Commission balances budget with no tax hikes, $4.5 million from savings

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 8:52 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 7:56 AM
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Homeowners and manufacturers got a break Tuesday in the 2014 budget approved after much debate by the Augusta Commission.

Despite a projected shortfall of $7.9 million, commissioners declined to raise property taxes, or tax manufacturers for the energy they purchase, two suggestions recommended by City Administrator Fred Russell that would have raised as much as $5.5 million.

The vote, on a motion made by Commissioner Mary Davis, passed 6-3 with commissioners Bill Lockett, Donnie Smith and Marion Williams opposed. Commissioner Bill Fennoy was absent Tuesday.

While taxpayers get a break, city employees, departments and even funded agencies take a hit. The budget includes no across-the-board raise for rank-and-file employees, many of whom haven’t seen a pay increase in several years. It also requires all departments – including those headed by elected officials – to trim 2.4 percent of their spending.

Taking the biggest hit is the city’s savings. The city has budgeted using its “fund balance” to balance the budget every year since 2008, and actually dipped into it in 2008 and 2012, depleting the account to $27 million. Russell said the 2014 budget needs $4.5 million from savings to be balanced, a requirement under state law.

The vote was closely watched by lobbyists and the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce, whose President Sue Parr has opposed imposing an excise tax on Augusta manufacturers to make up for millions lost as a new state sales tax exemption for energy used in manufacturers is phased in.

At Russell’s objection, the budget stopped short of eliminating all new programs and staff, which would have saved $1 million. Additions include $300,000 for Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project, a contract compliance officer and several new staffers requested by the District Attorney, Public Defender and Juvenile Court to fulfill state mandates.

Commissioner Donnie Smith, who supported charging the excise tax, asked how the city will replace lost manufacturing revenue in 2015 and 2016, when the exemption is fully phased in.

“So we’re going to pass $3 million next year onto the taxpayers, and $4 million the next year?” asked Smith.

Smith said after the meeting he wasn’t done with the budget and would recommend more drastic cuts in subsequent weeks or months.

“I’m coming back with some cuts,” he said.

Smith and Commissioner Marion Williams had concerns about Russell reading details about the motion – such as which departments will be affected – into the record after the vote was taken.

“You can’t agree to balance a budget of that magnitude then add the wording in,” Williams said.

The vote followed several attempts, including individual votes both for and against the excise tax. All failed to receive six supporting votes.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who opposed the excise tax, said he wanted more time, as he’d just received a report from the city finance office on the growth of city departments since 2008.

Copenhaver reminded the group they can amend the budget through the year, but Guilfoyle said some other issue always seems to come up.

Community activist Brad Owens told commissioners the city was overlooking obvious areas to trim fat, such as the Downtown Development Authority, while targeting vital services like mosquito control.

“Please look, and stop rewarding failure,” Owens said.

In other business Tuesday, the commission authorized a public hearing on the city’s Tax Allocation District 4, to be formed with downtown parcels from the city’s large TAD 1. Once created, TADs allow cities to invest new property tax revenues above a baseline set the year they are formed into new development in the TAD.

Harrisburg activist Lori Davis, who also addressed the commission, suggested they eliminate TAD 1 as other Georgia cities have done when the districts’ taxable properties don’t show any digest growth.

Attorney Jim Plunkett, who developed the latest TAD proposal, said Commissioner Joe Jackson’s subsequent suggestion the city shrink TAD 4 to certain areas downtown and eliminate TAD 1 would be “part of the debate” when the public hearings are held.

Expected to increase in value, TAD 1 has instead diminished in taxable value by some $22 million since 2009, Plunkett said.

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bubbasauce
20572
Points
bubbasauce 12/03/13 - 10:26 pm
14
1
Now there's a start! All you

Now there's a start! All you have to do now is cut more and more wasteful spending. It's not really that hard you know. We at home have been doing it quite regularly since Obama took office.

Riverman1
78386
Points
Riverman1 12/03/13 - 11:13 pm
8
1
$22 Million Down Since 2009

"Expected to increase in value, TAD 1 has instead diminished in taxable value by some $22 million since 2009," Plunkett said.

In 4 years the taxable value decreased that much? So much for an economic turn around in TAD 1. Obviously it's not working. Here is what it is supposed to do as quoted from the city website:

" Tax Allocation District (TAD) – Augusta’s Tax Allocation District (TAD) was adopted on May 5, 2009 pursuant to voter approval in November 2006. Beginning in 2009 incremental tax revenue collected in the district has gone into a fund to supplement funding by public and private sources for public improvements that spur private redevelopment activity. Tax exempt bonds may be issued to pay for infrastructure and other eligible redevelopment costs in partnership with private developers. This investment will generate new jobs and new sales tax revenue and it will provide a positive mix of new and redeveloped living, office, shopping, public use and recreational facilities on properties within the TAD that are currently undeveloped."

