Augusta Commission holds off on tax increase

Monday, July 28, 2014 9:32 PM
Last updated Tuesday, July 29, 2014 2:11 AM
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Seven Augusta Commission members nixed a proposed tax increase Monday that would cost a typical homeowner $70 a year, leaving the countywide millage unset with just a few days to meet state deadlines.

City staffers had proposed the 2-mill increase, expected to generate some $9 million, as the only alternative to cover a $5.4 million annual deficit, partially replenish reserves and provide city employees a $1,000 raise.

The city hasn’t raised taxes more than a quarter-mill since 2006, when a 1.09-mill increase went to law enforcement. A mill is the amount charged per thousand of a property’s taxable value, or 40 percent of its assessed value. The increase would raise the millage to just more than 10.04 mills.

Advocating for the tax, Finance Director Donna Williams said the commission had held off raising taxes incrementally. “In my honest opinion, we have delayed making small corrections for a number of years,” she said.

One of three commissioners to support the increase, Bill Lockett said the money was needed, as were the raises.

“We have got to get the revenue somewhere,” Lockett said. “Let’s do what is right.”

Also voting in favor, Commissioner Bill Fennoy said District 1 residents complain about potholes, abandoned houses, overgrowth and flooding.

“They don’t mind a tax increase as long as they’re receiving the services,” he said. “They spend more money on movies, hot dogs and sodas than they would on a 2-mill increase.”

The third commissioner to favor the increase, Marion Williams, asked whether 2 mills was enough. Two mills will be .484 mills short of Augusta’s tax cap under this year’s calculations, Williams said. The cap was imposed on the local government decades ago and is now incorporated into state law.

Opposing the increase were commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle, Mary Davis, Joe Jackson, Alvin Mason, Donnie Smith, Corey Johnson and Grady Smith. Guilfoyle said the city’s expenditures had increased every year since he joined the commission, and said cuts and restructuring, such as what Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick had accomplished, were needed.

“Whatever we do today will not increase services to residents,” Guilfoyle said.

Donna Williams said the city has been hit with both planned and unplanned expenses: February’s ice storm, which will deplete savings between $2.5 million and $4.5 million after reimbursements from the state and federal governments; and the Augusta Richmond County Judicial Center and John Ruffin Courthouse, which costs $1 million annually to operate.

Donnie Smith said he expected a compromise on the increase, with accompanying “targeted cuts,” to happen in the next few days.

“It is serious crunch time,” Smith said, suggesting outsourcing unused recreation facilities as a way to cut. “I think there will be a compromise.”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver did not offer an opinion but noted the commission had agreed to raise taxes at a recent retreat. Interim Administrator Tameka Allen recommended the 2-mill increase, as well as the raises.

State deadlines require the commission to adopt a millage rate in the next few days. Unless the commission leaves it as is, the city is required to advertise the increase and hold three public hearings a week later.

Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick informed commissioners that the city has already obtained a 30-day extension from the Georgia Department of Revenue and that Richmond County Board of Education members had been calling because the school system needs its funds, which are collected on the same tax bills as the city’s.

The tax rates appear on the same bill but are distinct from the millage charged by Richmond County Board of Education, which tentatively set its millage at 19.972 mills Monday.

The city’s tax digest, its listing of all taxable properties, grew only slightly this year by $30 million to $4.72 billion. The motor vehicle portion was down by $50 million, likely because of changes in state laws, Williams said.

The 2-mill increase would have raised the countywide rate to 10.82 mills, including a separate .781 mill charge to fund capital outlay. Residents inside the old city limits will be charged an adjusted rate to account for a new countywide garbage service fee.

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Lori Davis
944
Points
Lori Davis 07/28/14 - 09:35 pm
8
0
Thank Goodness! Root out

Thank Goodness! Root out those who are stealing with forensic auditing, and then we can talk about tax increase once these folks are in jail.

Dixieman
15331
Points
Dixieman 07/28/14 - 10:07 pm
10
1
First sensible thing...

