Library, election chiefs make budget requests

 

City department heads and elected officials continued their pleas for more money from Augusta Commission members at a fourth budget workshop Thursday.

Nearly all who have participated in the work sessions have requested salary increases for staff. City Administrator Fred Russell promised Thursday that he’ll recommend across-the-board pay increases when he presents a final budget to the commission next week.

Darlene Price, the executive director of the East Central Georgia Regional Library System, made no bones about the need for extra money to maintain, supply and staff the system’s six libraries in Richmond County.

“We’re asking for almost two times as much,” she said.

The new main library continues to run higher utility bills than the old one. Through technical help, the library has managed to get its monthly power bills down to around $15,000 a month, Price said.

The Appleby Branch occupies a historic mansion built in 1830. The Maxwell Branch is 40 years old, while the historic Wallace Branch on Laney-Walker Boulevard is 55 years old, she said.

“Every time there’s a heavy rain, we have to spend money. It never fails,” she said.

The library’s total 2014 request of $4.59 million includes $654,000 for facility maintenance, $1.95 million for personnel and $75,000 to create a “mini library” on a heavily traveled section of Gordon Highway, she said.

The library system’s state operating funds are “drying up,” Price said, and now range around $500,000 as counties have left the system, which now includes only Richmond and Burke counties. The state offers grants for repairs, and Price’s request included matching funds to obtain them.

A big election year for Richmond County means a big budget request from Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey.

In addition to state and federal races, the department will conduct elections for five Augusta commissioners, five school board members and a mayor next year. Each regular citywide election costs about $100,000, Bailey said.

New Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson said the department is benefiting from a review by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government to determine “what a premier planning department would look like.” Results will be in soon and likely will be used for the department to finalize its budget requests, she said.

The department generated about $13 million in revenue from fees last year, despite being understaffed in its inspection division, said Wilson, who requested a cost-of-living adjustment of up to 5 percent for staff.

Employees have been using their personal cellphones to conduct city business and paying for their own training, items that need to be addressed, she said.

“It’s really important to recognize the value of our employees,” Wilson said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett said he understood why employees wanted pay increases but questioned whether all, including those awarded pay increases behind the scenes, needed them.

“We do have some people who are being paid a lot closer to what they deserve than other people,” Lockett said.

The city’s general fund budget was $141 million last year. Combined with other funds, including enterprise, grant and sales tax funds, the total budget was about $700 million.

Commission to start budget workshops

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