Little Lamb
43358
Points
Little Lamb 12/03/13 - 10:56 pm
10
2
Davis is Correct

When you create a TAD and the TAD does not produce the desired results (as was the case with Russell's TAD 1), then you need to abolish the TAD and allow the taxes to go to the general fund and not into crony developers’ pockets.

dichotomy
29745
Points
dichotomy 12/03/13 - 11:09 pm
10
2
Cut out the studies,

Cut out the studies, consultants, and "progressive" projects and put all the money toward the basic "crap we are supposed to do" as a municipality.

Take my word for it.......progressive projects are just WAY over your head. Concentrate on getting the basic services right. The rest of the stuff will come AFTER you manage to get the basic stuff right.

badmoon426
922
Points
badmoon426 12/04/13 - 12:53 am
7
1
Amen...

...cried the flock.

Also California abolished the use of TAD's due to misuse. Why do we continue using something the state that started it all no longer uses.

Congratulations to Brad Owens and Lori Davis for bringing these points out for all to hear about.

badmoon426
922
Points
badmoon426 12/04/13 - 01:01 am
9
1
Stop the Presses...

..."Additions include $300,000 for Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project".

I thought the funding was from Starbucks and a local philanthropist? So what is really going on with the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project?

rebellious
20029
Points
rebellious 12/04/13 - 01:57 am
7
1
I remember

the same discussion every year. So I searched, here it is in 2004 for "05 budget: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2004/10/20/met_431810.shtml

The 2005 discussion for 2006 budget, where they did raise the millage rate 1.09 mil:http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2005/12/25/met_35628.shtml

2006 discussion for 2007, where they talked purely about cutting and increasing revenue.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2006/09/15/met_96726.shtml

Then I got tired of looking. Same stuff, different year. And I have seen this dog and pony show, where you portray things as horrible then are the hero by pulling the whole city through.

Mark my words, somewhere around September 2014, some revenue stream will have produced higher than expected.

rebellious
20029
Points
rebellious 12/04/13 - 02:00 am
10
1
Oh yeah

In one of those articles, the "rainy day" reserve fund was valued at 17 million and change. And now we have 27 million? Not that a rainy day fund isn't a good idea, but we have grown it through these difficult economic years! Don't tinkle down my back and tell me I get taxed for the rain!

Riverman1
78386
Points
Riverman1 12/04/13 - 05:29 am
10
2
$300,000 for Mayor

"$300,000 for Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s Augusta Regional Collaboration Project"

That's going to pay Matthew Kwa­tinetz and get Deke's jazz café up and running.

GnipGnop
11422
Points
GnipGnop 12/04/13 - 09:59 am
2
0
Bill Lockett, Donnie Smith

Bill Lockett, Donnie Smith and Marion Williams opposed....remember that voters...don't vote for the color of one's skin....think about your financial future...green should be the color you see and these guys want to take more of yours...as far as across the board raises? Join the club. Tough economic times means a lot of us haven't either. Deal with it and cut your spending...Fred Russell could take a lesson from you.

David Parker
7919
Points
David Parker 12/04/13 - 10:22 am
4
0
The ARCP was conceived by

The ARCP was conceived by folks outside the circle (on their own dime/time) and then after their effort to pitch-it, they were cut out of the loop. Now it's "all-aboard" for friends and partners. Just the way things are here in the Garden City. What happens on the green mile, err Augusta, stays in Augusta, always has.

countyman
18791
Points
countyman 12/04/13 - 12:51 pm
1
6
Facts

The $300k is for the Mills Campus only....

The former Chamber of Commerce is an high tech incubator and the Jazz cafe is one small portion... Their only spending around $100,000 on the building for now anyway..

Riverman1
78386
Points
Riverman1 12/04/13 - 12:58 pm
4
0
Isn't Matthew Kwa­tinetz

Isn't Matthew Kwa­tinetz being paid from that ARCP funding? How much are they giving him?

Does high tech incubator mean a place where people have coffee during the day and talk and drink alcohol and listen to jazz at night?

countyman
18791
Points
countyman 12/04/13 - 01:16 pm
1
4
Facts

Why give me a thumbs down simply because you don't know all of the facts?

You can make all the sarcastic remarks you want too but it won't change the facts...

The $300,000 discussed in the article is being used for the Mills Campus and nothing else...

