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Augusta Commission votes 7-0 to raise property taxes

Wednesday, July 30, 2014 4:51 PM
Last updated Monday, Aug 4, 2014 11:48 AM
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Augusta commissioners broke a seven-year trend Wednesday and agreed 7-0 to raise property taxes by 1.75 mills to cover a deficit and provide employees a small bonus.


Susan McCord
Government Reporter
Twitter: @reportr1
E-mail | 706-823-3215

The compromise plan, brokered between commissioners and the mayor after a first vote on a 2-mill increase failed and the meeting was recessed, includes a $500, one-time bonus for all staff plus the opportunity for them to sell five vacation days back to the city.

Facing Georgia Department of Revenue deadlines for setting the millage rate, which must be done before tax bills are mailed to collect both Augusta and Richmond County Board of Education operating revenues, commissioners gathered in the chamber after the recess and worked out a deal.

The 1.75-mill increase, which amounts to a $61.25 annual increase in the county portion of the tax bill on a $100,000 house subject to a typical homestead exemption, will generate $7.9 million. The bulk of the funds will go toward covering a $5.9 million operating deficit for the current fiscal year, while $625,000 will pay full-time employees a one-time $500 bonus. Another $625,000 will be available for employees who want to sell up to five vacation days back to the city before the year ends.

Commissioner Bill Lockett, whose earlier motion for a 2-mill tax hike was opposed by commissioners Mary Davis, Joe Jackson, Grady Smith and Donnie Smith, said he agreed to the 1.75-mill tax hike because the compromise plan increased the number of vacation buy-back days from three to five and he’d learned from Interim Administrator Tameka Allen that employees were receptive to the $500 lump sum bonus.

“We were at the midnight hour; we had to get something done,” Lockett said. “I must say I admire and commend Donnie Smith, he took a very, very, very tough vote.”

Lockett said Smith’s phone was going off during the meeting with threats from constituents warning against raising taxes but Smith voted yes. “After he went ahead and voted anyway I said I have the utmost respect for you,” Lockett said.

After the vote, a tearful Donnie Smith credited Davis with bringing the group together in a compromise.

“I think that cooler heads prevailed and Commissioner Davis showed a lot of versatility and a lot of leadership,” he said. “She was able to rally some people together for a common cause and in the end, I hope that what we did was good for the community.”

The compromise leaves intact mandatory 2.4 percent annual budget cuts from which the commission exempted the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. An earlier proposal replaced the 2.4 percent cuts with 1.5 percent cuts. The plan also partially restores the city’s $4.7 million contingency fund, which will be largely depleted by unreimbursed cleanup expenses from Winter Storm Pax.

“I credit all seven of us,” Davis said after the meeting. “There was not going to be a consensus the way it was going today and we were about to put this city in such jeopardy as far as getting these property taxes at an appropriate time,” she said.

“This vote today that I made was the only right thing I could do for the community,” she said. “As far as moving forward, now there’s going to be some more hard decisions getting out, because we can’t get back into this position ever again.”

Commissioners haven’t raised the millage rate since 2007, when they increased the rate by .25 mills. The increase raises the countywide portion of tax bills to 9.788 mills. The rate inside the old city limits will be slightly different to offset a new countywide garbage fee imposed to replace a millage-based charge previously used in the old city limits to fund garbage service there.

Copenhaver thanked the group for “for staying around and for working through this and for compromising” after the meeting.

Commissioners Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle were present for most of the initial discussion, but Guilfoyle left the meeting for an appointment. Jackson was present for the 4-4 vote but not the 7-0 vote. Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, Lockett and commissioners Marion Williams and Bill Fennoy voted for the 2-mill hike.

Finance Director Donna Williams fielded numerous questions through the session, including what would happen if commissioners did not restore funds to the city’s fund balance, which is depleted each time expenditures exceed revenues. Cities are expected to maintain a certain number of days’ operating expenses in the fund or risk credit agencies lowering the city’s bond rating.

“The bond rating agencies look at that very closely,” she said.

The remainder of the $7.9 million generated by the tax increase will go toward repaying the year’s deficit and restoring contingency funds depleted by the winter storm, leaving a $358,000 balance.

Since they voted to increase taxes, the city must advertise the increase and hold three public hearings, likely scheduled over the next few weeks.

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Little Lamb
53020
Points
Little Lamb 07/30/14 - 05:22 pm
11
0
Vote

First they had a 4-4 vote, then they had a 7-0 vote. Somebody must have walked out in disgust.

pragmaticmo
544
Points
pragmaticmo 07/30/14 - 06:26 pm
11
0
What about the illegal urban

What about the illegal urban portion that I have to pay? Does it go up?

