Augusta Commission rolls back taxes

Digest growth could lead to cut in furlough days

A tax digest that grew by $51.3 million prompted Augusta commissioners to roll back taxes by 0.1 percent Tuesday.

 

The commission unanimously agreed to advertise the new lowered rate of 8.056 mills, down from the 8.149 mills Augusta has levied since 2007.

"Based on the fact that we've been experiencing the worst recession we've seen, to roll it back even a small portion this year speaks to the great job this body is doing," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said.

The decrease amounts to a savings of $7.44 on the tax bill for a $200,000 house, but many south Augusta homeowners who saw their assessed values increase earlier this year will not see the reduction.

The commission also heard positive news from auditor Bonnie Cox of Cherry, Bekaert and Holland. Cox noted that the fiscal year 2009 audit was "clean," with no reportable findings.

Among the discrepancies the firm did find were $30,000 drawn off a federal grant for Daniel Field that should have been paid with local or state money and missing procurement documents in an $84,000 purchase of bus engines, Cox said.

Augusta's reserves are beginning to recover from the $10 million transaction the city made in 2008 allowing Medical College of Georgia to acquire the Gilbert Manor housing project property for an expansion.

The general fund reserve balance is nearing 2007 levels of about $30 million, leaving the city with 85 days of operating cash, Cox said.

Augusta continues to spend about 46 percent of its budget on public safety and 18 percent on general government while "other" is down, from 12 percent in 2008 to 8 percent in 2009, according to a chart Cox presented.

"From an accounting perspective, we are on strong footing financially?" Copenhaver queried.

"Better than last year," Cox said.

The news prompted Administrator Fred Russell to recommend designating $400,000 toward covering expenses for two of four furlough days scheduled later this year.

Commissioner J.R. Hatney asked whether the amount lost to the rollback would cover the two additional furlough days.

"We need to find those dollars someplace else," said Russell, who said he had no source in mind Tuesday.

Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason said eliminating the two days was "probably the fairest way. I'm happy to see that we're in this particular position."

The growth in the digest took place in real and personal property, which increased by $63.5 million from 2009 to 2010, and in timber.

Augusta's taxable motor vehicles decreased in value by some $32 million. Mobile homes on the digest went down by $3 million, and heavy equipment decreased by $160,000.

The commission's actions Tuesday took place during the first meeting streamed live online at www.augustaga.gov.

Approximately 65 people stopped by to watch the live stream, Assistant Information Technology Director Mike Blanchard said.

The streamed meetings will be archived on the site, Blanchard said.

In other action

The Augusta Commission:

- Agreed to hire Alveno Ross as chief appraiser. Like his predecessor Calvin Hicks, Ross is under a three-year contract. He will be paid $90,000 annually and receive a $5,000 car allowance and $5,000 moving expenses.

- Authorized a promotion and pay increase for city attorney Wayne Brown, with Commissioner Jerry Brigham voting no and Joe Bowles, Jimmy Smith and Don Grantham out. Brown was promoted to senior staff attorney and saw his salary increase to $114,494, a rise of more than $20,000.

Topics:

More