“The major issue is funding,” Engineering Director Abie Ladson told four Augusta commissioners who attended a Thursday budget work session. “What we are doing (now) is being reactive. We don’t have a preventative maintenance system in place. All we’re doing is responding to the requests.”
Of 5,366 resident calls for service to 311 or Augusta Cares during 2012 and 2013, 2,146 engineering work orders remain open, according to a chart Ladson presented.
A May 2011 restructuring of city departments that eliminated the Public Services department and sent the maintenance work to Engineering was intended to increase efficiency, but Ladson said staff can’t keep up.
His requests for the 2014 budget that begins in January include:
• Increasing engineering maintenance staff from 19 to 50, adding two concrete crews, four grading crews and a second seven-member downtown maintenance crew.
• Adding six eight-inmate crews, bringing workers from 20 to 80.
• Increasing traffic engineering maintenance staff from 10 to 31 by adding two three-member tree crews, two six-member pothole and paving crews and an on-call guardrail crew.
• Purchase two Vac-Cons, used to vaccuum storm drains, two Grade-All excavators, two tandem dump trucks and a pothole patcher.
The budget request for the additions is $4.15 million, bringing Ladson’s total request to more than $17 million; however, all but the guardrail maintenance could potentially be paid using a new stormwater fee consultants are developing, depending on its root cause, he said.
“If the stormwater program was passed, a lot of our problems would go away,” Ladson said.
The fee is charged based on a property owner’s square feet of impermeable surface, such as roofs and parking lots, and tax-exempt properties are not exempt from paying the fee.
Another way to fund the increase would be through a tax increase of approximately one mill, which would raise property taxes on a $100,000 house by $35, Russell said.
Frustrated, Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle asked if SPLOST dollars could be used. City Administrator Fred Russell said SPLOST was reserved for capital improvements, not maintenance and again advised commissioners to ask the legislature to change SPLOST laws.
“We need to get away from this building industry,” said Guilfoyle, who represents the largely rural District 8. “The biggest cost is engineering, utilities and trash. That’s all the people want is service. They don’t care what’s going on downtown.”
Russell said Augusta attempts to be creative and use SPLOST dollars to create more efficient buildings that require fewer staff members, while doing more was “walking a real fine line.”
“We find the money when we want to do our little pet projects,” Guilfoyle said.
Ladson also asked for raises for traffic engineering staff due to passage of the Transportation Investment Act, or TSPLOST. The department is taking on management of 80 percent of Augusta’s TSPLOST-funded transportation projects.
Guilfoyle said he wanted a list of roadway projects duplicated on older SPLOST referenda and the TSPLOST project list.
Other budget requests made Thursday include:
• A $3 monthly street-sweeping fee charged by Environmental Services
• Changing to an entirely fee-based system for garbage collection, rather than using a mill rate in the urban areas
• Increasing the cost of garbage service, currently about $26 a month, by $1.13 a month
• $11 million for rehabilitation of the Augusta Diversion Dam, installation of a fish ladder and renovation of the former Augusta main library as headquarters for Augusta Utilities, which uses water and sewer revenues to fund its activities.