SRD
493
Points
SRD 07/30/14 - 06:34 pm
18
0
Spend and Tax

To the commissioners who voted for this you should be ashamed. You are spending and taxing the few citizens left in Augusta/Richmond county and you disgust me! Are you so arrogant or so oblivious to the fact that you are destroying the Garden city with this spend and tax irresponsible behavior? I personally don't have those answers but I do see what has happened to cities like Atlanta and Detroit and many others where this type of reckless behavior on the part of the elected officials ruined cities. If you continue on this path the only citizens left within the city limits will be those that are destitute and living off the government dole and the very wealthy. The middle class will continue to leave in droves to the out lying areas and your tax base will dwindle even further. I just pray the "Good" citizens of Augusta/Richmond County will vote all of you out of office and until the next election picket your offices. You forget that you work for the citizens and not the other way around. And if greed and corruption are what is propelling you to drive this fine city into financial ruin I personally find satisfaction knowing that you will one day have to face your maker and account for your sins against the people!

jmo
25008
Points
jmo 07/30/14 - 06:33 pm
12
1
What a...

group! How can you be absent on something this important? I would really like to say something stronger.

rebellious
22731
Points
rebellious 07/30/14 - 07:40 pm
10
0
I hate taxes!!!!!

I love efficiency. The problem is we are asking the foxes to watch the hen house when we ask bureaucratic managers to find ways to reduce costs. I am a big advocate for hiring a consulting firm like Deloutte and Touche to come in and find the inefficiencies of our bloated government. They customarily do this on a contingency (Percentage of the savings) and look at job duties vs actual job performance. Then make recommendations on restructuring, map out job duties - all with a rationale and reasoning behind the recommendations. None of the managers we have is bold enough to do this.

flipa1
3133
Points
flipa1 07/30/14 - 08:12 pm
10
0
If we don't get a grip on all

If we don't get a grip on all the embezzling and thieving from the county they will continue to fudge your appraisals even though property values dropped like a rock and everybody is stuck. Now they’re just going to give the embezzlers and thieves more money and better things to steal. Everybody's rent and overhead will have to go up to pay this thus aggravating an already dangerous situation.

pragmaticmo
544
Points
pragmaticmo 07/30/14 - 08:15 pm
7
0
The right thing to do would

The right thing to do would be to privatize the whole shabang to a professional management company like gwinette county did. They saved money and had better services. Do you think they would waste 400k on a study for 2 roundabouts if we were broke? I never expect my home price to recover and this puts additional downward pressure on it's value. It is time to get while the gettin's good.

No-Longer-Amazed
678
Points
No-Longer-Amazed 07/30/14 - 08:49 pm
7
0
And the beat goes on .......

Why did "tearful" Donnie Smith vote YES when the people he represents wanted him to vote NO? Why isn't the millage rate 10.38 throughout Augusta/Richmond County (garbage is a fee, separate from taxes)? Seems like the only ones with any common sense were Mason, who apparently was a no-show and Guilfoyle, who left before any voting took place!

RMSHEFF
23335
Points
RMSHEFF 07/30/14 - 08:46 pm
9
2
This will only cause even

This will only cause even more folks to exit Richmond County.....at least those that are able to leave. Many are trapped in Augusta with declining property values. They have tried to tax their way to prosperity in Fulton county Georgia and many other areas of the United States and it does not end well..ie Illinois, California and many other area run by Democrats.

corgimom
46343
Points
corgimom 07/30/14 - 09:43 pm
4
3
If any of you that are

If any of you that are complaining about the rise in property tax voted for the TEE Center, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

What did people think, with that white elephant that just drains revenue from the county, was going to happen?

Somebody needs to light a fire under the CVB and tell them to do their job- either start booking conventions or find another job and get somebody in there that can.

corgimom
46343
Points
corgimom 07/30/14 - 09:44 pm
1
5
RMSHEFF, I wish nothing but

RMSHEFF, I wish nothing but blessings on anybody that can find a county that isn't raising property taxes. Good luck to them.

If people want to leave Augusta because property taxes are going up, they are going to be hard pressed to find one that isn't.

corgimom
46343
Points
corgimom 07/30/14 - 09:45 pm
3
3
Oh, and guess what- they are

Oh, and guess what- they are going to go up some more, the school district is dead broke.

Dixieman
20766
Points
Dixieman 07/30/14 - 09:51 pm
8
0
Noooooooooooooooo....

Just yesterday when they voted this down I thought they had finally come into some common sense.
Today the alarm clock went off and woke me up....

Riverman1
109802
Points
Riverman1 07/30/14 - 10:08 pm
8
0
Fade To Concession

Interesting that raising taxes appears to be supported or not along racial lines. That has all kinds of implications. I think I know what the motivations are for both sides, but I’m not sure. Somehow the Commission joined together to kick the can down the road at the expense of those who pay taxes and to the benefit of those who don’t pay. So why would those who represent those who pay vote in favor of increased taxes? Richmond County is about to embark on a journey with endless perfunctory debates that fade to concession.

Riverman1
109802
Points
Riverman1 07/30/14 - 10:50 pm
9
0
BOE In Contrast

In contrast, the Richmond County BOE proposes a slight decrease in millage for the coming year.

rebellious
22731
Points
rebellious 07/31/14 - 12:15 am
8
0
I tole ya'll

rebellious 06/29/14 - 12:04 am 130 I dun tole ya
Payback for not passing the SPLOST will be a tax increase.

WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE is the County Commission's mantra.

