Augusta Commission member Marion Williams thinks city employees who live outside Augusta-Richmond County are costing the county tax dollars.
He has continued to push the issue, first with city department heads and now with all city staff, despite having neither state law nor any commission colleagues on his side.
“It just don’t make sense for us not to recognize what we’re doing,” Williams said Friday. “We support the other counties with our county dollars. We at least ought to know what kind of money we lose.”
Augusta sends about $34.8 million, or about 37 percent of its annual base salaries, outside the consolidated city limits, according to August personnel data.
The bulk goes to Columbia County, where 535 city staffers, or 21.5 percent of the city workforce, live.
Williams learned last week which departments’ heads don’t live in Augusta: engineering, recreation, environmental services, the Richmond County Correctional Institute, information technology, equal employment opportunity and 911. Not satisfied, he demanded data from human resources on all city personnel and returned the residency item to today’s administrative services committee agenda.
The discussion was a low point of last Tuesday’s commission meeting, with Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson arguing, “You don’t have to like it,” and Mayor Deke Copenhaver slamming his gavel. Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle called the debate “chasing false rabbits,” while Commissioner Bill Lockett said the exchange was one reason “our population isn’t growing the way it should.”
Georgia law prohibits residency requirements for local government employees, without the occasional “compelling governmental reason,” such as public safety, city General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said,
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree has no residency requirements for deputies and has maintained an existing policy that allows about 100 of them to drive their assigned vehicles to homes outside Augusta, provided they get departmental approval.
Williams said he wasn’t concerned about the sheriff.
“I’m talking about the stuff we’ve got authority over,” he said.
“You make $50,000, $60,000, $90,000 a year but you don’t pay taxes,” Williams said. “You don’t care if the taxes go up or not. You don’t care whether the garbage gets picked up.”
Nearly all of his colleagues continue to dismiss Williams’ latest crusade as unwarranted, but the Super District 9 commissioner isn’t dropping it.
“So I’ll know and you’ll know and the taxpayers will know how much we have not paid attention to what we’ve been doing,” Williams said.
While mostly outlawed in Georgia, other states and cities do require residency.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie implemented a state residency requirement for all state employees in 2011. Boston, Chicago and Jacksonville, Fla., have them as a stated way to preserve neighborhoods, though Jacksonville is considering a repeal.
The NAACP has sued over residency requirements, saying they can keep minority job applicants out of jobs.