Some of the fundamental questions about Columbia Countys potential support of a new Augusta arena project are coming not just from our countys own leaders, but from those in Augustas government.
In what essentially was the first formal session held to pitch plans for a new multi-purpose arena to Columbia County officials, Augusta commissioners wondered aloud why Columbia County taxpayers would want to help pay for a project that isnt even in their county.
"I'm going to benefit," says Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams. "But why would they invest in it?"
The fact that Augusta officials are even asking such a question indicates theyre still working on a sales pitch. Once that's done, they'll have all the answers they need to questions that are sure to arise for such a bold initiative.
So, why would Columbia County citizens want to help pay for a big arena in a neighboring county? Part of the answer is that the closest Columbia County will come to getting a civic arena of its own is when it attaches a performing arts theater to the countys new main library. But a 300-seat auditorium is a far cry from the 12,000-seat arena envisioned by Augusta officials and private investors.
Simply put, our county doesnt have the money to build such a facility itself, even though Columbia County residents will be among the more faithful attendees at its cultural and sporting events.
Investing in the project also would allow Columbia County to have direct input into one of our communitys more important projects. Such input is unprecedented, which is perhaps why Augusta commissioners themselves are curious about our countys potential support. Columbia County citizens already are passive investors in every Augusta project because so much of our sales-tax dollars are spent in retail shops across the county line. Yet we have no say in how those dollars are spent.
The current plan for financing the arena is to ask Augusta residents to extend their sales tax for 10 years instead of the customary five, with much of the proceeds used to build the new arena. Any plan that includes an investment from Columbia County - and from Aiken County, which also is being asked to participate - also would require permission from taxpayers.
Before the project gets that far, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross says citizen input will be sought in a series of public hearings. Eventually, when Columbia Countys sales tax is up for renewal, voters may be asked to decide whether they want to invest in such a broad community project.
Our possible investment will first require an effort by those Augusta commissioners to educate us on how Columbia County would benefit - after theyve first figured it out for themselves.
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