...I can recall these clowns doing.
We do NOT need to turn more money over to these fools at our expense until they learn how to spend it wisely, and they are a long, long way from that level.

TCB22
639
Points
TCB22 07/28/14 - 10:07 pm
5
0
A little more than that.

"Donna Williams said the city has been hit with both planned and unplanned expenses, such as February’s ice storm, which will deplete savings between $2.5 million and $4.5 million after reimbursements from the state and federal governments;"

The total not being reimbursed to arc for the ice storm is $6million. Be honest about it. It can be checked out, after all.

deestafford
27877
Points
deestafford 07/29/14 - 12:12 am
6
0
Were not the three who voted for it representing...

Were not the three who voted for it representing areas where most of the folks live in government housing and private home ownership is sparse?

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 07/29/14 - 04:18 am
9
1
Only ONE Long Term Solution

It's always a dilemma when a county is not growing and property values are decreasing. There's only ONE long term solution and that's to downsize and cut spending. Of course the likelihood of that happening is slim.

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 07/29/14 - 04:36 am
8
0
Names Can Become Ridiculous

"...Augusta Richmond County Judicial Center and John Ruffin Courthouse..."

Are we really going to try to use that long name every time the Ruff House is mentioned in the Chronicle? Heh.

Yesterday, we learned the conference rooms at the Augusta Richmond County Municipal Building were to be named. Imagine how a meeting in one of the rooms will be reported in the Chronicle..."The Downtown Development Authority met last night in the Augusta Richmond County Municipal Building Marion Williams Conference Room."

geecheeriverman
2731
Points
geecheeriverman 07/29/14 - 05:02 am
7
1
district 1

District 1 residents complain about potholes, abandoned houses, overgrowth, and flooding. I believe this is the area that generates the fewest tax dollars in A/RC.

geecheeriverman
2731
Points
geecheeriverman 07/29/14 - 05:14 am
5
0
lame duck

Jackson, Mason, Johnson, are the lame duck commissioners and voted against the tax hike. I wonder if they are looking ahead to another run for some office where they can say "I never voted for a tax increase"

dbruker
46
Points
dbruker 07/29/14 - 05:47 am
3
0
Is it any wonder?

Donna Williams is the Finance Director and she doesn't know if the cost of the ice storm is $2.5 or $4.5 million? That's a pretty wide range. Hasn't anybody balanced the checkbook in the last five months? Is it any wonder our government is in such a shambles?

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 07/29/14 - 07:31 am
3
0
Killing ARC

This is a step in the right direction, but next year will bring a different story. Raising taxes is a fools mission. The people who actually pay taxes continue to leave ARC for a number of reasons and this is a big one. The only answer is to cut expenditures. The biggest nonessential item in the budget is the Recreation Dept. It's time to begin making every department much more self supporting.

Little Lamb
46405
Points
Little Lamb 07/29/14 - 07:59 am
5
0
Long Names

I'm with Riverman on the use of the long name for the facility at 9th & Walton. Do you remember set theory from your seventh grade math class? The Ruffin Courthouse is completely contained within the Judicial Center. Therefore, when you say "Augusta Judicial Center," you have also included the courthouse.

nocnoc
43452
Points
nocnoc 07/29/14 - 08:08 am
4
0
Once again logic comes from the South Side

"Guilfoyle said the city’s expenditures had increased every year since he joined the commission.. (5 years ago)

“Whatever we do today will not increase services to residents,” Guilfoyle said.

-----------------
If Wayne means less thrills and more bang for the buck, I totally agree.

Downtown has wasted enough over the last 10 years:
an under used convention center,
closed up Master Gardens,
A City Golf Course
2 Seldom used Parking decks,
Underwriting a Hotel,
the Marble Palace cost overruns,
the Urban Homeowner & Poverty area investor (slum lords) buy outs
the unaccounted for, spending and waste and sometimes outright theft of ARC $$$$
and more

MY general feeling is, Too! much is focused in what is called DOWNTOWN, while the countywide residents foot the bill.

