Industries oppose new tax; employees want better wages



Augusta commissioners got an earful from area industries and city employees at a first public hearing Tuesday on the proposed 2014 budget.

The Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce, Development Authority of Richmond County, Resolute Forest Products and DSM Chemical sent representatives to speak out against Augusta’s possible implementation of a new excise tax on energy.

City Administrator Fred Russell proposed the tax last year to replace revenue lost to a new state exemption from sales taxes for energy used in manufacturing. He has again suggested implementing the tax, in sufficient amount to cover half the revenue lost in the second year of the phased-in exemption, to generate $1.5 million.

The industry officials said losing any part of the exempted revenue would hurt their business.

“Demand for newsprint is shrinking every day,” said Resolute Forest Products Controller Barbara Cole.

Commissioners also heard from Augusta 911 dispatchers about pay disparities that exist between them and operators at Augusta 311, the city’s customer service line. Some 911 dispatchers make less than 311 operators.

Commissioner Bill Fennoy said it was “only fair” the emergency personnel are compensated as well as the 311 operators and possibly be paid retroactively if the disparity went back months.

“911 without question goes straight to the top in my opinion,” Commissioner Alvin Mason said.

Commissioner Donnie Smith took a moment to “push back” against those who have contacted him about cutting their taxes. Augusta’s taxes are lower than property taxes in the cities of Columbus, Athens, Macon and Savannah, he said.

“That’s my pushback,” Smith said. “If you’re going to use our services, you have to help pay for them.”

Russell said he’d hold another work session next week for commissioners to work on the budget, which includes a raise for all employees as well as an $8.5 million deficit.