North Augusta works to plug $350,000 hole in 2018 budget

Former Mayor Lark Jones, with wife Christy, returned to North Augusta City Council on Monday night for the unveiling of his official portrait, which will hang in the Hall of Mayors, adjacent to the Council Chambers. Jones was mayor for 20 years and decided not to seek re-election in 2016. JAMES FOLKER/STAFF

North Augusta City Council began working on its 2018 budget Monday night, addressing a projected $350,000 shortfall that could cause the city to raise taxes for the first time in 25 years.

 

Although the city has seen a boom in new businesses, especially at Interstate 20’s Exit 5, it takes two years for those property tax revenues to start coming in, city officials said. Sales tax revenues also are down by 23 percent, largely because of a state government order to exempt unprepared foods.

Meanwhile, the city has been socked by a state-mandated 2 percent increase in its contribution to the South Carolina Retirement System and Police Officers’ Retirement System. Those contributions will continue to increase 1 percent per year until 2022.

Essentially, the city has to budget as if every employee received a 2 percent raise, but the money goes directly to the retirement fund, which has a $24 billion gap between promised benefits and money on hand.

This is the biggest single factor in the shortfall, said City Administrator Todd Glover.

The preliminary budget, prepared by city staff, can be balanced by transferring $350,000 from reserves, or by finding that much in cuts.

The budget adds no new positions, though several had been requested, including an assistant city administrator. It also contains no merit increases for employees and no contribution to the Capital Improvements Fund.

After Monday’s regular meeting, city council members began going through the budget in a session that went on past The Chronicle’s deadlines. They will meet again Tuesday night, and hope to finish by figuring out how to close the gap.

The budget will be voted on three times before it becomes official, and a public hearing must be held.

Also Monday, city resident Kenton J. Makin asked council members to remove a monument in Calhoun Park dedicated to Thomas Meriwether, the only white person to die in an 1876 episode of racial violence that left seven black dead. They are not mentioned on the monument, which says in an inscription that Meriwether “exemplified the highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization. By his death he assured to the children of his beloved land the supremacy of that ideal.”

The monument calls the violence “the Hamburg Riot,” but historians since have dubbed it “the Hamburg Massacre” to reflect its targeting of black citizens. In March 2016 — 100 years after the first monument was erected — residents and leaders of North Augusta unveiled a marker and memorial stone to remember the seven black men who were killed: Allen Attaway, Jim Cook, Albert Nyniart, Nel­der Parker, Moses Parks, Da­vid Phillips and Hampton Ste­phens.

It was erected at Barton and Boylan streets, across from First Providence Baptist Church.

Mayor Bob Pettit said he was establishing an ad hoc committee, including “persons knowledgeable about the Hamburg Massacre, to recommend an appropriate course of action.

In other action, city council:

Gave final approval to a language change in an ordinance that forbids “molesting adults and children” to “disturbing adults and children” to get away from a falsely implied sexual connotation. It passed 7-0.

Changed the ordinance on consuming alcohol in public – originally written before there were city-sponsored festivals – to allow the city administrator to grant a permit for consumption in public places during such special events and celebrations. It passed first and second readings 7-0.

Abandoned two “platted but unopened, unimproved rights of way – one north of Five Notch Road and west of Georgia Avenue, and the other from Clay Street to West Martintown Road. Both passed first and second readings 7-0.

Opened the city’s animal shelter to rescue groups that want to make animals available for adoption. The city had been working with only one rescue, Molly’s Militia, but now will work with others, including Friends of North Augusta Animals, Shelter Animal Advocates, Team Stinkykiss and others. The measure passed 7-0.

 

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Mon, 10/23/2017 - 18:35

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