Sale of landfill, tax hike among Augusta budget options

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011 4:58 PM
Last updated Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 4:38 AM
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Selling Augusta’s landfill to a waste management company could balance the city’s 2012 budget, eliminate liability and provide a guaranteed revenue stream for years to come, City Administrator Fred Russell said during a budget workshop Wednesday.

Other options for closing a $7.9 million shortfall include raising taxes, furloughing employees, eliminating 34 filled positions and cutting department spending on a sliding scale. The budget must be balanced by Nov. 16.

Only Mayor Deke Copenhaver and commissioners Jerry Brigham, J.R. Hatney and Wayne Guilfoyle heard the proposals at the workshop.

Only Copenhaver appeared receptive to selling the landfill, a proposal Russell said came up during a recent talk he had with a waste management company.

The deal would be complicated, particularly in the permitting process. But if completed, it could provide a $25 million infusion in 2012 and $20 million more over a 25-year period, Russell said.

The solid waste department and 1,200-acre landfill, which sell methane and handle environmental cleanups, are money-makers for the city. Finance Director Donna Williams said they generate about $3.3 million in operating income each year.

Under a deal Russell said he would like to negotiate, the buyer would assume all costs, including those related to trash pickup, the landfill’s bond payments and costs associated with closing the landfill at the end of its 100-year lifespan.

“I see it in some ways as releasing a liability,” Copenhaver said. Environ­mental issues associated with the landfill will only become “bigger and bigger,” while sale to a private firm might also generate some property taxes on the land, he said.

Commissioners present – and one who was not – did not like the idea.

“This government is trying to do anything and everything they can to remove responsibility away from itself to a private entity, knowing it’s going to cost a lot more money,” said Hatney, citing several deals he said had limited returns of revenue.

Brigham cited the popularity of Augusta trash collection and called the idea of selling the asset disastrous. “Maybe $250 million, and I might consider selling it,” he said.

“That’s one of about two assets that produce revenue for the city,” Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said after the meeting. “It’s a short-term solution to a revenue problem.”

Russell, whose name turned up as a finalist Tues­day in Sarasota County, Fla.’s search for a new administrator, said the proposal would get Augusta out of trash collection and urged the commissioners to think “on top of the box” about it.

When the landfill is full, “we probably, probably won’t be throwing our trash in a hole and covering it up with dirt,” he said.

Russell said the sale was not a fix for the city’s current budget woes, and recommended adoption of a third option he presented.

That option, according to a handout, includes a 1.039-mill tax increase; three furlough days; elimination of 34 filled positions; adding three public defenders, an interpreter and a deputy coroner; and a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for employees effective in July. It accounts for $1 million in savings from restructuring the fire department.

“We still want leaner and meaner,” Russell said. Copenhaver said he preferred that option.

Other alternatives were stripping funding from the Rich­mond County Board of Health and Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, or from outside agencies Russell said “we’re not particularly required to fund.”

Agencies listed on the handout included several budgeted for $150,000 or more – mosquito control, Project Access, two museums, the Arts Council and the Downtown Development Authority.

Another option Russell cited as a way to cover the $7.9 million deficit is to reduce all department budgets on a sliding scale, based on their size, then dip into reserves for the rest.

Russell said he wanted feedback from the commissioners about which, among the options, they prefer to use in the budget that must be approved Nov. 16.

Comments (24) Add comment
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Pu239
284
Points
Pu239 11/02/11 - 05:57 pm
0
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Rode by the landfill early on
Unpublished

Rode by the landfill early on day this week and saw them flaring off methane....I had never noticed that before.

faithson
5158
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faithson 11/02/11 - 06:10 pm
0
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Yea, private corporation

Yea, private corporation ownership. No accountability to the PEOPLE. Can imagine little Spirit Creek in 20 years under private ownership. Think your garbage p/u costs are high now... just wait

Riverman1
84110
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Riverman1 11/02/11 - 06:21 pm
0
0
So will the city then pay to

So will the city then pay to dump garbage there?

