphitheater is horribly underused

2) the Riverwalk is in need of some type of repair/revitalization/re-purposing

3) the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for another study commissioned by the DDA

Ever since moving to Augusta I have thought the magnificent riverfront property in downtown Augusta was underused. There is mention in the article of extending the Riverwalk to the 13th Street bridge. This would be the worst thing the city could do.

The Riverwalk has already prevented practically all riverfront development downtown and to extend the Riverwalk to the bridge would take away the possibility of any downtown riverfront development. Hopefully the city (and state) can find a solution that will take full advantage of the wonderful riverfront property. What do you think should be done with the Riverwalk? 

P.S. After writing this post, one of my friends posted that the Yonder Mountain String Band will be playing at the Amphitheater in October. I am very excited to see a band with the following that YMSB has take advantage of a cool venue. You can read about the concert here: Riverwalk Revival.


Richmond County Tax Hike

The Augusta Chronicle reported today that the Augusta Commission is poised to raise the County Maintenance and Operation portion of the property taxes by roughly 25%. Read the article here. The article points out that while Columbia County’s tax rate is much lower, the new Richmond County rate will be lower than rates in Fulton, Bulloch, Chatham, Dougherty, Bibb, Clarke, and Muscogee. While this is technically true,  it doesn’t show is the amount of overall property tax paid in those counties. A look at the millage rates reveals a different picture. The school millage rate in Richmond County is 19.982. Compare this to the other counties listed in the Chronicle’s article. Fulton’s is 18.502, Bulloch’s is 9.95, Chatham’s is 15.881, Dougherty’s is 18.445, Bibb’s is 17.945. Only Clarke and Muscogee Counties had higher education millage rates than Richmond County. So while it is true, that the county maintenance portion of the property tax will be lower than the other counties mentioned, the  overall tax burden in Richmond County is still higher than at least several of those counties (it is also unclear whether solid waste collection is a separate fee in the other counties).



Deke was lied to about the vote for Administrator

This interesting article from WJBF shows that the mayor, Deke Copenhaver, believes he was lied to by the commissioners regarding the vote to fill the Administrator position. His email claims that he believed he had 8 votes to approve Oscar Rodriguez. Instead, as the article I linked yesterday shows, the commission voted 7-1 (Wayne Guilfoyle the only vote against) on to abandon the search until the newly elected leaders take control. The mayor elected to take the high road and not name the commissioner(s) who reneged on their promise(s) to him but it would be very interesting to know how and why the commissioners suddenly changed their tune. 


Augusta’s Failed Search for Administrator…

… and the sound of taxpayer money being flushed down the toilet. As reported in today’s article in the Augusta Chronicle, the Augusta Commission voted  to discontinue the search for Fred Russell’s permanent replacement. This comes only a couple of weeks after the commission interviewed  the three finalists. As noted in the Chronicle’s article, the failed search cost the city roughly $19,000. The interim administrator, Temeka Allen, appears to be doing at least a serviceable job so the need to find a permanent replacement isn’t as urgent as it otherwise could be. As a Richmond County taxpayer, I  wish the mayor and commissioners would commit to an outcome before before spending money on something that doesn’t materialize. I also feel for the candidates who spent their time and energy applying and interviewing for the job. I doubt being interviewed by the 10 commissioner is a fun or easy exercise.