Augusta furlough days may be repaid

Russell to recommend money be used to repay 2 furlough days
Russell

Although some Augusta Commission members question the validity of a $1.6 million surplus from last year’s budget, City Administrator Fred Russell says he’ll recommend using part of the money to repay city workers for two upcoming furlough days.

Russell initially made the recommendation about the two furlough days in the cover letter of an Aug. 19 report to the commission about the year’s savings from a reorganization of Augusta government departments.

After returning from vacation Tuesday, however, Russell elaborated on the “current revenue and spending figures” he cited in the letter as making him confident in recommending that employees be reimbursed for the last of five furlough days scheduled for 2011.

Extra money amounts to $1.6 million – more than enough to cover the two furlough days scheduled for Nov. 23 and Dec. 22, Russell said.

The surplus amounts to about one penny in savings per dollar spent, according to Assistant Finance Director Tim Schroer.

The amount makes a small dent in this year’s budget shortfall of $8 million to $9 million that Russell has cited as justification for the five furlough days and other measures, including the reorganization.

Each furlough day saves the city about $200,000, plus savings on utilities from building closures, Russell has said.

The 2010 year-end surplus was surprising to Commissioners Bill Lockett and Alvin Mason, who are demanding Russell explain how the city has a surplus because he’s been telling them there’s an $8 million to $9 million operating shortfall this year.

Year-end surpluses aren’t unusual in Augusta government, however, Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.

According to data from the finance department, Augusta’s general fund ended the past six of 10 years with a surplus. The precise amounts aren’t usually known until the city’s auditor verifies them, and this year’s audit showing the surplus will be presented during Tuesday’s commission meeting, Russell said.

Since 2001, the city’s year-end surplus ranged from $928,762 in 2003 to $11.9 million in 2009, when the city was repaid with sales-tax money for a 2008 $10 million contribution to Georgia Health Sciences University to purchase land occupied by a housing project upon which to expand.

Though most commissioners contacted wouldn’t commit to voting out the two final furlough days, Brigham said he probably would to help “relieve the morale issue that’s been generated with some people.”

Lockett said he still doesn’t trust any of the administrator’s numbers, saying 2011’s shortfall in revenues over expenditures was “a scam” to force privatization of the city bus service and golf course.

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