DuhJudge
206
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DuhJudge 11/02/11 - 08:09 pm
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Wait Mr. Russell. That

Wait Mr. Russell. That landfill is the single most valuable asset the county owns. It will be able to hold 100 years worth of garbage. It should not be sold. Just stop the spending.

joebowles
104
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joebowles 11/02/11 - 08:15 pm
0
0
If this is entertained I am

If this is entertained I am moving out of Augusta. We have two assets 1.Water and 2. Landfill that make money for the city.....And we want to sell one of them??????????
Again I must ask why do we say we have a revenue problem?????WE HAVE AN EXPENDITURE ADDICTION.........

Riverman1
84110
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Riverman1 11/02/11 - 08:28 pm
0
0
Watch out, Joe. You might

Watch out, Joe. You might have to sell the water dept next.

double_standard
166
Points
double_standard 11/02/11 - 10:57 pm
0
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The county needs to use the

The county needs to use the resources it currently holds. Why is the water administration in a building that we don't own? Three departments we can completely cut are Housing and Community Development, the Downtown Development Authority, and the Land Bank Authority. Next put tolls on riverwatch pkwy bedroom communities must payback some form of what they take GA 400 and I-85 great examples.

faithson
5158
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faithson 11/03/11 - 12:08 am
0
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@double.. now there is a

@double.. now there is a good idea, 50 cent toll on riverwatch.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
Points
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 11/03/11 - 03:39 am
0
0
Governments aren't supposed

Governments aren't supposed to own companies. Isn't that what we keep telling Chavez?:o)

We MAY continue to make a little but with new EPA, Ground Water & employee regs. coming... maybe not. $25 million+ in the hand, & maybe $200 million more in payments is BETTER than 3 million in the bush:o)
With Federal judges sweeping local municipal sovereignty aside like a snow plow financial And legal Liability may extend all the way to elected. This hidden volcano of liability could erupt at any time.

A private company can even mine dumps for copper, aluminum, steal, ect. etc.

DuhJudge
206
Points
DuhJudge 11/03/11 - 07:14 am
0
0
Stop the spending. Reduce,

Stop the spending. Reduce, reduce, reduce. We are in a depression. The county can not ignore the fact that homes are less valuable, fewer people have jobs, and we are tired of being ignored......CUT SPENDING NOW. So what if some things are put out of our misery. There is no more blood left in the turnips.

Privy
104
Points
Privy 11/03/11 - 07:44 am
0
0
Would like to hear what Mark

Would like to hear what Mark Johnson thinks about this.

Little Lamb
46040
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Little Lamb 11/03/11 - 07:49 am
0
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Tolls might be a good revenue

Tolls might be a good revenue generator. Riverwatch Parkway is only the beginning. There should be a toll put on the 13th St. Bridge entering the city. Then be sure to collect tolls on Gordon Hwy. at the Columbia Co. line entering Augusta and at the Aiken Co. line entering Augusta. We can leave the Burke countians off the hook for the mean time, but later they might need to pay.

Little Lamb
46040
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Little Lamb 11/03/11 - 07:54 am
0
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The concept of furlough days

The concept of furlough days is ridiculous. Instead, issue a 2% across-the-board pay cut for all city employees beginning Jan. 1, 2012. That will go a long way toward balancing Fred's budget deficit. Pay cuts are much more straightforward and honest than furloughs. We saw this year how the department heads played fast and loose with the furloughs. Some of them actually increased the city's expenditures by giving employees overtime using furloughs as the excuse.

Little Lamb
46040
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Little Lamb 11/03/11 - 07:57 am
0
0
Please, please, please

Please, please, please abolish the Downtown Development Authority in totality now.

Little Lamb
46040
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Little Lamb 11/03/11 - 08:00 am
0
0
Have you ever been through

Have you ever been through Richmond, Virginia? You have to pay a toll on the interstate that goes through there. Why don't we put a toll on I-20 through Richmond County?

