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Panel takes on Augusta's property tax system

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012 9:29 PM
Last updated 11:05 PM
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Augusta officials who spent part of Wednesday afternoon teasing out issues associated with the city’s inequitable tax system concluded that fixing it isn’t going to be easy but needs to be done.

City Administrator Fred Russell said it boils down to one question: “If we are one city and the service levels are the same, shouldn’t everyone be taxed the same?”

Augusta Commission member Jerry Brigham said he assembled the panel of officials to work toward that goal.

Those attending were Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick, Chief Assessor Alveno Ross, Finance Director Donna Williams and city attorney Andrew MacKenzie.

Wednesday’s meeting also attracted several others, including Mayor Deke Copenhaver and the solid waste director, Mark Johnson.

Brigham said changes to state law are expected to affect how taxes are collected and how much revenue governments can expect in 2013, so they should begin now.

“Next year is the time to do it because of all the things that are going on,” Brigham said. “So if you fix it then, you won’t have to fix it twice.”

Augusta’s two-tiered property tax system was constructed in the legislation that consolidated the city and county governments in 1995. MacKenzie said it continued the tax structures of the two former governments without much change. Ever since then, additional taxes and fees have further complicated the system.

The result is that taxpayers with homes of similar values pay different rates for the same services, depending on where they live, and sometimes the disparity can amount to hundreds of dollars.

MacKenzie said that the commission has the power to alter the tax system by abolishing tax districts and creating new ones, according to the consolidation law.

“So that is a simple act of the commission,” Brigham said. “You just need six votes to change it.”

The panel spent most of the meeting discussing one of the stickiest problems – what to do about the way trash fees are assessed and collected. In the current system, some pay a flat fee and others pay a combination of fees and millage, but both are collected as part of yearly property tax bills.

Officials expect they will have to change that system next year. Kendrick said there is legislation waiting to be passed that will force governments to remove fees from tax bills.

If Augusta disconnects its trash funding from the property tax bills, it will be forced to create another bill for users to pay for the service. How that will be done and who will be responsible haven’t been determined.

Officials say the advantage to the current system is a high collection rate – most people pay their property taxes. Billing for the service separately will mean a reduced collection rate and higher costs, because the bills will need to go out more often.

“The (trash) fee will go up because of the bad-debt collection rates,” Johnson said.

Officials want to avoid that, because they know it will be unpopular with taxpayers. Kendrick said he would like to see a solution that keeps the trash system funded through tax rates.

Another aspect officials must consider is timing. Officials say the best time to begin implementing these changes would be in January, so changes to tax districts and millage can be reflected on next year’s property tax bills.

“If you are going to stir the pot, now is the time to do it,” Russell said.

Officials agreed to study different aspects of the tax issue and meet again in two weeks. Most agreed that the result will likely make some – perhaps many – taxpayers unhappy. Kendrick said they were going to have to make some unpopular decisions, but it would be better than the status quo.

“If we are going to get beat up, let’s get beat up trying to do something, rather than die this slow death of incompetence,” he said.

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Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
Points
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 10/25/12 - 12:07 am
1
0
Slow death of Incompetence their words not mine.

Several Atlanta Lawyers are prepared to sue individually any commissioner who votes to raise the likely unconstitutional property taxes that infringe on our right to be secure in our possessions. They think this is violation of our civil rights and Atlanta lawyers can’t wait to hear from homeowners so you may begin leining foreclosing and selling the commissioners cars houses and garnishing their wages for violation your civil rights. If they can’t live within their budget with a BILLION $$$$$$$$$$$$ in assets then running more folks out of their homes with higher property taxes will not solve their insatiable lust for O.P.M. (Other People’s Money). Word has gotten out after Augusta settled for about a million $$$$$$$$$$$ in a case not nearly as onerous as this one indicates Augusta Politicians are easily sued and the lawyers can win big. Augusta’s record giveaways in the form of legal settlements has the lawyers ready for another bite.

Tullie
2930
Points
Tullie 10/25/12 - 05:59 am
2
0
Crime Reports and Rewards TV

Interesting post you have there. Just who are these Atlanta lawyers?

Tullie
2930
Points
Tullie 10/25/12 - 06:08 am
2
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Trash

What is it with the trash collection?

Kendrick said there is legislation waiting to be passed that will force governments to remove fees from tax bills.

So, get out of trash collection and stay out. Why can't they let everyone get their own trash collection service? Then they don't have to worry about it? It will not be their problem if the people pay or not.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/25/12 - 06:24 am
1
0
My proposed solution if they can't get it right.

