Augusta commission expected to pass budget

The Augusta Commission is expected to pass today a 2010 budget that does not include a tax rate increase but plans for $4.3 million in expenditure reductions.

 

City Administrator Fred Russell said Monday that he expects the budget version he presented Nov. 17 to be kept intact, for the most part. When commissioners meet at 1:30 p.m., they'll be technically reconvening the last meeting because city code requires a budget to be adopted at the second meeting in November.

The budget has a general fund total of $124.4 million in revenue and expenses. In order to make up for an $8.6 million shortfall in early drafts, Mr. Russell presented a list of cost-cutting and revenue-generating measures that include:

- Furloughing all city employees -- elected officials included -- for four days in September, October, November and December for a savings of $814,000.

- Cutting $500,000 from the sheriff's office and $500,000 in prisoner costs by working to release nonviolent, non-repeat offenders from the jails more quickly, thus reducing the daily inmate population from about 1,300 to as low as 1,000.

- $163,670 in cuts to the Recreation Department, including $70,000 by phasing out 15 positions through attrition, $25,000 from cuts in the special events budget and $55,000 from shutting off lights at all tennis courts except those at the Newman, Diamond Lakes and Fleming tennis centers, and at the walking tracks at Sand Hills, Brigham, Warren Road, McBean and Blythe parks. Cutting the special events budget will eliminate the First Friday bands and car shows at the Augusta Common from April to October.

- Routing $600,000 a year in beer taxes away from the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority after it finishes paying off the bond that built the James Brown Arena.

- Generating $200,000 a year through stepped up efforts to collect delinquent taxes.

- Saving $650,000 a year through a new employee retirement incentive program.

- Providing only six months of funding for "the Patch" golf course while the city considers privatizing it.

Money would be taken out of reserves for a $1.8 million shortfall in Augusta Public Transit.

Meanwhile, commissioners plan to pursue adding an eighth penny to the sales tax, which if enacted quickly could eliminate the need for many of these cuts. A Municipal Option Sales Tax, or MOST, would generate an estimated $30 million to $35 million per year, and collections could start in October if voters approve the tax in July, adding $7.5 million to $9 million to next year's revenues.

The proposed use of MOST proceeds, according to a resolution expected to be approved in today's regularly scheduled meeting at 2 p.m.:

- 34 percent, or $12 million, to roll back the property tax rate by 3 mills

- 23 percent, or $8 million, for law enforcement, including the sheriff's office, the marshal's office, the 911 center and the Richmond County prison

- 17 percent, or $6 million, for Augusta Public Transit

- 17 percent, or $6 million, for fire protection.

- 9 percent, or $3 million, for capital outlay replacement, such as buildings, vehicles and equipment.

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