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Richmond County considers sales tax increase

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SPLOST, meet MOST.

In what could solve the city's financial woes for years to come, City Administrator Fred Russell recommended Thursday to Augusta commissioners that they start a push to add an extra penny to the sales tax.

The proposal would have Augusta, like Atlanta, collecting a Municipal Option Sales Tax, or MOST.

Raising the sales tax from 7 cents per dollar to 8 cents would generate an estimated $35 million to $36 million per year. If approved by the Legislature and Augusta voters next year, collections could begin by fall, plugging the 2010 budget deficit and staving off a tax increase.

In 2011, the tax rate on homeowners could be rolled back three mills, reducing taxes on a $100,000 home by $105, according to figures Mr. Russell presented at a budget hearing.

Commissioner Don Grantham said the first step would be for the commission to pass a resolution, calling on the city's legislative delegation to get a special law passed in Atlanta allowing Augusta to hold a MOST referendum.

Should that be done during the 2010 General Assembly, a vote could be held as early as July 20, Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey said.

If approved, the tax could begin the first day of the first fiscal quarter, 80 days after the vote, which would be Oct. 1, Assistant Finance Director Tim Schroer said.

The tax would likely generate about $3 million per month, adding $9 million to the city's coffers next year, Mr. Schroer said. The working 2010 budget currently has an $8.6 million shortfall.

Commissioner Corey Johnson said he'll support a MOST, and he thinks the commission will, too.

"I think it's going to probably be a way that we stay afloat," he said.

The sales tax in Augusta is 7 percent -- four pennies for the state; a penny for the school board; a special-purpose, or SPLOST, penny for designated projects; and the local-option sales tax, or LOST, penny to offset property taxes. LOST revenues being down are a major reason for next year's dismal financial projections.

Mr. Russell told commissioners Tuesday that, while they pursue a new penny tax, in the meantime they should consider a list of other revenue-raising and cost-cutting measures to balance the 2010 budget.

When he unveiled the numbers last month, he recommended a 1.317 millage increase -- adding $46.10 to the bill on a $100,000 house -- raising bus fares and cutting transit services, cutting outside agency appropriations by 15 percent and closing the Augusta Municipal Golf Course, known as "the Patch."

Mr. Russell presented an alternative plan Thursday that would make up for the $5.9 million shortfall in law enforcement, requiring only a 0.1 mill increase for street lights, but still requiring cuts to transit, fare hikes and closing the golf course.

That plan includes routing $600,000 per year in beer taxes away from the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, generating $200,000 per year though Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick stepping up efforts to collect delinquent taxes, and saving $650,000 per year through a new employee retirement incentive program, passed by the commission later in the day.

Mr. Russell said furloughing employees, including public officials and road patrol deputies, would save $202,590 per day on paper, but may offer no real savings because the workload would remain the same and the city could wind up paying overtime.

The administrator's presentation took up most of the hourlong hearing, and the only member of the public who asked to speak was civic activist Woody Merry, founder of CSRA Help. He presented a list of ways to save money, such as privatizing the golf course and the Procurement Department, putting an end to unneeded feasibility studies, re-examining tax exempt properties and going after delinquent taxpayers.

Mr. Merry was given four minutes to speak, and when Mr. Russell told him time was up, he wouldn't quit. He continued shouting after Mayor Deke Copenhaver adjourned the hearing.

In return for Mr. Merry's simple battery charge involving former coliseum authority member Bill Fennoy being placed aside last year, Mr. Merry agreed to behave at future public meetings. Solicitor Harold Jones said he'll re-read the order today and look into whether Mr. Merry violated that provision Thursday.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (26) Add comment
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omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 11/06/09 - 02:57 am
0
0
lets just sub-let a few

lets just sub-let a few floors of the marble palace to Ripley's Believe it or Not museum. Hey at least all those mythical conventioneers would have something to do downtown other than go to the "Waffle House". Ah, I miss Marion Williams (for comedic value only, mind you)

wildman
1157
Points
wildman 11/06/09 - 05:13 am
0
0
Guess I will continue to make

Guess I will continue to make my purchases in Columbia County. We pay enough taxes, I'm sick and tired of funding stupidity.

WhippingPost
1
Points
WhippingPost 11/06/09 - 06:02 am
0
0
While I feel the sales tax is

While I feel the sales tax is the only fair tax, I think the ones handling the money is A/RC's problem. The more money, the more mishandling.

Just_Visiting
0
Points
Just_Visiting 11/06/09 - 07:20 am
0
0
Is it time for my

Is it time for my colonoscopy? Oh no, its just Richmond County's Good Old Boy Network back there.

