AUGUSTA — A decision on whether or not to move forward with a pool renovation project have been put on hold until city council members can find a way to fully fund the project.
The Augusta pool has been closed since last summer waiting for repairs. The project was put out for bid, with the only bid meeting project requirements coming in at more than $300,000. The city does have $150,000 on reserve for the project, which was offered from the Bracken County Fiscal Court earlier this year. However, the city has been working to find a way to fund the remainder of the project costs.
On Wednesday, Augusta Mayor Wendell High told council he had a loan offer from a local bank that would provide $200,000 in funding for the project. The loan would be paid back over a period of seven years.
“I got a letter today about the loan. The money is available for us to borrow for this project,” he said. “We will have to put the Clooney Community Center up for collateral in order to take out the loan.”
One method of repaying the loan included a nickel tax on the property tax bills for Augusta residents. The exact numbers were not available on what the nickel tax rate would be, but City Clerk Gretchen England said it was estimated that the tax would provide $20,000 in revenue for the city each year.
The nickel tax has already been accounted for in the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget, although it still must be publicized and a public hearing must be held before it can be passed. Should the nickel tax be passed by city council, it would be subject to recall if a petition were to be filed with the county clerk’s office the city’s attorney said. If a petition were to be filed, it would be placed on the November ballot and voted on by residents of Augusta.
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll have this,” Augusta City Attorney Cynthia Thompson said. “We can’t have the public hearing until we receive the assessments for tax. Once we have that, we’ll publish a notice in the paper twice and then we’ll have a public hearing. That could be sometime next month.”
Thompson said if the nickel tax is placed on the November ballot and fails, the budget would have to be amended to reflect the change.
Should the nickel tax plan fail, High said the city could consider an increase in payroll tax or the insurance tax in order to help pay for the pool.
City Council Member Joe Goecke suggested holding off a decision about the pool and letting the next mayor and council decide, but High said the pool project was something currently on this council’s table and should be a decision made by the current council.
“It’s already on our plate,” he said. “We need to do something with it.”
The council moved from the pool topic to the second reading of the budget, which it approved.
The budget includes a general fund revenue of $1.67 million, a gas revenue of $432,180, a sewer revenue of $159,000, a total water revenue and prior balance of $262,650 and a water revenue of $475,000.
During the meeting, John Yingling with Augusta Regional Water Authority made a request that the city continue to bill for sewage, but not charge the organization, when ARSA takes over the county’s sewage. Yingling requested the mayor sign an agreement with ARSA stating as much.
“I’m asking you to do this because if you charge us for the billing, we have no other recourse but to pass that on to the customer,” Yingling said. “The city of Brooksville has already given us a verbal agreement that they will not charge ARSA for the billing. However, the county has to charge something, though I’m unsure of the amount that will be right now.”
Council Member Tay Kelsch asked why ARSA could not do the billing themselves.
Yingling said they do not have the resources to do so.
“Why are you bringing this up to us three years before the plant opens?” Kelsch asked.
“Because we’re trying to get everything in order now,” Yingling said. “We plan to bid out the project around October and it take about two years to build. We’re hoping to begin operation in early 2021 and we want to make sure everything is in order before then.”
Council members said they would look at the agreement and give Yingling an answer in July.
Other items discussed during the meeting included:
— Goecke asked everyone to stand in a moment of silence to remember Isaac Weldon, who was the former mayor of Augusta. Weldon died on June 17.
— The cost of trash collection from Rumpke rose by 41 cents and will be applied to customer’s bills once the costs takes effect.
— The Augusta Volunteer Fire Department surplus truck is still available for purchase. As no bids were received, the truck will remain surplus for another month with a minimum bid of $20,000. “It’s a $118,000 truck,” AVFD Chief Tony Mefford said. “It’s nice and would make a good truck for anyone. We just don’t have the room for it.”