The leaders of GRU, SRS, Fort Gordon, Georgia Power, etc have all expressed interest about the new place downtown were they can share ideas...

Riverman1
78386
Points
Riverman1 12/04/13 - 01:53 pm
4
1
Countyman, it has been said

Countyman, it has been said previously that Matthew Kwa­tinetz was being paid by the ARCP funds. It could be you're right that there is separate money in the ARCP to pay him, but no official has addressed that point. Personally, I doubt the money is separated in any way. Afterall, Kwatinetz is the one who came up with the proposal and created the Powerpoint presentation about using the mills for GRU. So it's perfectly logical to assume the 300K allocated for a mills study is at least partially going to Kwatinetz. Since this is Deke's baby, he could easily answer the question.

But this whole place downtown to meet and drink coffee during the day and listen to jazz at night is the most pie in the sky thing I've heard in a long time. Can the public also use the coffee house and jazz cafe parts with our laptops and so on? Or is it only for the well connected?

countyman
18791
Points
countyman 12/04/13 - 02:29 pm
1
5
Facts

The city is spending $300k towards the Mills Campus proposal. Mr. Kwatinetz is being paid from the ARC funds(Starbucks, private investors, etc) and not the city of Augusta.

Everything is considered 'pie in the sky' to you unless it involves Columbia County. The really sad thing is how many residents, media outlets, realtors, etc feel the same way. The white flight to Columbia County from the older parts of South Augusta is over with. This happens across the country and then people begin to move back into the urban core or further out creating exurbs(Mcduffie, Burke, or Edgefield probably next).

The flawed logic is one of the main reasons why metro Augusta lacks many amenities..

Does metro Augusta 'feel' like it's home to almost 600,000 residents(575k in 2012 estimate) when driving or walking around town?

Does the CSRA 'feel' like it's home to over 700,000 people?

We've pretty much seen how the growth in Columbia County between 2000-2010 didn't 'attract' many high paying jobs. The medical community built some new facilities in the county but University is already here located in Augusta. I know you love to bring up how Columbia County grew much faster the last decade but the only real major job investment has been the Taxslayer building. Richmond may have grew slower but the county attracted ADP, T Mobile, ESI, Rural Sourcing, etc the previous decade. This is not a knock on the county but reality since almost 30,000 people commute into Richmond for employment.

How can the metro grow unless the major industries are working together?

Riverman1
78386
Points
Riverman1 12/04/13 - 03:13 pm
4
0
Question About Your Facts

So are you telling me the $300K the county put into the ARCP funds is kept separate from the money that private entities donated? So far I've actually only heard of Mr. Storey donating anything although there could be more. Since we have no accounting from this ARCP it's hard for you or anyone else to know what's going on. I call on Copenhaver to be more transparent and show us the accounting. Blunt question that you don't know because nobody knows...How much is Matt K being paid?

Hey, don't hate Columbia County, emulate them.

David Parker
7919
Points
David Parker 12/04/13 - 05:21 pm
1
0
The "pie" was introduced as a

The "pie" was introduced as a work-space for folks to brainstorm and run ideas up the flagpole. It was conceived as a place for the private sector to develop THEIR ideas with the hope that it would get some traction so that the renaissance that CMan is suggesting will happen in the appropriate manner. From capitalist and not local government programs/start-ups.

Now it will be a coffee joint with jazz after hours. Mebbe there's more to it, if so, I suggest starting with that instead of the frivolity of java and jazz. The community won't be turned off by the city using funds toward enhancing the business climate in ARC. Trust me on that.

nocnoc
37253
Points
nocnoc 12/04/13 - 07:25 pm
2
0
The Timing was wrong for a Tax Hike

It has to happen AFTER 2014 elections.

harley_52
21702
Points
harley_52 12/04/13 - 08:18 pm
2
2
"Hey, don't hate Columbia County, emulate them."

Nobody I've seen "hates" Columbia County, though I can't say the same for Richmond County.

As for emulating them, I'd say more other counties could learn from them. Traffic jams and strip malls shouldn't be the model.

harley_52
21702
Points
harley_52 12/04/13 - 08:27 pm
2
2
"I call on Copenhaver to be more transparent....

....and show us the accounting."

Who do you mean by "us?"

Columbia County residents, like you?

What are the Mayor's responsibilities as regards Columbia County voters/taxpayers?

Riverman1
78386
Points
Riverman1 12/05/13 - 11:18 am
2
0
Harley, I'm speaking for my

Harley, I'm speaking for my third cousin who is triracial, lives in Richmond County and helps fund the county because he gets county water and pays his bill most months. That gives me the right to speak up on matters of Augusta government in THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE since I paid my monthly fee.

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