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Commissioners approve modified 2013 budget

No action taken on health insurance bid protest

Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 9:11 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 12:21 AM
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Augusta commissioners approved a modified version of the city administrator’s 2013 budget proposal Tuesday that excluded several new positions, a $750-per-employee raise and a new 1 percent excise tax Fred Russell recommended.

Susan McCord
Government Reporter
Twitter: @reportr1
E-mail | 706-823-3215

“There seems to be a movement to take some of the things that I have on it out,” Russell said before the 9-0 vote. Commissioner Matt Aitken was absent.

The decision allows Russell, commissioners and the mayor “additional time” to discuss the items taken out, he said.

“Good luck in January, fellows,” said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles, whose term, along with those of Commissioners Jerry Brigham and J.R. Hatney and potentially, Aitken, will end before budget discussions resume.

“The new commission is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make,” Brigham said.

Left out Tuesday were Russell’s recommendation that the city hire a retail development specialist, a contract compliance specialist and two marshals to enforce parking downtown as well as a couple of dozen other new hires requested by the city attorney, tax assessor, tax commissioner, procurement, superior court, district attorney, probate court and public defender. Russell said several positions at Augusta Regional Airport were required by federal law, and they were left in.

The excise tax, a new 1 percent levy to replace sales taxes lost under a new state exemption for energy used in manufacturing, had been opposed by the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce and area factories but was expected to generate $500,000.

Even with the exclusions, the budget will rely on a dip into the city’s savings of more than $1 million. The flat-rate raises, expected to go into effect in July, would have cost more than $2 million.

Russell’s proposal included about $4.5 million from reserves, which currently stand at nearly $35 million.

The nearly $700 million proposal includes $57 million for the sheriff’s office and about $80 million in other general fund expenditures that the commission can control.

In other business, the commission chose neither to approve nor deny Russell’s recommendation the body deny a bid protest filed by Meritain Health Inc. The company is challenging the commission’s decision to award a bid to administer a new self-funded health insurance pool to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia.

Meritain, a subsidiary of Aetna, said the city procurement office gave Meritain the highest score in technical rankings, then made errors and withheld needed information when seeking price quotes. The procurement office denied the allegations, and city insurance consultant Lisa Kelley said Blue Cross Blue Shield had presented the lowest maximum price with the level of risk appropriate for a city transitioning to a self-funded platform.

Brigham said if the city is making changes to its health insurance plan commissioners may need to revisit the budget sooner than the new year.

“I know we’ve got to have health insurance come the first of the year,” he said.

Meritain attorney Jeff Belkin and an elevator full of Aetna officials who attended Tuesday’s meeting declined to comment on their next step. Brigham said he thought the city will be sued over the bid award regardless.

City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said the lack of approval or disapproval means there is a stay on the BCBS contract. Russell could rescind the stay, however, MacKenzie said.

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soitgoes 11/21/12 - 12:11 am
Heaven Help us!

Without the financial smarts of Bowles and Brigham, the Commission may surely struggle to adequately manage the financial affairs of the City without dipping FURTHER into the "reserve" fund or raising city taxes. I pray that Mary Fair Davis will bring some uncommon common sense to the group of good-ole-boys (regardless of skin color). But if not, oh, well... so it goes...

OpenCurtain 11/21/12 - 08:23 am
Planes, Pains & Pulling In The Power Reins

The budget speaks for itself.

Letting the new incoming commissioners vote on it would have been the right thing to do.

Why does old commission get to stick it to the incoming group, that most likely was voted in to control the spending of the one in power?

Since the County side pays more of the share for these Downtown follies and oversights via county area taxes.

Since the City of Augusta lost its charter mainly due to financial mismanagement (spending).

Since the county area taxpayers, +/- 20 years ago, were foolish enough to believe all the great consolidation promises that were made and slowly evaporating.

Since the County area is TAXED at a HIGHER Rate than the City, despite supposedly being "consolidated".

Since the District maps laid out to insure a downtown power block were made 16+ years ago, need to be updated to reflect the County area growth.

Since a small private group of powers downtown steer how tax dollars will be spent on expensive special projects folly after folly.

it too much to ask that we quit referring to this money pit as "THE CITY" or Augusta and start using the official name or change it?

As a County resident, I feel like red headed adopted step child when it comes to services, A-RC promoting business building projects and entertainment venues for the US-1, US-25 and Hwy 56 corridors. Even a simple 4 screen Movie Theater, not 10 miles down the road and closer to Columbia co. would be welcomed.

