Augusta commissioners needed some professional help and got it. So they kissed and made up and promised not to give each other the cold shoulder or fling insults ever again.
Under the expert tutelage of not just one, but two facilitators from Carl Vinson Institute of Government at a retreat last week, they reached consensus on balancing the 2012 budget, which was good. But the devil’s in the details, which are not so good. After months of talking about streamlining the government with drastic cuts and layoffs, City Administrator Fred Russell led them down the primrose path of postponing the inevitable.
Instead of cutting $1 million through layoffs, $2.26 million from departments and using $2.1 million from rainy-day funds, they jumped at Russell’s latest proposal to cut 1 percent from departments, except for engineering, forget about layoffs; take $3.6 million from rainy day funds (also known as fund balance appropriation); and hope they get $1 million more from property taxes, which could be called counting your chickens before they hatch.
Both plans also include using $1 million of capital (money for vehicles and equipment) and $250,000 of contingency funds. There also will be a 0.594 mil increase in fire millage which will cost the owner of a $100,000 house in suburban areas $20.79 more a year.
INTO THIN, THIN AIR: Nobody was talking about cuts or layoffs. In fact, the budget includes new employees – about eight at last count. And they talked about adding more – a public information officer to keep the evil media at bay and an efficiency expert to study government operations. Someone also said they need a professional contract administrator.
The discussions ranged from improving their public image and communications, the smoking ordinance, the shape of the conference table in the soon-to-be renovated commission chambers, the city charter and “future opportunities for revenue.” They were encouraged to look at new revenue sources outside of property taxes. One suggestion was “Look at how to gain access to the 80 percent and not just the 20 percent (property-tax payers).”
Commissioner Alvin Mason suggested taxing people who come into Augusta to work but live in other counties. There was mention of implementing a storm water utility fee, commonly known as a rain tax. And then there was mention of the Transportation Investment Act whereby voters will be asked to vote themselves another penny tax in November.
Don’t you just love it when governments start talking about investments? A stink bug by any other name still stinks.
AN IQ TEST: Complete this sentence: A good example of revenue enhancement would be …
A. Winning the lottery.
B. Winning a $10 million lawsuit.
C. Finding a diamond ring in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box.
D. A visit from the Prize Patrol.
What is the real meaning of (rainy day) “fund balance appropriation”?
A. Robbing Peter to pay Paul
B. Kicking the can down the road
C. Gambling it won’t rain 40 days and 40 nights
What happens when capital funds are transferred to balance the budget?
A. Dump trucks are stranded by the side of the road.
B. Police cars overheat in high-speed chases.
C. The city has to buy goats to trim the grass on the courthouse lawn.
Answers: If you circled all of the above, you are above average in intelligence.
LOOK AT THAT HORRIBLE IMAGE IN THE MIRROR: It was clear early on that Mayor Deke Copenhaver, et al, think the media are to blame for their poor public image, which just goes to show that Archie was right once again. Archie MacKay, the late editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, warned us when a big news situation arose that no matter what happened or who did what, in the end the newspaper would be blamed.
And he was right. A perfect example is what has transpired in city government for the past 15 months. Commissioners have been racially divided and at war over the personnel manual, Russell’s power, the government reorganization, whether it took six votes or eight votes to reorganize or change anything, and where they would meet when the new judicial center opened. But when they get into a retreat, they complain about the media’s negativity, which is funny because some of them have instigated negative stories by leaking information to reporters. Now they’d love to gag us.
The Boy King said he’d like to see one centralized source of information. Doesn’t he know that commissioners love to see themselves on TV?
“Our government leaks like a sieve,” he complained.
Boo! Hoo! What a pity.
That was the long version of the retreat.
HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION: Wah! Wah! Wah! We’ve been bad boys calling each other names and fighting, but it’s not our fault. It’s the media’s. They’re so negative. They never report the good things we do. When we graduate from GMA training, you won’t see a thing about it in the newspaper or on TV. But just let us put up our dukes in a meeting, and they’re all over it.
Facilitator: Well, when they see you putting up your dukes, put a positive spin on it. Say you’re practicing for your Kung Fu lesson.
Administrator: Enough of this touchy-feely stuff. It’s time to balance the budget. Here’s one you can live with. No layoffs, no cuts, no tax increase.
WHO NEEDS INFLUENCE? State Sen. Hardie Davis has pledged to petition the U.S. Justice Department to reject the Senate Redistricting Committee’s drawing the 24th Senate District into Richmond County. The committee’s action adds Republican Sen. Bill Jackson to the Richmond delegation, bringing the number of senators in the local delegation to three.
“This untimely effort is nothing more than an attempt to dilute the voting strength of the citizens of Augusta by inserting another Republican legislator from Columbia County into its legislative delegation,” Davis stated in an e-mail.
Augusta Republicans, however, say Jackson’s presence on the delegation will be helpful to Richmond County because Jackson has clout, as well as Gov. Nathan Deal’s ear. Their friendship goes back to the days Deal was in the state Legislature.
Davis contends the proposed new map is the direct result of efforts by members of Augusta’s own business community, out to control every aspect of the city.
“In counties like Richmond, Fulton, Dekalb and Bibb – counties recognized as Democratic strongholds in Georgia and predominantly African-American – the Republican-controlled legislature has taken aggressive steps like this to weaken the African-American vote.”
But don’t the Democrats draw the lines to benefit Democrats when they’re in the legislative majority? I seem to remember they do.
JUST VISITING? Augusta Convention and Business Bureau president and CEO Barry White was reported to be in Jacksonville, Fla., this weekend. Could it be to interview for the vacant top job with Visit Jacksonville, the brand identity for the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau?