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Augusta officials discuss plans to dismantle urban tax district

Thursday, March 28, 2013 7:06 PM
Last updated Friday, March 29, 2013 2:34 AM
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After months of discussion, Augusta officials are moving toward a plan that would dismantle the existing urban services tax district to create a uniform set of taxes and fees for all property owners.

Officials who met with the city’s property tax study committee Thur­sday agreed in principle to measures that would remove funding for fire service, trash pickup and neighborhood street lights from the urban services tax rate and convert those to revenue models paid by property owners in suburban areas.

Finance Director Donna Will­iams said those three items are the largest and most problematic portions of urban property taxes. The ultimate goal is to make the urban services district go away entirely, she said.

Augusta Commission member Wayne Guilfoyle, the chairman of the study committee, directed Williams to put together a provisional plan that can be presented to other members of the commission next month.

The problem with the current system is that property owners in different tax districts pay different amounts for the same services.

The city’s multitiered property tax system divides most of the county into two main districts – one urban and one suburban – that roughly coincide with the pre-consolidation political lines between the old city and Richmond County. Each district has a combination of millage and fees that pay for the services, such as trash pickup, fire protection, streetlights and law enforcement.

City officials have been examining Augusta’s flawed property tax system for months without making much headway.

The emerging plan is focusing on fire protection, trash pickup and streetlights.

The first measure would be to create one uniform fire service tax rate for all parts of Augusta. In order to do that, the current tax rate paid by suburban residents will rise by 0.681 mills, according to Williams, who explained that the urban tax digest isn’t enough to generate sufficient revenue at the current rate in the suburban district.

“We would be about $2.5 million short otherwise,” she said.

The second part of the plan would be to make every property owner pay the same fees for trash pickup, Currently in the urban district, trash pickup is funded through tax rates and a reduced fee of $107. In the suburban district, property owners pay a $310 fee on their tax bills. Changing the system would mean that some property owners in Augusta’s poorer neighborhood’s – perhaps more than 2,000 properties – would have to pay the full amount for the first time.

Officials acknowledged it would be a shock for those taxpayers, who would see their trash pickup fees triple on the next tax bill. Williams suggested it could be phased in over a two-year period, but others, including Commissioner Donnie Smith, said it would be best have a plan that passed the measures in one vote.

“It is better to get it over with and take our beating one time than to have to take it twice,” he said.

The other part of the plan would be to convert streetlight funding to the fee-based model used in the suburban district – a formula based on the amount of road frontage to calculate the amount owed per property. That will be no easy task, Williams said.

She has asked city Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell to look at the streetlight data and come up with a proposal, but she said she doesn’t expect that to be ready anytime soon.

“This is going to be a monumental task for his group,” she said.

Officials plan to present information about the plan to other commissioners in a work session tentatively scheduled for April 25.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/28/13 - 08:11 pm
A Good First Step

Yes, indeed. Thank you, commissioner Donnie Smith for your "one-step" recommendation.

nocnoc 03/28/13 - 08:12 pm

Downtown will pay its fair share for services. Thank you Wayne.

Interesting Quote:
"Williams, who explained that the urban tax digest isn’t enough to generate sufficient revenue at the current rate in the suburban district."

Simply Put.
Downtown ain't got the $$$$ because Downtown ain't got the property values to support what the South Side taxpayers now cover for their services.

An they call this a Consolidated Government?
The South Side may-as-well be picking Downtown's Cotton considering we feed, cloth, house and pay over 60% of the property taxes to support Downtown.

GnipGnop 03/28/13 - 10:57 pm
I can see....

This still won't be a fair system...trash service should go on utility bills not property tax bills...this should be illegal. Watch the southside property values get raised so that they still pay more that downtown for less services and less money spent in revitalization. It would be better to divide the number of property owners by a certain monetary number and say ok everyone this is your share....

jbenny2010 03/28/13 - 11:19 pm
I don't understand

I live in South Turpin Hill and my home has been undervalued for about 6 years now and no one has an explanation for it. The county appraiser arbitrarily dropped the value by $20,000. My entire home has been remodeled, yet the assessor's picture online is from 3 years ago before the remodel. Also, I pay over $300 for trash pickup alone. So is South Turpin Hill (Old Savannah Rd, 15th Ave, MLK Blvd) now considered the suburbs?? These numbers are not adding up.

Steve Crawford
Steve Crawford 03/29/13 - 04:01 am

dichotomy -- I doubt property valuations are being kept "artificially low" in the Urban District, but I do know that one reason that district's taxable digest is low -- tax exempt property. Most of the county's tax exempt properties (churches, schools, hospitals and government buildings) are in the Urban District. I'm sure that has a real impact on the digest.

GnipGnop -- I don't know where you got the idea that trash fees will become part of the utility bills. There has been some talk of creating a separate bill for trash, but it won't be on the water bill for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that not everyone has city water service. Actually, officials would prefer to keep trash on the property tax bill and that's where it will likely stay until state law prohibits it.

seenitB4 03/29/13 - 07:27 am
heh heh

Well now, maybe posting on here really does make a difference...heh.

GnipGnop 03/29/13 - 10:41 am
GnipGnop -- I don't know where you got the idea that trash fees

GnipGnop -- I don't know where you got the idea that trash fees will become part of the utility bills....I didn't get the idea..I suggested it. I think legislation should be passed to keep politicians from attaching things to property taxes that should be billed separately. The trash service in NA is attached to the utility bill. Oh wait what was I thinking. NA commission has it's act together....

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