Column by Chris Graham
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The latest twist in Waynesboro city government regarding the $26.5 million in capital-improvements projects on the table in the River City came as a surprise to me, among others.
And I think the list of the others there would include Waynesboro City Council member Lorie Smith – who didn’t seem to be aware of the news from Monday night’s city-council meeting that a supermajority vote would be needed to authorize the borrowing that would be needed to get the CIP plan under way.
Smith was in studio Monday morning for a taping of “The Augusta Free Press Show” to talk about the CIP plan – and the focus in our discussions both on-air and off-the-air was on the importance of seeing the projects on the list go forward.
“This will be a big first step in the direction of what we want to do – which is leave the city in a better position than we found it in,” said Smith, who took office in July 2006 after winning a contentious campaign with former council members Reo Hatfield and DuBose Egleston on a platform that focused on doing what was necessary to make Waynesboro a “first-class city.”
Smith is part of a working majority of council members – including mayor Tom Reynolds and vice mayor Nancy Dowdy – that has been advocating increased investments in the city to improve aging city infrastructure and to boost the economic environment in downtown.
Two conservative members of the city council, Frank Lucente and Tim Williams, have been pushing just as strenuously for a different course that focuses on doing what it takes to keep taxes and city spending in line.
Lucente and Williams would seem to be occupying the catbird’s seat with respect to the CIP – given the need for a supermajority vote to get the borrowing in order. Both have expressed reservations about two of the bigger-ticket items in the plan – a proposed new fire station to be located in the city’s West End and investments in a new ballfield complex that would allow little leaguers in Waynesboro to be able to play under the lights.
“There are some things on this list that go to the quality of life that we here in Waynesboro value very much – and one thing that is of paramount importance to all of us is our children,” Smith said in the interview for “The Augusta Free Press Show” regarding the need for lighted ballfields in Waynesboro.
“We know that with baseball we are way behind the curve in terms of providing some lighted baseball fields,” Smith said.
“I think it sends a message that this community cares about our youth. I think it sends a wonderful message,” Smith said.
The West End fire station has been a topic of discussion in Waynesboro dating back to the 1980s annexation of today’s West End from Augusta County.
“We’re only meeting compliance with response times less than 20 percent of the time. And if you move out 1.5 miles from the station, we’re not providing industry-standard compliance response times,” Smith said.
“That’s something that we feel strongly about. The folks that are out on the West End – whether you are a residential citizen, or you are a business – we have responsibilities to those folks out there to be responsive in terms of their fire response and getting to them as soon as we can,” Smith said.
Smith addressed the concerns that have been raised about the borrowing that would have to be done to accomplish these projects – and another, an estimated $13 million-plus in improvements to the city’s water and sewer system that all seem to be in agreement on as something that needs to be done – in particular, that the city would have to raise taxes in order to be able to meet the debt-service payments that would come part and parcel with the borrowing.
She said she thinks it is clear that the city will not have to raise taxes to be able to meet its obligations.
“There’s been a lot of political rhetoric around the idea that taxes will have to be increased to meet the debt service with the general-fund CIP – and I don’t agree with that,” Smith said.
“The work that I have performed myself, and analyzing the budget discussions of this past spring, my work looked at the out years. I did some work looking around 2009, 2010, to try to project where we’re going to be – and of course, projecting revenues is a very difficult thing in a growing city. But what I do know is that we conservatively estimate our revenues – and based upon just conservative estimates, and with the growth that we know is present, and the growth that we know is coming, I feel that we’ll be in an optimal position to absorb this debt service without additional taxes.
That is certainly not my intent – to raise taxes to support a CIP,” Smith said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.
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