Augusta Commission members hope to put aside petty squabbling and get down to the meat of local government at a retreat Friday.
The two main topics will be the city’s unwieldy personnel system, including its personnel board and policy and procedures manual, and the cash-strapped budget, including a schedule for setting mill rates and developing the 2015 budget.
Commissioner Bill Lockett said that as state legislators continue to erode local governments’ ability to raise revenue, such as a recent exemption for energy used in manufacturing, Augusta must take a hard look at the price of doing business.
“We’re going to have to face the music,” Lockett said. “Georgia Power, Comcast – everybody else raises their prices from time to time because the cost of goods and services is going up. How can government be effective and somewhat efficient working with the same amount of resources year after year?”
The commission hasn’t raised taxes since August 2012, when it made a slight adjustment to the mill rate for fire protection, raising taxes on a $100,000 home by $1.22 inside the old city limits and $19.63 elsewhere.
A revived push to level tax rates and fees helped lead to a recent commission decision to impose a flat $310.50 garbage fee countywide and lower the “urban services” millage imposed for garbage, streetlights and other services in the old city limits.
The proposed mill rate reduction – which with the increased fee actually raises the burden for poorer homeowners in the old city limits – won’t be official until the commission formally sets the millage later this summer.
The mill rate is charged against a property’s taxable value, typically 40 percent of its assessed value, minus any homestead exemptions.
Property owners in the old city limits presently pay a higher total rate of 36.942 mills than those outside the limits, who pay 31.095 mills. The bulk is 19.982 mills charged by the Richmond County Board of Education.
Commissioner Marion Williams wasn’t optimistic about what can be accomplished with the budget.
“All we can do is make cuts or raise taxes,” he said. “There’s nothing coming in here to raise revenue.”
Lockett said he expects Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant to present needed revisions to the personnel manual, including a revamped nepotism policy.
“When that personnel policy and procedures manual was adopted, it only got six votes because some of us realized that we were putting out a bad product,” Lockett said.
Other issues include the commission’s inability to override a decision by the city personnel board, which can reinstate fired employees and void other personnel actions, Lockett said.
“Anybody in their right mind knows that’s not the way things are supposed to work,” he said.
Before the retreat, to be held all day Friday at the Kroc Center, the commission will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday in a session replacing the one scheduled for July 1.
Agenda items sure to generate discussion at Thursday’s meeting include data collection for a new study of disparities in the awarding of city contracts, property owner complaints about a proposed fee for garbage collection at vacant lots, and updates from interim City Administrator Tameka Allen on renovations at the Municipal Building and a new information technology building under construction on the 500 Greene St. government campus.