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Compromise on tax increase expected at called meeting

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 11:34 PM
Last updated Wednesday, July 30, 2014 2:13 AM
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Augusta commissioners appear headed to a possible compromise on a property tax increase after defeating a $9 million increase at a called meeting Monday.

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Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, one of seven to vote against the 2-mill increase Monday, said he hopes to join at least five other commissioners at a called meeting Wednesday, in support of a lesser increase of 1.5 mills that doesn’t include $1,000 annual raises for all city employees.

“We’ll probably end up coming back with a 1.5-mill increase … and some kind of cost-of-living increase” for staff who earn below a certain amount, Johnson said.

Monday’s 2-mill increase amounted to a $70 annual increase in the countywide part of a tax bill for owners of $100,000 homes. The mill rate is applied to the number of thousands in a property’s taxable value, which is typically 40 percent of its taxable value. A 1.5-mill increase would raise the same bill by $52.50.

The increase was recommended by top city staff as necessary to cover the year’s $5.39 million shortfall, replenish reserves and compensate employees, most of whom are overdue for a raise. It would be the first tax increase of more than a quarter-mill since 2006, when commissioners boosted the millage by 1 mill for law enforcement.

“We’ve kicked this can six or seven years,” Johnson said. “As a result, we haven’t raised property taxes and now the government is in this position. At some point you’ve got to bite the bullet.”

Commissioner Donnie Smith said commissioners are also considering a 1.25-mill increase, with both the 1.5-mill and 1.25-mill options to include targeted percentage budget cuts across certain departments, but “nobody is going to be exempt” from the cuts.

“There’s going to have to be some old-fashioned trading that goes to get this to a manageable number,” he said.

Smith said he wants to use the increase to replenish the city’s fund balance and its contingency fund, which was nearly wiped out by the winter storm. He also said the city’s long-term financial picture can’t rely exclusively on property taxes and a potential stormwater fee, both of which affect the property owner, and must include sales taxes and excise taxes.

“It’s just not fair to balance the budget on the 90,000 property owners,” Smith said.

Commissioners Bill Lockett, Bill Fennoy and Marion Williams were the only votes in favor of the 2-mill increase Monday. If they join Johnson and Smith to approve one of the proposals, the package needs only one more vote to pass.

Williams said he favored an increase, but said it had to include pay increases, particularly for those who have done without for years.

“They need those raises; the economy has been down for a long time,” Williams said. “The people have been having to do more with less for a long time.”

Commissioner Joe Jackson – who like Johnson and Alvin Mason is leaving office this year, along with Mayor Deke Copenhaver – was less amenable to raising taxes and favored cutting the budget before the tax rate reaches its cap, when cutting will be unavoidable.

“You don’t reward bad behavior,” Jackson said. “I think they need to control spending.”

Al Dallas, executive assistant to the mayor, said Copenhaver called the Wednesday meeting because he is aware the mill rate must be set in the next few days to meet state deadlines, and several of the elected officials plan to be out of town.

Dallas said the mayor wouldn’t speak to his opinion about the increase, but believes commissioners appreciate the urgency of the task ahead.

If commissioners raise the mill rate, they must hold three public hearings a week after advertising the increase and need to complete the process by the end of August, when the tax digest must get state approval before tax bills go out.


WHAT: Called Augusta Commission meeting

WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Commission Chamber, second floor, 530 Greene St.

Comments (8) Add comment
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nocnoc 07/30/14 - 07:20 am
I can see the logic of the tax increase

Nationally, property values are down 15% to 25+% since 2008.

ARC failed to adjust its spending to reflect:
the devaluation of property values,
a poor economy,
and a demographic spending change.

All of which generate less tax revenues.

Maybe future budgets need to be based on LAST YEAR REVENUES instead of politically justified and sometime dreamed up Potential Revenues.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 07/30/14 - 07:50 am
Across the board

Across the board salary increases to every city worker are across the board slaps in the faces to every city property owner.

MrClen1944 07/30/14 - 08:44 am
Remember, Marion could care

Remember, Marion could care less how much they raise taxes; he doesn't pay them anyway.

Buckys Friend
Buckys Friend 07/30/14 - 08:50 am
Only a small portion of

Only a small portion of county employees have had a raise in 7-8 years, is my understanding. Why would they not deserve a raise? Maybe just not give one to all those numerous people that got large ones a few years ago.....and the rest got nothing. If you don't know someone who works for the county, they have families to take care of just like everyone else in the workforce.

linux 07/30/14 - 09:53 am
Drive em out

That's it Augusta; don't make the hard choices about cutting employees and services, just raise taxes and drive out more middle class taxpayers. This is a self-defeating act in a city/county that is struggling to grow.

lovingthesouth72 07/30/14 - 10:23 am
faster results

Do both: raise taxes at half the rate they had mentioned, AND then cut spending on unnecessary things. You will reduce the deficit twice as fast. Use the good ideas on both sides to get things done. There is no need for this to be an either/or situation. It can be an agreement to do what is best for the community. It's time our politicians stopped being politicians and started caring for the community and doing what is right. This is the type of leadership we need. Now.

flipa1 07/30/14 - 11:31 am
White collar crime steals 5

White collar crime steals 5 times more than blue collar crime. Get all those Non-Governmental-Agencies getting rich off the taxpayers to pay for using all the county property, county employees, and county services, and every employee can get a raise... 2 birds-1 stone. Reduce crime FIRST or all we will do is give crooks more and better stuff to steal.

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