If the major expense is something that ONLY benefits one area or the other, then the SPLOST to fund said project shall only effect the area that derives the benefit.

said major project(s) must provide a proven positive return on investment to the General Tax Fund within 5 years, or be canceled.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/25/12 - 07:19 am
1
0
BTW: Consolidation & Equal Voting access.

While they are working on true consolidation and Augusta / Richmond Co. equality.

Please consider that Richmond does not stop at Bobby Jones Expressway. So why don't we have a even 1 Early voting station out here instead of having driving up to 22 miles to get to one?

Hephzibah would be a good central location for those taxpayers and voters South of Tobacco Rd. or out in Blythe. There are even farther corners that seem to be abandoned or disenfranchised.

When I was downtown voting yesterday I heard a gentlemen a few people head of me ask one of the elections staff the same question. The staff member was polite and had Ms. L. Bailey (elections Mgr.) come over. I also heard him get a political no answer answer. Showing him the times an places he could vote early. He repeated the question not getting an answer and she pretty much said it wasn't in the plans yet.

WHY NOT?

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/25/12 - 06:46 am
2
0
Crime Reports ---- give this some thought

Unlike Atlanta, most of the politicians, lawyers and judges are part of the power network here. Sure A-RC gets sued for dumb employee mistakes and certain lawyers seem to be the ones that line up for $$$$.

But in 40+ years of memory I cannot remember 1 Politician or power broker sued successfully for county related duties or actions.

Riverman, Rebellious, SIB4 and others ... anyone have memories of such successful lawsuits?

rebellious
21408
Points
rebellious 10/25/12 - 07:29 am
1
0
Nope, no recollection

I am amazed at the blunt statements being made here by this group. I appreciate their candor, but it makes a shudder come over me to think what it will translate to. Weall know what bad can happen to taxpayers when everyone quotes the "Will cost $1.50 per $100,000 in home value" and the incremental tax increases keep coming. What do you imagine is about to transpire when they say things like :

“The (trash) fee will go up because of the bad-debt collection rates,” Johnson said.

“If you are going to stir the pot, now is the time to do it,” Russell said.

Most agreed that the result will likely make some – perhaps many – taxpayers unhappy.

“If we are going to get beat up, let’s get beat up trying to do something, rather than die this slow death of incompetence,” he said.

So how do I interpret this? Does it mean that only a very few Taxpayers are paying too much and a majority are paying too little? Or is one geographical area overtaxed while another is undertaxed? I don't get it. In a zero sum gain scenario, each person who pays less should be paired up with another who pays more, even though the dollars may not be the same!

Riverman1
87599
Points
Riverman1 10/25/12 - 07:45 am
1
0
I know of one possible

I know of one possible lawsuit in the wings by one of Augusta's powerful-admirable people who is opposed to the cabal running roughshod over the county. As Open Curtain asks, if anyone has any knowledge of previous lawsuits pass it on here or in email. All I can remember is Ira Davis had more than a few suits against the city-county.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 10/25/12 - 08:56 am
0
0
Ira Davis was successful

in suing to stop certain wasteful projects.
(The County really could use another IRA Davis legal type, with a little smoother presentation style)

Even got a few department heads canned.

But did IRA ever sue and win a judgement on a political / power broker?

Little Lamb
47288
Points
Little Lamb 10/25/12 - 09:38 am
0
0
Deadline

From the story:

Another aspect officials must consider is timing. Officials say the best time to begin implementing these changes would be in January, so changes to tax districts and millage can be reflected on next year’s property tax bills. “If you are going to stir the pot, now is the time to do it,” Russell said.

When you create legislation in haste, you usually make a mess. Unintended consequences are what they should be trying to fix, not create. Yes, change the tax code so it is simpler and fairer. But to start the process in late October and expect to have it go into effect in Jan. 2013 is unrealistic. It should go into effect in January alright, but January 2014 would give us a fighting chance to be fairer.