They make me sick to my stomach. A 3 ring circus is what we have sent downtown. At least Wayne Guilfoyle is trying to hold their feet to the fire.

Sweet Mother of Pearl, what has to happen for the electorate of Augusta to wake up and smell the poop gurgling at the Marble Palace?

Guess that sums up my latest focus of discontent.

seenitB4
115070
Points
seenitB4 07/31/14 - 06:42 am
4
1
Other ways to skin a cat

Either raise taxes or cut services...OR outsource & regroup....this is long but worth reading..

http://www.tma1.com/2010/07/20/gwinnett-county-georgia-the-benefits-of-p...

Augusta will be slow to try new ways of governing....too many cronies-friends-relatives in pie jobs.

harley_52
30740
Points
harley_52 07/31/14 - 07:16 am
3
1
" I dun tole ya Payback for not passing the SPLOST....

.... will be a tax increase."

But, but, but....Just two days ago several esteemed regulars in here assured me there is no relationship between the SPLOST failure and the property tax increase. In fact, one of them assured me proof of that fact will be forthcoming in a few days.

I remain dubious such proof exists, but I'm still waiting.......

Little Lamb
53020
Points
Little Lamb 07/31/14 - 07:53 am
5
0
SPLOST

Like a vampire, the SPLOST referendum will be back on the ballot in 2015. If it is defeated, sales taxes will go down to 7%. If it passes, sales taxes will remain 8%. The property taxes will not change whether SPLOST passes or fails.

ColCo
1115
Points
ColCo 07/31/14 - 07:55 am
6
1
corgimom

Columbia County has reduced taxes at least three times in the last five years. It's interesting how our county government services 135,000+ residents with about 800 employees yet with 200,000 residents, it takes Richmond County around 2500 employees to deliver service. Columbia County government recognizes their role is to provide services, Richmond County sees their role as one that provides jobs. Until that mindset changes, you won't ever see a change.

ralphinga
2412
Points
ralphinga 07/31/14 - 07:57 am
5
0
Consensus Achieved

Nobody had to wait for the newly elected commissioners to take office to vote on a tax increase. Sounds like the Commission has concurred on what Mr. Russell had told them last year. They are slow, but they do poor work.

harley_52
30740
Points
harley_52 07/31/14 - 08:07 am
2
1
"The property taxes will not change...

....whether SPLOST passes or fails."

You may be right, but that's contrary to my understanding of the very reason the SPLOST was created and is intended.

Unless I'm totally mistaken, the SPLOST was created to provide a mechanism for local governments to provide relief to citizens paying local property taxes by offloading some of the costs for local capital projects onto people who didn't reside within the locality, but spent money there.

Isn't that the fundamental purpose? To partially (or even wholly) fund capital projects via the SPLOST rather than property taxes?

If it isn't correct, then you are right in your claims that SPLOST and property taxes are unrelated.

nocnoc
59788
Points
nocnoc 07/31/14 - 08:15 am
5
0
I can see ARC in 10 years

HEADLINE

New-Augusta's Last Homeowner Leaves.
Citing taxes are more than his $15 p/hr minimum wage job can pay.

harley_52
30740
Points
harley_52 07/31/14 - 08:18 am
2
1
"New-Augusta's Last Homeowner Leaves."

So, you're thinking these kinds of problems are unique to ARC?

nocnoc
59788
Points
nocnoc 07/31/14 - 08:19 am
3
2
Dirty little fact

Currently ARC provides Columbia. Co residents most of its JOBS.

ARC is busy paying ($M's) to build and widen roads to allow them to get to work easier.

Maybe Non-residents need to be hit with a Interloper Tax?
☺☺☺☺☺

MrClen1944
573
Points
MrClen1944 07/31/14 - 08:25 am
4
0
What did the Commissioners

What did the Commissioners that go on these "training" conferences learn? Do they attend sessions run by Detroit officials? Marion, Big Al, what have ya'll learned? Oh, I forgot; you learned how to put it to the taxpayer. No need to go to New Orleans or Hawaii to do that.

harley_52
30740
Points
harley_52 07/31/14 - 08:26 am
3
2
Dirty Little Fact...

....I don't think an Interloper Tax is in our future, but some of us ARC residents do find it a little off-putting that some of the Columbia County interlopers take every opportunity they can find to bite the hand that feeds them.

Count me in that bunch.

justthefacts
30989
Points
justthefacts 07/31/14 - 08:30 am
3
2
noc noc

Excellent point, which is rarely noted. Without ARC there is no CC. Those from outside who lobs the bombs at ARC should remember that little nugget.

justthefacts
30989
Points
justthefacts 07/31/14 - 08:31 am
0
2
harley

sorry, you are quicker than me.

corgimom
46343
Points
corgimom 07/31/14 - 08:32 am
2
1
ColCo, CC doesn't have a 23%

ColCo, CC doesn't have a 23% poverty rate, or a huge empty TEE Center to support. It didn't pour money down a rat hole by doing stupid stuff like a Golf Hall of Fame or give millions of dollars of tax revenue away to get developers- who would've come here eventually anyway- to build stores.

RC is a study on "how not to run a county"

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