Hey, I just remembered that Richmond, Virginia is where Fred (What, me worry?) Russell started his career!

justthefacts
21949
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justthefacts 11/03/11 - 08:06 am
0
0
LL, hate to tell you, but the

LL, hate to tell you, but the toll on I95 ended yrs ago (early 90s). They have one on a couple local roads. BTW, there is no toll on I85 in ATL either.

pantherluvcik
628
Points
pantherluvcik 11/03/11 - 08:13 am
0
0
In all honesty the figure 3.3

In all honesty the figure 3.3 million is the city's cut, but they are an enterprise entity. The landfill maintains its own employee salaries and expenses through revenue, tax dollars are not really a factor. Savings in disposal fees alone to the city are worth not considering the sale. It would be a short term advantage, and in a year or two the loss would be felt. Methane sales and other revenues are icing on the cake, the landfill has far more than a 100 years left. Why sell the largest money maker to gain dollars for one year.

justthefacts
21949
Points
justthefacts 11/03/11 - 09:34 am
0
0
double, it is an optional

double, it is an optional "express lane". You have 6, sometimes 7 "other" lanes that you can travel in free. It is not a toll road such as Ga 400 (which is the picture in your link).

justthefacts
21949
Points
justthefacts 11/03/11 - 09:37 am
0
0
BTW, it is a joke. Doubtful

BTW, it is a joke. Doubtful if the money it generates will ever pay for the cost. And, it has made the congestion worse during rush hours. Yet another government boondoogle.

seenitB4
87304
Points
seenitB4 11/03/11 - 09:58 am
0
0
I live near the I-85

I live near the I-85 PeachPass start up right at Lawrenceville ...people are upset about this Hot Lane..... costs too much---2 people are not exempt--& they say it crowds the other lanes because it isn't used---so meetings about this have been heated...Gov.Deal did decrease the cost some...time will tell if it will ever fly---right now I'll say no...people are just sick of paying-paying-paying ..just like the straw that broke the camels back...people are fighting back....

David Parker
7923
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David Parker 11/03/11 - 11:20 am
0
0
note: set aside about 1.00

note: set aside about 1.00 to cover toll through Augusta on the way to Hilton Head and back each summer. Aside from that revenue, I'm not sure charging people to enter a city that is bleeding from an exodus of people over the last few decades is the answer. Yes there would be some who have to pay the toll and those monies may find their way to some use ( maybe not).

With regard to the proposed landfill purchase, after the fiasco with the parking deck, it's obvious few are sincerely acting on the best interest of the city. I've no idea how they build a parking deck on land they don't own and claim someone changed their mind. Was it the hot dog guy who flipped the script on em? I'm not well versed in business and law and I don't work for the government, but does the city need somebody to raise their voice and point out when a contractual agreement is needed. I can help and instead of money they can compensate me with land. Goodness knows it will be utilized effectively in comparison.

Riverman1
84110
Points
Riverman1 11/03/11 - 11:37 am
0
0
Heck, not only I don't mind

Heck, not only I don't mind if you charge a toll to enter Richmond County, I wish you would put a wall up along the entire border to keep us separated.

Sweet son
10415
Points
Sweet son 11/03/11 - 12:38 pm
0
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Might want to wait and see if

Might want to wait and see if a private company can manage something as small and simple as the "Cabbage Patch." Maybe the private landfill company could supplement the methane sales by getting some cattle to graze on the used up portion of the landfill. Can't you just see someone following a cow waiting for the tail to come up and hope for gas!! Hope this makes someone smile. I did!!!

harley_52
23424
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harley_52 11/03/11 - 05:13 pm
0
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Riverman1 said "Heck, not

Riverman1 said "Heck, not only I don't mind if you charge a toll to enter Richmond County, I wish you would put a wall up along the entire border to keep us separated."

Hey...

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