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Resolving county's property tax system might be explored

Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 5:34 PM
Last updated Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012 2:47 AM
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Augusta’s mayor pro tem said he intends to push for a solution to Augusta’s inequitable property tax system before he leaves office in January.

Joe Bowles said he has been trying to talk about ways to level out Augusta’s two-tiered system since he has been in office, but no one has wanted to tackle the problem because it could result in higher taxes for some residents.

“The excuse I keep getting is there is not the political will to raise taxes,” said Bowles, who said he will put the issue before his fellow commissioners. “The administrators have known this for years, and nothing has been done. Nothing has ever been presented to us.”

Under the system – a complex set of several tax districts with multiple layers of millage rates and user fees that dates back to the consolidation of the old city and county governments in 1996 – residents in the Urban and Suburban districts pay for government services in different and unequal ways.

The most obvious problem lies with trash service. Some residents pay a flat fee. Others pay a combination of millage rates and fees, so some residents subsidize the trash service of others.

“Some people are getting a lot better deal, and some are getting ripped off,” Bowles said.

Augusta Finance Director Donna Williams has taken an initial step toward resolving the problem by asking the city’s financial consultant, Dianne McNabb, to look at the Urban Services District and offer some solutions.

Some of the documents Williams supplied McNabb offer a glimpse at the problem’s complexity, but also some possible ways to fix it. Williams emphasized that the documents, obtained by an Open Records request, were her “working” documents and notes, to give McNabb some background on the problem and some speculative solutions to build on or discard.

Simply abolishing the Urban Tax District would create a host of other revenue problems for the city to make up in other taxes and fees. One such area is fire protection. The Urban district supplies about $4.7 million of the Augusta Fire Department’s budget, with the rest coming from special fire protection millage rates levied on the Suburban district and the city of Blythe.

Abolishing the Urban Tax District would require extending the suburban fire protection millage to cover all Augusta residents, but charging the current rate of 2.152 mils would mean a $2.8 million shortfall, according to the finance documents. To make up the difference, the fire protection millage would have to be increased, which would effectively raise taxes on suburban residents.

To avoid this problem, one scenario suggests keeping a reduced Urban Tax District rate and eliminating the urban millage rate for trash pickup. That proposal would remove the trash fee from the millage rate of urban taxpayers and institute a flat fee countywide – such as the $310.50 fee in the Suburban district. This would not affect the taxes of suburban homeowners, but it would reduce the tax bills of most Summerville residents while increasing the costs to homeowners in the poorest urban neighborhoods.

According to the scenario laid out in the finance documents, a homeowner with a property valued at $25,000 would pay about $185 more, while a homeowner with a property valued at $500,000 would pay about $180 less.

No matter what happens, changing the tax system almost surely will result in some people paying more, so officials can expect to be met with resistance from the public.

“We serve a city of 200,000,” Mayor Deke Copenhaver said. “Anytime you make a decision you are going to make somebody mad. That is the reality.”

Copenhaver said waiting to correct the problem will make it worse.

“The longer we go without addressing some of these things the more difficult they are going to be to address,” he said. “It is going to take a sustained effort and political will to do it.”

Russell said the process will take political will, but it will also take time to unravel the tax system and present a set of solutions that can win the six votes needed for passage.

He said accomplishing that before January would be tough, but having something in place by the time the city sets its new millage rates in August seems possible.

“That would give us an opportunity to bite the bullet and get it done when we set the millage rate,” he said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said whatever the deadline, the sooner commissioners get started the better. He said he and his colleagues might have inherited this problem from previous administrations, but it is their problem to fix.

“I don’t believe in passing something along for another commission to be responsible for,” Lockett said. “I think we are the ones who should evaluate the solutions and go and do what needs to be done for the betterment of the community.”

Commissioner Jerry Brigham is skeptical that anything can be done soon.

“I don’t see it happening between now and the end of the year,” he said. “Not unless someone comes up with a magic solution that they haven’t come up with in the last several years.”

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Tullie 09/23/12 - 03:48 am
I am Skeptical Too

Nothing will be usual.

