Designating the entire central business district as a “slum” to borrow money to renovate the Augusta Municipal Building can be avoided, if a neighboring county’s effort is any guide.
Columbia County in 2011 designated an area around the West Town shopping center in Martinez using the same Urban Redevelopment Act that Augusta leaders are attempting to use to issue $26.5 million in tax-exempt bonds for the renovation.
While Augusta’s resolution – specifying the entirety of downtown bounded by Walton Way, Gordon Highway, 15th Street and the Savannah River – takes pains to characterize the 594.5 acres as a blighted slum, Columbia County stepped around the issue when it implemented the West Town Market Area Urban Redevelopment Plan.
“We made a decision early on that we didn’t want to use those words,” Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson said. “We were concerned that there may be some negative perception.”
Columbia County’s resolution omits the words “slum” and “blight” and instead notes that the area contains dilapidated, old or obsolete buildings and conditions potentially harmful to health, safety and welfare.
Jim Plunkett, the attorney who drafted Augusta’s resolution, questioned omitting the word “slum” and pointed to Georgia Code section 36-61-5, which requires a local government to determine “one or more slum areas exist” to exercise redevelopment powers under the law.
“In my opinion, what Augusta is doing is highly transparent,” Plunkett said. “We were just quoting the statute. We weren’t trying to be cute or avoid anything.”