Learn to work with what you got and get and stop spending unwisely. I have not seen an income raise in 2 years!

ColCo
819
Points
ColCo 11/06/09 - 07:25 am
0
0
Don't hold your breath for

Don't hold your breath for the Republican controlled Legislature to vote to raise taxes in an election year.

JesusIsComing
2
Points
JesusIsComing 11/06/09 - 07:34 am
0
0
Not one more dime!

Not one more dime!

southern2
6603
Points
southern2 11/06/09 - 07:36 am
0
0
Note to Fred...less taxes and

Note to Fred...less taxes and less government.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 11/06/09 - 08:06 am
0
0
Just what we need, more

Just what we need, more revenue????? Why not first rid our government of wasteful and ineffective operations!!!!!!!!

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 11/06/09 - 08:49 am
0
0
Again we are being told that

Again we are being told that the way to decrease the deficit is to raise taxes. First tell me exactly what "cost-cutting measures" are going to be implemented, level the playing field by having all Augusta-Richmond County property owners pay the same tax rate and fees, and then you can ask me to consider a MOST.

thistownisunbelievable
1
Points
thistownisunbelievable 11/06/09 - 09:30 am
0
0
No new taxes. You must cut

No new taxes. You must cut spending to the bone and cut nonessential services before this is warranted.

resident
501
Points
resident 11/06/09 - 09:40 am
0
0
I am not from Richmond County

I am not from Richmond County but seems to me if you have aLOST why is it that money is not doing what they said and offsetting. The next thing is lets look at how much money fuel cost is wasted on people takinghome city vehicles. I also see much waste in studies as the person that was not given the chance to speak said. TEE what a joke there let it die!!! Let's see oh yeah lets just award things to local business even if they are 10 times higher in cost because they know they will get it (save honor local good ole boy system) Buy elsewhere and send the message be reasonable because we do not have to use you! That should save a few dollars. This applies to all government entities!

disssman
6
Points
disssman 11/06/09 - 10:08 am
0
0
Fred and the boys are adamant

Fred and the boys are adamant about funding the darlings of society elites - The non-profits, at any expense. I guess they just can't tell the movers and shakers that the pot is empty. I really wonder where they come up with an annual allocation anyway. If you asked any of them what the funding for non-profits pays, for they wouldn't have a clue. I still believe we need a citizens committee ( educated people who can read and write and do simple numbers crunching only please) to review each department or non-profit on an annual basis to determine where cuts could be made. It is obvious the commission isn't doing it in the 4 hours a month they spend on city business.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 11/06/09 - 10:53 am
0
0
Raise the fees on the golf

Raise the fees on the golf course to make it self supporting, raise the bus fees to make it self supporting and all other things that the city/county gives money to. It is not the property owners responsibility to make everything affordable to the users. Cut giving to the Symphony, Augusta Mini Theater and the like. The users should pay for those things. If you still can't get in budget then I like the 1% tax because it gets money from everybody and not just the property owners. That is the fair way in my opinion.

whatmistake
100
Points
whatmistake 11/06/09 - 11:23 am
0
0
Who says higher taxes will

Who says higher taxes will solve Augusta's financial problems for years to come? Fred Russell? The guy never met a tax increase he didn't like. Write it down: more money in the hands of scumbag politicians means more spending. And eventually another call for higher taxes from people like Russell. With the exception of Joe Bowles, everyone of those corrupt clowns on the commission needs to go. And take Russell with them.

Just Another Day
0
Points
Just Another Day 11/06/09 - 11:46 am
0
0
Let me get this

Let me get this straight......More taxes, same level of services and same number of employees with no new hires and no pay raises (again).......What a deal!!!!! Where do I sign to become a houseowner in Richmond County????

southernguy08
499
Points
southernguy08 11/06/09 - 12:03 pm
0
0
JUST, you buy a house and
Unpublished

JUST, you buy a house and sign on the bottom line. Of course, that used to mean being responsible and only buying what you could afford. But with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you can get anything you want and good old Uncle Sam will back you. Nobody likes taxes, but a sales tax is the fairest kind. It doesn't punish you for daring to own a home. Since we all use tax funded services, including those who don't own property, why should property owners be the only ones facing tax increases? We're dealing with enough of that crap already.

Little Lamb
46802
Points
Little Lamb 11/06/09 - 12:18 pm
0
0
Fred (What, me worry?)

