Arguments about bloat and excess in city government might not discourage Augusta leaders from voting Tuesday to increase property taxes.
According to the city’s data, current staffing is below levels from 16 years ago, immediately after consolidation of the city and county, though spending has increased overall 11 percent faster than inflation.
In a 1998 report, total positions for the consolidated government numbered 2,668, including 894 authorized for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. The city general fund and law enforcement budget for the year was $90.9 million - or $129 million in today’s dollars.
Fast-forward to April of this year, the latest data available, and Augusta has a full-time staff of 2,426, with 692 in the sheriff’s office, although some positions remain unfilled across most departments.
As commissioners prepare to raise the countywide property tax rate by 1.75 mills to 9.788 mills, the annual general fund and law enforcement budget is $143 million. The increase will raise $7.9 million through what amounts to a $122.50 annual increase for the owner of a $200,000 home. That’s a relative increase of 11 percent since 1998.
For comparison, in Columbia County, the 6.4-mill tax rate funds a government of just under 1,100 employees, despite a fast-growing suburban population estimated at around 140,000, 60,000 fewer than slower-growing Augusta.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office employs about 200 people. County government services get a boost from the growing municipal governments of Grovetown and Harlem.
Other Georgia cities more closely resemble Augusta in size of government.
In Columbus, where the population slightly exceeds Augusta’s, the consolidated city-county government has 2,580 full-time employees, according to published data. Its tax rate is 16.93 mills.
In Macon, which consolidated with Bibb County this year, the population of about 155,000 has a local government staff of around 2,100, according to spokesman Chris Floore. Macon-Bibb’s tax rate is 12 mills.
The commission will hold a third and final public hearing on the tax increase at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the commission chamber at the Municipal Building, then intends to set the mill rate at a called 2 p.m. meeting.