Downtown cannot continue to treat the County like the Dark Side of Augusta (not speaking of racially), and not expect it to plan for annexation into outlaying towns. Or pull a Sandy Springs and form a separate County Gov. again.

Uptown & the County has the $$$ and Tax base to fund a Sandy Springs size city.

BTW: A $80K basketball court is not a example of quid pro quo. In some ways it was like saying, they'll like this, its the next best thing to watermelon and fried chicken for those hicks.

Riverman1 11/21/12 - 08:07 am
Kick the Can

I used to play Kick the Can when I was about 12 years old.

F4therTime 11/21/12 - 08:12 am
Amen Open

I remember one of the promises was trash pick up when they sold the consolidation package. Oh you southsides guys will love it...trash pick up, your water bill will go down and don't forget all the street sweepers you will be seeing in the county neighborhoods. I got trash pick up alright. at 3 times what I was paying a private hauler. Never saw the lower water bills and the only street sweeper I have ever seen is the private ones that do parking lots. Yet my property tax bill has tripled. On the bright side? I got a new basketball court that I will never use in a recreation park that I have never been too either!!

OpenCurtain 11/21/12 - 08:25 am
The real trash that needs hauling off

is not on the South Side, I think most, not all, of it is closer to downtown.

wait until Summer and we get to smell those very Ripe & fermented garbage cans sitting next to our houses in 100 degree heat.

BTW: Why wasn't this 50% tax hike on the voting ballot recently?

seenitB4 11/21/12 - 09:02 am

And yall want me to move back to Richmond county....would that be wise......
Appling looks better & better everyday....

soapy_725 11/21/12 - 09:38 am
Matt called in from his work shift, again.

9-0 in favor. Those speaking to TV reporters was not representative of this vote? How can you not be there to vote on the Budget? Is Matt a shift supervisor or a low level technician? In either case, do his superiors not view his presence at a commission meeting worthy of a shift change? Goodness, bet he has time off to vote for himself. We worked with guys who paid others to switch shifts so they could coach their children in Little League. Or be at a family function. Does he work for some company from the dark ages? Do they not allow their employees to "swap shifts" or take time off for important business.

Matt knew his vote was not needed. Hence the no show.

And all the ARC sheeple said, BAH BAH BAH.

soapy_725 11/21/12 - 09:42 am
Gerogia counties consolidating with each other

is on the way. It is in the GA Law. It will become a necessity as the number of taxpayers dwindles. Forty percent paying and 60% taking. Basic math. As small counties without resources to provide government service increase, more affluent counties will be asked to do the "right and fair thing".

Collectivism is the new watch word.

Bulldog 11/21/12 - 10:31 am
Lack of detail

The complete lack of detail in this story and in the information put out to the public underscores the depth of failure of our current system. The commission seats need to be salaried, full time jobs with at least one staff person. No one can possibly adsorb the huge amount of information required to make knowledgeable decisions by doing it "part time". Augusta Richmond County is a huge business; having it run by amateur, part timers is a formula for failure!

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/21/12 - 10:57 am

At first blush it sounds good, have full-time commissioners with 40-hour per week salaries. But it would be a recipe for disaster. Full-time commissioners would be nothing more than department heads. All their decisions would be to protect their jobs and their turf. Government would spiral upward and upward out of control.

We need the people of Augusta to elect commissioners who can say no to bigger and bigger city government!

CobaltGeorge 11/21/12 - 12:02 pm
I Want You To Know

that my heart really goes out to you all that have to live in Richmond County.

rebellious 11/21/12 - 03:57 pm

The commission approved the modified budget, and this gives them more time to discuss it? What? I ain't no genius, but isn't approving something kind of the "Go Ahead" for implementation. Jeez Leweez, how much discussion do we need on eliminating all of those recommended position hires, raises for employees, etc.

Quick, pass it while they are looking the other way.

OpenCurtain 11/21/12 - 06:37 pm
One of the major Problems is Detailed Info

The AC is limited in space and must summarize key points.
So as taxpayers, we generally only learn from the AC summarized details.

The A-RC web site on the other hand, confusing as it is laid out, sits there underutilized as a potential information resource, waiting for the information to be added.

How ever you may slice it, it all boils down to IF they wanted us to know Ahead Of Time, it could easily be done using PDF files and 5 minutes of Web Admin time.

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