Government

More News | | | Editor

Charter review is advised

  • Follow Government

A grand jury subcommittee has recommended that Augusta take a close look at its consolidation charter and, if warranted, let voters decide if the city government needs an overhaul.

Members of the Richmond County Grand Jury's September term, which ran from Sept. 22 to Nov. 10, filed their presentments in Richmond County Superior Court on Friday. Included was a subcommittee report stemming from a Nov. 3 meeting with Mayor Deke Copenhaver, City Administrator Fred Russell and commissioners Jerry Brigham, Don Grantham, J.R. Hatney, Calvin Holland, Joe Jackson and Corey Johnson.

According to the report, commissioners and the mayor agreed that the charter needs to be re-examined. Grand jurors recommended that the document be "thoroughly reviewed by an independent third party."

"The charter, in its current form, inhibits the Commissioners' ability to govern effectively," the report said. "While Commissioners agree that every citizen of Richmond County is entitled to the same level of service regardless of their address, the consolidated government has not yet been completely unified and many problems exist.

"For example, there remains a separate tax base for both the urban and suburban districts and some departments within the County continue on pre-consolidation work schedules almost 13 years after consolidation."

Consolidation became effective Jan. 1, 1996, almost 14 years ago.

If the independent third party determines that the charter should be amended in some way, grand jurors said, city commissioners should work with the Augusta legislative delegation to put a referendum before voters.

Mr. Russell said Monday that "third party" could mean a specially formed commission, or perhaps the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

The subcommittee report also noted the city's budget challenges. Among other things, it recommended that commissioners consider adding another penny to the city's sales tax to fund operations -- an eight-penny Municipal Option Sales Tax, or MOST, which could increase annual revenue by an estimated $35 million to $36 million.

"The consensus is that this special municipal operating sales tax must be preceded by a compelling strategic plan put forth to the community," the report said. "The plan must provide confidence that these funds will be used strictly for improvement and funding of services such as transportation, the sheriff's department and the fire department; and possibly reduce rates on water service and garbage pickup while lessening the need to raise property taxes."

A MOST, such as the one Atlanta collects, has been one of several fixes Mr. Russell has proposed for next year's looming $8.6 million shortfall in the city budget. If voters could approve it in July and collections could begin in October, MOST could add about $9 million to the city's coffers next year.

Mr. Russell's other suggestions include 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.

An alternative plan he laid out earlier this month involved routing $600,000 a year in beer taxes away from the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, generating $200,000 a year through stepped up efforts to collect delinquent taxes, and saving $650,000 a year through a new employee retirement incentive program. That plan would require only a 0.1 mill increase for street lights, but would still mean cuts to transit, fare increases and closing the golf course.

Passage of a 2010 budget is on today's commission meeting agenda, and Mr. Russell said he will offer still more alternatives. He said he doesn't expect a budget to pass today.

The grand jury had other recommendations for the city government beyond the charter and the budget. They included:

- Collecting and administering special-purpose sales tax, or SPLOST, funds at the local level, rather than having them filtered through state government.

- Developing a better system for keeping the community informed about city operations. Commissioners' district meetings are being poorly attended, grand jurors noted.

- "Establish and enforce guidelines for civility and decorum while meetings are in session." This would improve public perception of the commission, the report said.

- More authority for the city administrator.

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

SEE IT ONLINE

TO VIEW A PDF COPY of the September term Richmond County Grand Jury presentments, including a subcommittee's recommendations regarding the consolidated government and another subcommittee's account of a visit to the Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road, click here.

Comments (14) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
justus4
124
Points
justus4 11/17/09 - 04:47 am
0
0
Oh, oh, watch out for this
Unpublished

Oh, oh, watch out for this one...anytime this level of so-called deliberate attention of an established policy is being "reviewed" by something called the Richmond County Grand Jury, it can't be a positive development for, U know who. The subcommittee report, with the (3) minority commissioners (Holland is leaving) will be use to steer the decision toward changing the charter. The goal is clear, and by advancing this so-called "review" the dye is cast. Questions: Who is on the grand jury? Why do their recommendations require a response? Are they voted into their positions? And this "third party" approach to governing is suspect, because that bunch will not be residents of the county they are asked to make judgements about - so again, the mission: get that charter changed!

Riverman1
120629
Points
Riverman1 11/17/09 - 05:39 am
0
0
The grand jury has less power

The grand jury has less power than the mayor does. Marion Williams used to laugh at grand jury recommendations and say...so what?

dickworth1
956
Points
dickworth1 11/17/09 - 07:41 am
0
0
I agree with that there are
Unpublished

I agree with that there are many problems and I am for doing away with consilidation and go back to a city government and a
separate county government, because it has never worked and never will. We were promised better service, less cost, and a
more efficient government, none of these things have happen and will never happen. Give the voters a chance to vote to abolish the consilidation and let the city keep Fred Russell.

