The voters in Richmond and Columbia counties have spoken and what they said during the Nov. 3 election speaks volumes.
While many Richmond County citizens have expressed great frustration with the Augusta Commission, voters decided to continue to invest in Augusta by supporting the $215 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax list.
This year’s results were in stark contrast to the SPLOST 7 vote last year.
In May 2014, the SPLOST list failed by about 700 votes because it included some larger ticket items such as $5.25 million to help redevelop Sibley and King mills, $2.5 million for the Imperial Theatre, $6 million for Paine College, $2.75 million for Greater Augusta Arts Council and $4.25 million for Symphony Orchestra Augusta to help fund renovations to the Miller Theater.
As a result, the commissioners went back to the drawing board and made sure public safety and infrastructure needs were a priority on this SPLOST list.
This time around, non-governmental organizations such as the Imperial Theatre, Augusta Family Y, Paine College and the Augusta Mini Theatre were not a part of the SPLOST list.
Instead, this year’s SPLOST package concentrated on infrastructure, public safety, information technology and paying off debt service for the newly renovated Municipal Building.
Public safety alone will receive $45 million from SPLOST 7 for items such as a new 911 Center, construction of three new fire stations, a fire station alerting system upgrade, a marshal’s operation center and public safety vehicles.
Under infrastructure and facilities, the commission allocated more than $122.6 million for mainly road and drainage needs throughout the county.
Commissioners included only a few “quality of life” projects that will receive $28 million.
That list included expenditures such as $4 million for hiking and biking trails and enhancements to Augusta’s Riverwalk; $4 million for playground replacement and city-wide park site improvements; $4 million for area community centers; $1.75 million for restoration of ball fields, tennis courts and sports lighting improvements; $2 million for city-wide swimming pool renovations and a splash pad water playground and $6 million for upgrades to the aging James Brown Arena.
Over in Columbia County, the name of the game is runoffs.
In the District 122 race, local businesswoman Jodi Lott and former Columbia County Commissioner Mack Taylor are headed to a runoff.
As a first-time candidate, Lott clearly impressed voters in Columbia County and was able to earn a whopping 42 percent of the votes.
Taylor came in a distant second with 28.8 percent of the votes.
This time around, as both candidates prepare to the hit the streets to campaign, hopefully the discussions will focus more on the issues facing the county instead of attacks on the opponent.
During the entire campaign for District 122, candidate Jodi Lott has steered clear of the mudslinging and controversies stirred up by her opponents Joe Mullins and Mack Taylor.
Clearly, the voters didn’t appreciate Mullins’ approach to politics because he received less than 14 percent of the votes. Former chairwoman of the Columbia County Republican Party Pat Goodwin came in third with about 14.5 percent of the votes cast.
In the end, Mullins’ political charades left him out in the cold and no amount of money or flashy flyers could fix it.
Over the past several weeks, questions were raised as to whether Mullins even met Georgia’s residency standards to qualify to run for the House District 122 seat previously held by state Rep. Ben Harbin.
The Columbia County News-Times reported a few months ago that Mullins might have held valid driver’s licenses in the past two years in three different states: Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.
Mullins tried to brush off the accusations that he did not meet the state’s residency standards to run by saying, while he recently lived in Florida and North Carolina, he still maintained a primary address in Columbia County.
But this is the same man who argued, just a little more than a year ago, with the West Lake Country Club that he qualified for “non-resident status” because he lived in Florida.
There were too many questions surrounding Mullins that made Columbia County voters wisely look elsewhere.
In Columbia County’s District 3 race, voters will again head to the polls for a runoff between Sparkle Express Car Wash owner Gary Richardson and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Greg Grzybowsk.
Richardson earned more than 39 percent of the votes cast, while Grzybowski earned 21.5 percent.
So there will be one more election before residents in Columbia County’s District 3 will receive new leadership after an extremely turbulent few years.
Just this past summer, former Columbia County Commissioner Mack Taylor resigned from his District 3 seat to run for state Rep. Ben Harbin’s District 122 seat.
Taylor’s resignation came less than seven months after being elected to the District 3 seat.
This is the same seat that was once held by Commissioner Charles Allen, who resigned in March 2014 after it was discovered that his wife, former Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen, improperly profited from tax collection contracts with Harlem and Grovetown to the tune of more than $160,000.
It has been a rough couple of years for District 3, but many voters are hoping that whoever is elected to fill the District 3 seat will stick around for a little while and make sure their voices are heard.