Before they waste another $ on remodeling 50+ years buildings or renting /leasing a small building from a sweet campaign donor for a government office.

Before they spend $$$$$$ on RCSO Tag readers,

Or and estimated $1.34M for a DOWNTOWN Security Camera installation and $400K to $650K per year for 24/7 staff operation and a office space.

Before they waste another dollar making the roads wider for Columbia co. residents that work in ARC.

May be they should focus on RICHMOND Countywide focused, basic services.

corgimom
33177
Points
corgimom 07/29/14 - 08:16 am
4
1
You can only cut expenditures

You can only cut expenditures so much, and they pretty much have been cut.

But if RC REALLY wants to cut expenditures, close that white elephant TEE Center.

You can see the effect of the cuts in expenditures- I was appalled to see all the weeds on the medians and vacant lots, potholes, and dirty streets when I was last there. It is obvious that Augusta is hurting for money. My husband said, "I don't remember Augusta looking like this", and I said, "It didn't used to."

I think many don't notice it because they are used to it; but for someone coming into the city, it looks awful.

Augusta doesn't look prosperous at all, I don't think the Cyber Command people are going to want to settle in RC.

pja5529
1965
Points
pja5529 07/29/14 - 08:35 am
2
3
geecheeriverman

There are a lot of businesses in district 1 that pay taxes as well.

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 07/29/14 - 08:38 am
4
1
Benefit Specialists?

In addition to the yearly cost to run the TEE Center, what about the proposal to hire the three benefit specialists instead of contracting out with our own local ADP as has been done. How much more will that cost and WHY is it being done? It's creating some sweet positions for sure.

Little Lamb
46405
Points
Little Lamb 07/29/14 - 08:51 am
4
0
Prosperity

Corgimom's observation that Augusta does not look prosperous is accurate. And one thing for sure. You do not increase the prosperity of a county when you raise taxes.

GnipGnop
12316
Points
GnipGnop 07/29/14 - 09:05 am
4
0
Why does the song

Send in the clowns always come to kind whenever I read about commissioners?

paperguy
85
Points
paperguy 07/29/14 - 09:08 am
4
0
Hey Editor:

The word is "mil" not "mill". A "mill" is where you make paper or flour. A "mil" is 1/1000 part. That's what the tax is.

faithson
5193
Points
faithson 07/29/14 - 09:08 am
3
0
“They spend more money on

“They spend more money on movies, hot dogs and sodas than they would on a 2-mill increase.” just who is THEY Mr. Fennoy speaks of. Sure would like to know how many of Mr. Fennoy's associates actually PAY property taxes. We need a better system to TAX everyone to keep up our county, not just those who happen to own property.

corgimom
33177
Points
corgimom 07/29/14 - 09:59 am
0
2
faithson, there are property

faithson, there are property owners in District 1.

And renters pay property tax through rent.

The problem is that a big chunk of land in Augusta is owned by the state of Georgia or the Federal government and isn't taxable, or by entities like the Augusta Housing Authority- thereby putting the onus on the property owners.

corgimom
33177
Points
corgimom 07/29/14 - 10:01 am
0
3
And I agree, they should've

And I agree, they should've raised taxes incrementally. And this vote will hasten the bankruptcy.

Deke should figure out by now that many of the commissioners speak with forked tongues.

flipa1
1836
Points
flipa1 07/29/14 - 10:51 am
4
0
We discovered what looks like

We discovered what looks like one of the Non-Governmental-Organizations embezzling LARGE amounts of funds that should have been shared with her own organization, and the city. Anyone suggesting an audit of all these that stick their hands in everybody's pockets using the county to steal your money were likely right. It's so bad Augusta owes an apology to all the those they arrested in non-victims crimes when so many are ripping off the taxpayers who ARE VICTIMS. Then they parade across your TV's acting like good people but are in violation of several laws for not reporting their activities cause they could get busted if they did, so they just break state laws and DON’T REPORT. Almost all of these use your tax money to make their money… They are who asked to raise your millage so they could grub even more filthy lucre and look down their nose at you from their blood sucking SUV's. Clean up Augusta's corruption and there WILL be PLENTY for a cost of living raise and balance the budget with no tax increase…. 2 birds-1 stone...

linux
96
Points
linux 07/29/14 - 10:46 am
3
0
No more hot dogs...