Sweet son
14778
Points
Sweet son 11/17/09 - 09:16 am
0
0
Bad when it was contrived,

Bad when it was contrived, still bad, probably not fixable. My hats is off to those who are commissioners and have to keep a straight face during meetings because cameras will tell it all

dashiel
177
Points
dashiel 11/17/09 - 09:32 am
0
0
Couldn't agree more.

Couldn't agree more. Consolidation had failure in its DNA: Born To Lose. Let's not waste another 14 years repeating what we all know: consolidation is an abject failure, a pig in a poke promoted by the Augusta Chronicle for someone's benefit. Now who could that possibly have been? Put this sucker on the ballot and let the VOTERS repent for a stupid mistake we were tricked into in the first place!

GmoneyVP
0
Points
GmoneyVP 11/17/09 - 10:01 am
0
0
I actually agree as well we

I actually agree as well we need to reverse the consolidation order and just have Augusta and Richmond County, I think it will be beneficial to everyone here because this combined government isn't working Augusta should just worry about everything within city limits and let the county worry about everything outside of the city.

Little Lamb
56814
Points
Little Lamb 11/17/09 - 10:05 am
0
0
From the article above:

From the article above: "Grand jurors recommended that the document be 'thoroughly reviewed by an independent third party.'" I hate to tell you folks, but there IS NO independent third party.

Just Another Day
0
Points
Just Another Day 11/17/09 - 10:16 am
0
0
Change the charter? Maybe. It

Change the charter? Maybe. It depends on the election results on Dec. 1st Depending on what candiadte gets elected, it will a controversial move and discussion because one group prefers the status quo and another group is tired of the gridlock. No matter what, one side is going to be crying foul and say things are just dandy the way they are. Have you heard of the newly formed city of Sandy Springs in Fulton county? Sandy Springs residents got tired of paying taxes for services that South Fulton County were receiving and they asked the GA Legislature to become an "independent" city. They got thier wishes granted. West Augusta are you writing this down??????

FedupwithAUG
0
Points
FedupwithAUG 11/17/09 - 10:44 am
0
0
The problem with the

The problem with the Consolidation seems to be they combined the services but kept the same amount of employees. They need to consolidate the staff to save the taxpayers money.

GmoneyVP
0
Points
GmoneyVP 11/17/09 - 10:49 am
0
0
I have heard about the

I have heard about the Atlanta situation but in that case Fulton County used to be 3 counties in the beginning anyway but either way they are right in being mad about money not being spent where they live, just like here in Richmond County all this attention is focused in one area not saying that it shouldn't but there other areas that need attention as well with Ft. Gordon expanding shouldn't some attention be turned to Gate 5 and Gate 1 areas for retail development only thing near gate 1 is a Zaxby's until you get to the county line and near Gate 5 a gas station until you get to Windsor Spring/Tobacco Rd intersection.

johnston.cliff
2
Points
johnston.cliff 11/17/09 - 11:41 am
0
0
Even the efficiency of

Even the efficiency of operation is compromised by the current charter. Rewrite it, keep the few good points and straighten out the rest. While there's a lot of detail involved, the task isn't exactly daunting....if no political correctness or favoritism is involved.

corgimom
51538
Points
corgimom 11/17/09 - 11:53 am
0
0
Of course justnuts doesn't

Of course justnuts doesn't want the charter changed, it was Big Daddy that set it up that way. "The dye is cast" ranks right up there with "It falls on death ears". Big Daddy doesn't know that we figured out who justnuts was, he'd be furious if he knew all the racist crap that justnuts posts. Big Daddy is trying to get out of prison to come back and run things again. And his son, who is just as corrupt as he is, is doing everything he can to further that.

Little Lamb
56814
Points
Little Lamb 11/17/09 - 02:49 pm
0
0
Please go back up and read

Please go back up and read the LAST sentence in the article. The Grand Jury is calling for MORE authority for Fred (What, me worry?) Russell ! ! ! ! What we need is NO MORE Fred Russell.

jack
12
Points
jack 11/17/09 - 05:23 pm
0
0
You can bet your derrere that

You can bet your derrere that the blacks on the commission and legislative delegation will fight to keep the status quo. But on the other hand, were they to go back to the ciy/county form of government, they would have complete control of the city (and no tax base other than businesses).. Then white residents in the County would have fair representation that they don't have now. LL, Russel/County Administrator needs at least hirin and firing authority-NOT the commission.

MAnd130630
0
Points
MAnd130630 11/17/09 - 07:51 pm
0
0
What happened to the money

What happened to the money when the County cosolidated???

Riverman1
120629
Points
Riverman1 11/17/09 - 08:36 pm
0
0
A new charter will be

A new charter will be approved only when black control of Richmond Cty is a fact.

Back to Top
loading...
Search Augusta jobs