Fred (What, me worry?) Russell does not insist on his employees giving top knotch performance for their pay. He allows laziness and poor service to be the norm for city employees (including himself). He leads by example, and his example is poor. Look above. Russell says if he furloughs employees he will have to make the work up with OVERTIME!!!! What a joke is Mr. Alfred E. Russell.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 11/06/09 - 12:27 pm
0
0
what makes joe bowles

what makes joe bowles exempt???he supports RICHOMOND COUNTY FUNDING 40-50 MILLION DOLLARS TO BUILD THE TEE CENTER...if he is such a die hard rupublican then why is he looking for the GOVERNMENT to build it????? republicans say allow the private sector to do it..well joe, where are all the investors to pay the 40-50 million needed to build the TEE CENTER???

jack
10
Points
jack 11/06/09 - 01:06 pm
0
0
Why additonal sales tax when

Why additonal sales tax when all you have to do is stop paying for all these "studies" for outlandish ideas.

Just Another Day
0
Points
Just Another Day 11/06/09 - 02:40 pm
0
0
I'll give my money to the

I'll give my money to the goverment, I was only going to spend it on booze anyway........

crackertroy
540
Points
crackertroy 11/06/09 - 02:53 pm
0
0
The Augusta Commission has
Unpublished

The Augusta Commission has figured out the formula. Offer monies from MOST to about ten different special interest groups and hold the election in the middle of the summer instead of on a primary ballot. The idiots in Augusta will say, "Let's get outsiders and tourists to pay for all our stuff! Brilliant!" They won't stop until we're all broke.

OldShady
0
Points
OldShady 11/06/09 - 04:57 pm
0
0
I do more of my shopping in

I do more of my shopping in North Augusta. The question is do I want to continue living in Richmond County?

FedupwithAUG
0
Points
FedupwithAUG 11/06/09 - 10:06 pm
0
0
Have the Commisioners and the

Have the Commisioners and the police park their cars at night. Dont let them take them home. Charge them for extra duty pay. They dont pay taxes on the money they make on extra duty pay they can afford it.

actuallynot
0
Points
actuallynot 11/06/09 - 10:15 pm
0
0
Why doesn't someone check the

Why doesn't someone check the commissioner's personal pockets? Has anyone checked to see where all the money is "really" going?? I am so sick of seeing businesses pull out of Richmond County and potential business deals fall through... And why doesn't Richmond County want to work in harmony with Columbia County? Are they afraid someone will find out where their money is being stashed?? It's time to do some cleaning... Seems everyone is too scared to approach the subject?? Someone's holding the playing cards and the deck needs to be shuffled!

Honest Broker
0
Points
Honest Broker 11/06/09 - 10:36 pm
0
0
Well Big spender Fred is at

Well Big spender Fred is at it again! Why do we need Fred to tell us how to cut services and raise taxes? We can save $100,000 plus by giving our mayor a raise and allow him to do Fred's job and send Fred to go find ole George that hire him and dropped him off here in Augusta.

You have over stayed your welcome Freddy. When you leave carry the Commissioners that vote to raise taxes with you.

Someone should ask Freddy and company to ride over to North Augusta and Evans to look at the auto tags at Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot and the auto dealers to see how many sales tax dollars leave Augusta-Richmond County. Raise sales tax and all the rest of us will shop there also.

Corey Johnson! What did they promise you this time. Look like you accepted the last offer. The FBI did not leave town! The Feds have jail cells for Commissioners next door to State Senators. Bye Bye.

WMartin
119
Points
WMartin 11/06/09 - 10:58 pm
0
0
Plenty of great places to

Plenty of great places to shop in Columbia County. Who needs Richmond County?

methree
0
Points
methree 11/07/09 - 12:43 am
0
0
i'm all for it! at least the

i'm all for it! at least the non-property owners will be picking up some of the tab! i'm tired of paying for everyone else!!!

Chris Gay
90
Points
Chris Gay 11/07/09 - 02:36 am
0
0
As a Richmond County

As a Richmond County homeowner, I'd prefer a sales tax increase over a property tax increase any day. Besides, a sales tax increase is fair. Drug dealers, tax cheats, people living here illegally all have to pay to sales tax.

pgackerman
0
Points
pgackerman 11/07/09 - 10:53 pm
0
0
A sales tax of 7% takes 7% of

A sales tax of 7% takes 7% of the sales. The government can not squeeze out more money when people don't have the funds to make purchases. There is no reason to raise taxes if the government lives within its means from draining 7% of the economy. Raising the tax in Richmond County will increase sales in Columbia county.

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