It never occured to them to just get out of the trash business? Just let everyone get their own...problem solved.

soapy_725 09/23/12 - 06:54 am
add this to the list with removal of RR tracks

ARC is actually the "arse of the south". Incompetent, irresponsible leadership. The ignorant and apathetic leadership of the blind is criminal, inhuman, cruel and unusual punishment.

OpenCurtain 09/23/12 - 08:38 am
As Skeptical as others

Never heard of a downtown, in office politician, truly wanting to made the consolidation 100% equal yet.

Note : When I say 100%, I mean 100% across the board, including tax and spend, invest and build.

dichotomy 09/23/12 - 09:01 am
Maybe it's just me, but I

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think the Augusta Finance Director Donna Williams OR the commissioners understand.

I personally want to see ONE TAX DISTRICT with ONE millage rate and ONE flat FIRE tax and ONE flat GARBAGE fee for EVERY property owner.

In other words, since we are CONSOLIDATED, I want to see EVERYONE paying EQUALLY for ALL taxes and services.

FIre Department taxes should NOT be based on property value. Fire Department FEES should be on a PER RESIDENCE flat fee. It does not cost any more to put out a fire on a 1500 sq. ft. house valued at $100,000 house in South Augusta than it does a 1500 sq. ft. house valued at $30,000 in East Augusta. ONE house, ONE fee. The cost to come put the fire out is the SAME.

It also does not cost any more to pick up the garbage in South Augusta than it does in East Augusta. ONE house, ONE fee. The cost to stop and dump the garbage can is the SAME. You FORCED garbage service on rural residents so you need to just suck up any minor difference there. We had CHEAPER private contractors providing as good or better services and should not be penalized for your STUPID decisions. ONE RESIDENCE, ONE FEE, COUNTY WIDE.

In addition, we want the TAX ASSESSOR to start using the same methods for valuing property EVERYWHERE in the county. This is the part of the system that nobody pays attention to. In addition to unequal millage rates and fees, the property valuations are skewed in favor of the urban districts and place higher tax burden on the suburban and rural property owners.


It pretty much works like this:

Needed revenue = A
Number of county residential properties = B
Fire Department Fee = C

The formula is A/B=C

Also works for Garbage fees AND for general tax revenue if you widget in the "millage" rate thingy.

Even the Augusta Finance Director can understand that formula.

Nothing hard about it unless you are just paying lip service to being fair and equal and are still looking for a way to keep the rural residents subsidizing the urban residents. ONE TAX STRUCTURE, ONE FLAT FIRE SERVICE FEE, ONE FLATE GARBAGE FEE, ONE PRICE FOR ALL, ONE MILLAGE RATE FOR ALL based on FAIR AND EQUITABLE PROPERTY VALUATIONS.

The SOLUTION is not that hard. It's the scheming and conniving to try to APPEAR fair but still pass the tax burden to the suburban and rural residents that is hard.

Commissioner Guilfoyle.....GET ON BOARD WITH THIS. ONE FIRE FEE, ONE GARBAGE FEE, ONE MILLAGE RATE, ONE PROPERTY VALUATION METHOD. Don't let the humma humma downtown crowd bog you down with excuses. We are ONE municipality. ONE FIRE DEPARTMENT FEE, ONE GARBAGE FEE, ONE MILLAGE RATE....FOR EVERYONE.

They wanted us.....they got us.....Toyota. Now support us for the same price, and with the same level of service, as everyone else in the "city".

JRC2024 09/23/12 - 12:09 pm
Don't you know dichotomy that

Don't you know dichotomy that the those with nicer homes will always pay more on everything. My fire tax is $445.70. The poor get off always without paying much but getting much more than they pay for as with welfare, food stamps and all other government give away programs. Glad I am not like them though.

bubbasauce 09/23/12 - 12:25 pm
They will kick the can down

They will kick the can down the road just like the yahoo's in Washington, and now they sound like them. Did I hear blaming previous administrations for this. Give me a break, just fix something for a change will you?

Retired Army
Retired Army 09/24/12 - 07:42 am
Global warming must be a

Global warming must be a hoax. Hell has frozen over. I just gave dichotomy a thumbs up in spite of all the shouting and name calling.

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