“They don’t mind a tax increase as long as they’re receiving the services,” he said. “They spend more money on movies, hot dogs and sodas than they would on a 2-mill increase.”

Well, citizens, that's it for hot dogs, sodas and movies. You don't need that stuff anyway. Next will be lattes.

linux
96
Points
linux 07/29/14 - 10:53 am
6
0
Just cut the spending

We moved here (RC actually) 2 years ago; my wife had lived in RC 20 years ago and says that Augusta was much nicer. To me, downtown Augusta looks like a lost cause. If you like bars, tat shops and night life it's OK, but the whole area, including the surrounding area with all the dilapidated houses and buildings is a disaster.

It seems to me that until the county is successful in attracting enough companies that provide employment to bring in a higher tax base (if that ever happens), they have no alternative than to cut costs, IE services. The police and fire need to stay healthy for obvious reasons (we don't go downtown at night) but as been correctly pointed out, raising taxes at this point is self-defeating (a fools errand indeed) as it will just drive more taxpaying families out.

dichotomy
33540
Points
dichotomy 07/29/14 - 11:36 am
5
0
I'm thinking that if they

I'm thinking that if they EVER actually made ANY effort to IMPROVE the district(s) that composes HALF of the geographic area of the county.......thereby encouraging businesses, restaurants, and retail to locate there...... which would attract residential development and RAISE PROPERTY VALUES.....they would not need to raise the millage rate....EVER. Every "development" dollar spent for 19 years has gone DOWNTOWN and is a TOTAL FAILURE for the majority of Richmond County citizens. NONE of it has attracted enough TOURISTS, ARTISTS, AND GAYS to pay the bills. The Laney Walker fiasco has done NOTHING for the tax base or to draw people downtown. You have been led in the wrong direction since consolidation folks. Your property values have dropped and they have broke us financially with DOWNTOWN.

NOW THEY WANT TO MILK BLOOD OUT OF THE TURNIP THEY LEFT LAYING TO ROT 19 YEARS AGO. To hell with them. We were doing fine before they took over. We had reasonable taxes, fair to middlin' schools, good police and fire protection, and we could SHOP for garbage service at the best price and service. AND we had restaurants and retail stores. Now look what THEY have done to us.

The emphasis on DOWNTOWN and LANEY WALKER is a TOTAL BUST and has bankrupted us with ZERO benefit. When the whole county is successful you have a 6.4 millage rate....like Columbia County. When the whole county is rotting you have a 9...10....10.484 millage rate.....at or near the state tax cap and crying for more. That's what happens when you elect people who say "let's get some mo' revenoo" instead of "what can we do to help the REST of the county grow and increase the market values of everyone's property".

And for countyman's benefit....I am NOT talking about giving us another damned PARK or TRAIL....or even another factory. If that's all you've got...keep it. We need policies that will put residential buildings on ALL of this WRONGLY, and as far as I am concerned ILLEGALLY, re-zoned and taxed vacant RESIDENTIAL property in South Richmond County. You know, the results of one of their OTHER money grabs. "Pending explosive growth" my hind end George Patty. I wish you had some pending explosive growth up yours.