Little Lamb
47288
Points
Little Lamb 10/25/12 - 09:42 am
0
0
Lawsuit

Here is one:

Procurement

Little Lamb
47288
Points
Little Lamb 10/25/12 - 09:47 am
0
0
Another

Here's another one:

Discrimination

Little Lamb
47288
Points
Little Lamb 10/25/12 - 09:51 am
0
0
And another

I don't know the outcome:

Inspections

Little Lamb
47288
Points
Little Lamb 10/25/12 - 09:58 am
0
0
Firing

This may not be what you want, but it's a lawsuit:

Fired for Cause

Little Lamb
47288
Points
Little Lamb 10/25/12 - 11:44 am
1
0
Early Voting

Regarding Open Curtain's suggestion to open early voting stations in south Augusta, how about this: just deputize every Wal-Mart cashier and let people vote in the check-out line.

dichotomy
34796
Points
dichotomy 10/25/12 - 01:11 pm
2
0
They've been screwing us for

They've been screwing us for 17 years and now they want to whip out a poorly thought out plan, with no time for review by the public, by 1 January. Absolutely insane. Yes we want the system changed but we want to see the plan and have some time to evaluate it. In other words, commissioners WE DON'T TRUST YOU OR RUSSELL OR THE MAYOR. And especially we don't trust Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick, Chief Assessor Alveno Ross, Finance Director Donna Williams and city attorney Andrew MacKenzie. And now you are including Mark Johnson who has been instrumental in screwing the rural taxpayer. What a motley group of co-conspirators and incompetents to serve on a panel to come up with a new "equal" tax system. I do not see anyone on this panel who would be concerned with ensuring fairness for the rural South Richmond County residents.

I'D RATHER HAVE A JUDGE DO IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AN OUT OF TOWN IMPARTIAL JUDGE !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tullie
2930
Points
Tullie 10/25/12 - 01:41 pm
1
0
Panel

There is no way that panel is going to come up with a new system equal or unequal that will be ready by January 2013.

These folks have not done anything for 17 years, now all of a sudden they act like they are going to do something in 2 months...

rebellious
21408
Points
rebellious 10/25/12 - 03:48 pm
1
0
Lamb

The cases you cite.....Do they fit the scenario described by OC? Other than the typical naming of everyone from Adam to current living people as a standard legalese tactic, I don't believe individuals were sued. I could be wrong, because I ain't no lawyer (Thank God)!

"But in 40+ years of memory I cannot remember 1 Politician or power broker sued successfully for county related duties or actions."

Tullie
2930
Points
Tullie 10/25/12 - 04:44 pm
0
0
Lawsuit

Word has gotten out after Augusta settled for about a million $$$$$$$$$$$ in a case not nearly as onerous as this one indicates Augusta Politicians are easily sued and the lawyers can win big. Augusta’s record giveaways in the form of legal settlements has the lawyers ready for another bite.

When I read this I thought about X-Mart and what the City had to pay out to them when they closed them down and tried to keep them from opening back up.

After nearly 8 years of litigation, X-Mart was awarded a $550,000 settlement paid by the City of Augusta and was allowed to reopen in June 2010

Riverman1
87599
Points
Riverman1 10/26/12 - 06:02 am
0
0
I thought of another case

I thought of another case that is similar to what's going on here in a humorous way. The farmer who bought the sewage plant leftovers for his fields, but found the sewage was contaminated with lots of bad stuff. He got a nice award for the bad ssss....tufffffff.

Tullie
2930
Points
Tullie 10/26/12 - 06:23 am
0
0
Re: Riverman's Post

Another chapter has ended in the Augusta, GA conflict over historic biosolids use on two dairy farms. After years of litigation, a settlement has been reached between the City of Augusta and the R. A. McElmurray & Sons dairy farm whose owners believe that tainted biosolids caused the death of some of their cows in the 1990s.

According to The Augusta Chronicle:
"The McElmurray and Boyce families - dairy farmers in south Augusta and Burke County - initially sued the city in 1998. They contend that sludge from the Messerly Wastewater Plant that the city offered as free fertilizer contained dangerous amounts of heavy metals that poisoned their land and cattle, according to reports in The Augusta Chronicle. The Boyce family lawsuit was filed in Richmond County Superior Court, and a jury awarded the family $550,000 in 2003. The family had asked for $12.5 million. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet, who presided over the Boyce trial, threw out the McElmurray lawsuit. Higher courts, however, reinstated the lawsuit, and it had gone all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court and was pending trial. The settlement ends all of the litigation, Mr. Ellison said. Lloyds of London, National Union Insurance Co., Coregis Insurance Co. and St. Paul Insurance Co. agreed to pay $1.3 million for the cost of defending the city in the Boyce lawsuit. The companies will pay the McElmurray family $1.5 million to settle their case. The city filed suit against the insurance companies in federal court in 2004."

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