Heat from homeowners probably will thaw Perdue's tax relief freeze

Without a "kiss my foot" or anything to anybody but the media, Gov. Sonny Perdue froze the grant money that is supposed to be credited to your property tax bill. Then he went to China.

He put a hold on the grants to help deal with the state's impending $1.6 billion revenue shortfall just as most cities and counties were about to send out their 2008 bills, throwing local officials all over Georgia into a state of panic -- once they found out about it. (I think they were madder about not being told than anything.)

Without that money, Augusta would lose $3.1 million and the Richmond County school board $3.7 million that is already built into their budgets, so, of course, they will be looking to you to make up their shortfalls. You know, an unfunded mandate like the feds give to the states and the states give to local governments.

Every one of their unfunded mandates really ends up being yours, which is a neat trick when you think about it. Everybody gets to blame everybody else, and around and around the spending wheel goes.

But don't worry about the tax relief money. If the governor doesn't defrost it, the Legislature will because of heat from the folks back home. That's why you'll get your tax bill on time and with the state credit listed on it as usual in a few days or weeks, because if it isn't, when the Legislature restores the money, any city or county that sent bills without it won't get any.

ARE THEY ANY SMARTER TODAY THAN THEY WERE FOUR YEARS AGO? And will spending more money make them so four years from now? Since the past is often a prologue, let's look at some historical data about the Richmond County school system from the Georgia Department of Education's Web site.

From 2004 through 2007:

- School administration costs rose 16 percent, from $14.8 million to $17.6 million.

- Maintenance and operation costs rose 14 percent, from $23.8 million to $27.6 million.

- Instruction costs rose 16 percent, from $159.6 million to $188.1 million.

- Yearly per pupil expenditures rose 18 percent, from $6,972.50 to $8,463.80.

Meanwhile:

- Money from the state increased 22 percent, from $135.3 million to $171.5 million.

- Money from the federal government increased 28 percent, from $25.9 million to $35.7 million.

- Local money increased 5 percent, from $74.2 million to $77.3 million.

- Total federal, state and local money to the school system increased 18 percent, from $235.3 million to $284.5 million, an increase of $49.2 million in four years.

And all the while the system has lost 1,097 pupils, a 4 percent decrease, from 33,627 in 2004 to 32,530 in 2007.

TEE'S OFF: If you're wondering why you haven't heard anything about the proposed new Trade and Exhibit Center, otherwise known as the TEE Center, it's because there's no longer an architect. He opted not to become a part of the contracting team, saying it can't be built for $20 million. Estimates are it will take $40 million to build it.

BITING THE HANDS THAT FEED IT: In June, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents granted Medical College of Georgia President Dan Rahn's request to end MCG's 54-year affiliation with the MCG Foundation because of a "lack of alignment."

Foundation members dispute that claim. They say they've been directly or indirectly responsible for donations totaling $9.25 million, including $1.5 million that helped establish two distinguished chairmanships at MCG, now occupied by Dr. Kapil N. Bhalla and Dr. David Scott Lind .

In addition, over the years at the President's Dinner at MCG, 10 of the 16 people given the Vessel of Life Award by former President Fran Tedesco and later Dr. Rahn have been members of the foundation board, and all who are still living have remained on the board, despite being fired.

One of the recipients of the award, which "honors professional achievement and contributions to society that enhance MCG's mission of education, research and service" also received the 2006 Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Augusta Chapter of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals.

Another foundation board member who won the Vessel of Life Award was one of three University System of Georgia graduates to be honored by the Board of Regents at its Excellence in Education Celebration in 2007.

And another foundation board member was responsible for encouraging a nonmedical resident of the Augusta area to establish an endowment to assist the medical college's academic work.

Since Board of Regents Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. has said private donations will be essential to support higher education in the future, doesn't it seem strange that the Board of Regents would fire some of its biggest volunteer supporters without even talking to them about it?

POLITICAL SOLDIERS NEVER DIE: Former Augusta commissioner and mayoral candidate Tommy Boyles was gracious, as usual, after his defeat by Steven Kendrick in last week's Democratic runoff for Richmond County tax commissioner.

"I'm resigned to the fact I'm finished," he said. "I'm fading away."

IN HIS BLOOD: Former Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek, who moved to North Augusta after eight years on the commission, is back in office and loving it. He's president of the PTO at Mossy Creek Elementary School.

"It's a whole different environment from having to argue on the commission," he said.

SUPER SALESMAN: The Committee for Good Government's annual barbecue at the Julian Smith barbecue pit was a smashing success last week, and as usual the committee's founder, Oscar Baker , sold the most tickets: 771.

WHAT, NO SWIMMING POOL? Augusta commissioners will talk about awarding the contract for the new downtown public library Monday, which gives me the perfect segue into one of the stories in the Augusta Herald's 50th anniversary edition of Sept. 22, 1940.

It begins:

History of The West End Free Library, The First Free Library in Augusta and The Only Absolutely Free Library In The Town Today, Except School Libraries.

"In the year 1899 there were no free libraries in Augusta and the Rev. John Chipman , of Christ Church Episcopal Mission, realizing the need started to establish one. Mr. Chipman interested people of various denominations in his idea and a group of women got busy raising money for this purpose. They went about it in the way women do. There were May Pole dances on the grounds of the county courthouse, (where it seemed to the women that the judges took particular pains to arrange for murder trials on the first of May.) There were ice cream festivals in the rear of what is now the home of Mrs. W.W. Battey and various other money making schemes until, in 1901, the present building at the corner of Battle Row and Eve Street was completed and formally opened.

"Miss Sarah Middleton was librarian and secretary as well as chaperone for the boys and girls who immediately flocked to the library, where they might conduct their personal affairs free from the prying eyes of small brothers and sisters. A board of twenty directors was formed with the late Mrs. J. Rice Smith as president. All of the officers on the original board have passed away. They were Mrs. Edward Platt , Mrs. S.B. Owens , Mrs. Smith Irvin and Miss Mary Cuthbert . Mr. Chipman acted as treasurer. The library boasted of 1,500 books on the opening day. Today the problem is to find space for the books on hand.

"The interest of the neighborhood soon grew beyond books and magazines. A sewing club was organized, meeting every Saturday morning, while a free school was conducted at night.

"Later, a swimming pool was added. It is one of the most popular summer features of the library today."

(To be continued next week. Or not. Probably not.)

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

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