PrayN4U
358
Points
PrayN4U 07/29/14 - 11:46 am
4
1
Clean up the night element in downtown

My husband and I were stationed here back in 1972 and Broad street has not done a lot of changing for the better over the years. One problem is the streets praking and driving. Trying to create more parking by angling the spaces is and has always been dangerous. The shops have nothing to offer and business have nothing to offer famalies of certain ages. Kids and young adults are what keep an area alive. I won't take my grandchildren downtown after dark. Restaurant are catered to the older crowd. A McDonald or Burger King would really bring a lot of business to Broad Street and maybe people would take the time to see what the other shops have to offer. How about a gaming room in one of the closed buildings. Frankly, I'm afraid to go on any street past Walton Way after dark. Until the type of element that this area attracts is changed downtown is going to continue to go down.

countyman
20240
Points
countyman 07/29/14 - 12:16 pm
1
5
Riverman.... What county is

Riverman.... What county is not growing? Cyber Command, outlet mall, rockwood plant, whole foods, eco energy facility, etc??? Two defense contractors in under 30 days(Enterprise mill near the CBD & Augusta Exchange??

The median price of a home is higher in July 2014 compared to July 2013 in RC.. The same few people from AC and CC love to portray the sky is always falling in RC.. The developer behind the $150 million outlet mall choose RC and the government didn't create the outlet mall survey..

Lets enact the excise tax on manufactures and the vacant building tax. And instead of just giving out raises to all employees.. Give incentives to the people who live in RC.

Riverman1
84926
Points
Riverman1 07/29/14 - 12:20 pm
4
0
Countyman, excuse me. I guess

Countyman, excuse me. I guess I missed the booming population growth in the county.

Butterman
3680
Points
Butterman 07/29/14 - 12:33 pm
2
1
Kicking the can
Unpublished

Sure, there are spending cuts that can be found.. BUT a county the size of Augusta-Richmond County is always going to have large expenses..and when you have a county that is NOT growing and producing new tax revenue.. from where do you get it? Sales taxes cannot be used for day to day expenses.. only capital improvements. And don't forget that the energy tax exemption on industry is costing Augusta $4 million annually in lost revenue. So guess who gets to make up the difference? You do. Also don't forget that voters overwhelmingly elected a new mayor who made raising taxes a part of his platform. It may not happen this year.. but eventually property taxes will be raised. Commissioners had the option to reinstate the excise tax on industry and refused to do so.. so you will end up paying. Maybe not this year but you will eventually

countyman
20240
Points
countyman 07/29/14 - 12:38 pm
0
3
The main problem with Augusta

The main problem with Augusta is the amount of apathy towards anything..

Linux... The defense contractor Sabre Systems is moving into the urban core and is following behind other new companies (Rural Sourcing & South Point Media) locating in the Enterprise Mill.. Sprint Foods opens next month next to Augusta common. The $11 million Canal Side(4 story residential) and GRU Gateway project(grocery store, Chick fil a, restaurants, etc) begin soon. The $172 million Starbucks, $115 million Rockwood, $20 million Augusta Renewable Energy, $10 million Eco Energy, etc are moving forward in South Augusta right now....

Dichotomy... The hotel tax(over 1.5 million tourist) is paying for the Laney Walker improvements and not local tax payers.. The 14,500 SQ. FT. center(Integrity Medical, Diablo's, etc) is under construction 1022 Walton Way between the CBD and Laney Walker.. I also think you need to visit the area sometime if you don't believe the redevelopment has done nothing for the tax base or to draw people downtown.. And please drive through multiple areas in CC if you believe every part of the county is successful.. I think you meant to say most of Evans/Martinez and the parts of Grovetown near Evans are successful in 2014.. The Windsor Square redevelopment is underway and includes many new businesses(Chick Fil A, Krispy Kreme, etc)... Peach Orchard will soon become the Washington road version of South Augusta.. The next Target and Kohl's should becoming to South Augusta in the future..

Prayn4u... Mcdonalds and Burger need to stay far away from the CBD... The movies at the common is perfect for young children to enjoy downtown.. And why do you believe downtown is going down? The Sprint Food Metro Market opens in August and the first new hotel in decades just opened this year(Holiday Inn Express).. Sabre Systems is moving into the Enterprise Mill, Augusta Lung Associates opened at 1301 Broad street earlier in the year, and several new restaurants have opened recently(Farmhaus Burgers, Craft & Vine, Whiskey Bar, etc).. The $11 million Canal Side is the first new residential construction in decades..

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