City budget has $8.5 million hole

Russell asks for budget cuts to make up the funding

A proposed budget by City Ad­min­istrator Fred Russell closes no facilities, cuts no services, eliminates no positions and even gives all employees an across-the-board $1,500 pay increase.

However, the $683.7 million proposal comes up $8.5 million short on revenue.

To make up the shortfall, Russell is asking department heads to find ways to further cut their budgets.

Commissioners, who do not have any scheduled meetings in the next week, have until Nov. 19 to reach an agreement on cuts to balance the budget.

Georgia requires county budgets be balanced.

Russell has rejected dozens of departmental requests for new personnel, including 35 positions sought by the Engineering Department, which maintains city roads and rights of way, and a new 18-member tree department to maintain the city’s trees.

Instead, he approved the creation of 30 positions: a procurement compliance officer, four district attorney personnel, six assistant public defenders, a gas system technician for waste management, three transit employees and 15 part- and full-time airport personnel.

Russell said he opted for an across-the-board pay increase over the numerous departmental requests for staff increases, many funded by eliminating vacant positions, because it was simpler than implementing performance-based increases citywide.

The proposal included a surprise for most commissioners: six new staff members for Augusta Municipal Golf Course, whose management will soon be put out for bids for a third time after efforts to secure a private management firm or partner with The First Tee of Augusta failed.

Russell said he included money for “The Patch” in case the bid process fails again.

If the commission votes to privatize the course, “here’s that money,” he said.

Other potential targets for cuts in the proposal might be the $300,000 allotted for Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collabo­ra­tion Project; $675,000 for a new study of disparities in the city’s award of contracts to women and minorities, which will eventually be needed to re-implement a race- or gender-conscious program; and $1.1 million to further renovate the former Regional Youth Detention Center for the sheriff’s office.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said outsourcing the Patch and not adding the new golf positions was a no-brainer, but he and several other commissioners said they’d take the weekend and the coming week to study the document further.

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Sat, 12/03/2016 - 00:51

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