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Inform taxpayers, then ask for money

Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2003

Just after Columbia County commissioners agreed to join a regional economic development initiative, Chairman Ron Cross is calling for meetings to discuss another regional proposal.

Both efforts are heading down exactly the right path - not just for the region, but for Columbia County.

The Greater Regional Partnership for Economic Development would have a board equally divided among Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties. Its separate from the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce, and is a good step toward recruiting new industries.

Commissioners dont foresee any additional cost from Columbia County for now, though the price could rise as the partnerships success justifies the investment.

County officials are more hesitant about another regional investment, one that is still in the preliminary stages. Thus, Cross is calling for four public hearings - one in each commission district - to take residents pulse regarding a new regional civic arena.

The arena would be in Augusta, at Interstate 20 and River Watch Parkway. The projected cost is about $89 million, most of it from a 10-year extension of Augustas sales tax. But Columbia County will also be asked to participate, investing about $15 million.

Its a lot of money, and skepticism is to be expected. Columbia County citizens havent had an opportunity to learn much about the proposal. Four hearings may be a little overboard, however; thats nearly as many as the county held for its last sales tax referendum, which spends nearly $75 million.

Those meetings allowed a consultant to educate citizens on plans for spending sales tax funds. Cross proposal should do the same thing: Bring in ScheerGame Sports Development, LLC, to tell the full story about why the new arena is needed, and why regional participation is vital to its success.

With plenty of information in hand, citizens can then reach an informed decision about whats best not just for Columbia County - but for the larger community, too.


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