Sylvia CooperCity Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Rain tax talks drip, drip on

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It was a foregone conclusion that the Augusta Com­mission would vote to spend $484,452.54 for consultants to help set up a rain tax so they can drain even more money from your pocket to fix and maintain the stormwater system.

“For the record” – as commissioners say before launching into some windy speech – I’m not against the rain tax. I’d just like for you to know there’s one blowing your way. Not that you can take cover or anything. But you can avoid being swept off your feet by a deluge of PR designed to make you happy that you’re going to be giving the government more money and forget you’re paying them $157,022.10 to give you the good news.

THEATER IN THE SEMI- CIRCLE: Before last week’s 8-1 vote to approve the consultant’s fee, Commis­sioner Wayne Guilfoyle questioned Engineering Department Director Abie Ladson about the service folks in his south Augusta district would receive given that there are only three or four neighborhoods with storm-drain pipes. The rest have open ditches and “dirt in front of their houses,” he said.

Ladson said there were stormwater needs all over the county, and that the first thing to do was get the consultants on board.

Commissioner Marion Williams said he’d signed on to the plan last year and knew it was time to move on it, and he continued rambling until he asked the $7-million-a-year question.

“If we find out we can make a wider ditch or a concrete ditch, are we still going to still continue to get that fee – to charge residents for stormwater?”

“Yes, we’re going to continue to collect the fee,” Ladson replied.

Did anybody in their wildest imagination think the answer would be no?

“One reason is you’re going to have to maintain them,” Ladson said. “And there’s going to be growth.”

Commissioner Corey Johnson gave a little speech about how it’s a “shared tax” and how “we all have to do our part” because “it’s going to benefit us all.”

“You have people who do not have kids, and they pay school taxes,” he said.

“That’s right,” said Com­missioner Donnie Smith, who asked Ladson how close he was to finishing the drainage inventory. On cue, Lad­son put a map on screen showing what the staff has inventoried so far. Then he gave us some more news.

THERE GOES ANOTHER $500,000 IF YOU’RE LUCKY: “We will be coming back before the commission with some more consultants for the inventory,” Ladson said. “It will be for the actual inventory and modeling for the existing infrastructure.”

“Is that going to be in this $400,000, or is that going to be another time?” Smith asked – a question that bordered on being rhetorical.

“That’s separate,” Lad­son said.

Next came a little oration by Smith about the city’s 100-year-old drainage system and National Hills’ 50-year-old overburdened system.

“We’ve not spent any money in the last 100 years on fixing them, and now, all of the sudden, we’ve got a huge bill piled up on us at one time,” he said.

I’m thinking he needs to do a little more research because the city’s been doing drainage projects with special purpose local option sales tax money for 20 years.

Finally, Mayor Deke Copenhaver brought up the growth at Fort Gordon and said it affected the city, too.

”We have to look at managing our stormwater,” he said.

“That’s the law,” Ladson said. “You’re mandated to manage your stormwater.”

And everybody knows a mandate is the mother’s milk of tax increases.

A CAUTIONARY TALE: All the talk about a rain tax put me in mind of the person known around here as Storm Water Frank Spears, the former Columbia County commissioner who spearheaded the tax in Martinez and Evans and got booted out of office for his efforts.

“I got my butt kicked. I was the fall guy,” he said, recalling the public meeting where they had to call in armed guards.

Some Columbia County residents sued the commission, and the case went to the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Columbia County. “As soon as the Supreme Court ruled, a number of counties in Georgia started implementing the tax,” he said.

That’s a new tax for you. Everybody has to get in on the act.

ANOTHER CAUTIONARY TALE: Frank said he’d just returned from two weeks in Fiji where he had a harrowing experience. He was feeding sharks with silver tuna when a shark came for him. He was so caught off guard, he didn’t know what to think. Then a second shark came at him even closer.

“Then the dive master came over pointing to his head. He was saying the sharks were after my silver hair. They thought it was a silver tuna. I wet my wet suit.”

BALANCING ACT: I can’t imagine how commissioners and City Administrator Fred Russell are going to bridge the $8.5 million gap in next year’s general fund budget.

Oh, yes I can. Commis­sioners will meet, and Rus­sell will repeat what he told them when he handed out his budget proposal.

A supposedly fiscally conservative commissioner will say, “We’ve got to cut somewhere, but I don’t want to cut the sheriff’s or fire chief’s budget. And I don’t think we should cut anything from public works or engineering. Those are essential services. And I definitely don’t want to raise property taxes.”

“I think we should think about cutting in recreation,” another supposedly fiscally conservative commissioner will say. “That’s not an essential government service. And we should hurry up and lease the Patch. It loses money every year. It’s going to cost us $300,000 to run it ourselves next year. And it’s not the government’s job to provide golf for a few people and make everybody pay for it.”

“Wait,” a fiscally liberal commissioner will object. “The golf course isn’t the only department losing money. What about the aquatics center or the tennis center? It’s not the government’s job to provide swimming and tennis for a few and make everybody pay for it either. Besides, if we cut recreation, the kids will be roaming the streets. It’s cheaper to keep them on the ball field than in a detention center.”

“If we could just do something about transit,” another supposed fiscal conservative will say with a sigh. “It’s cost us millions.”

“Transit’s not supposed to make money,” a fiscally liberal commissioner will object.

Then they’ll get down to line-item entries that don’t amount to a hill of beans and suggest cuts, to which the other side will object.

At some point, a fiscally liberal commissioner will sigh and say – not in these exact words – “Lordy, I wish we could get our hands on the money in that water department.”

This will go on right up to the Nov. 19 deadline for balancing the budget. At that eleventh-hour meeting, Russell will say he’s found a couple of million in something like lapsed salaries and propose a teensy-weensy property-tax increase.

“Less than the cost of a loaf of bread,” he’ll say, and the budget will pass with only commissioners running for re-election voting no.

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janderson1945 10/19/13 - 08:02 pm

Cut transit, cut the libraries (close all but 2), cut off all of the lights in the govt. buildings when not in use, cut out the raises for most departments that can't justify them compared to other cities and for anyone making over $60,000.00 a year. Make the golf course, aquatics center, etc. self sufficient or sell them. Cut out ridiculous studies and consultants. Spend the money on public safety and infrastructure.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/19/13 - 09:21 pm

Fred (What, me worry?) Russell is conducting guerrilla warfare against the commissioners in retaliation for their audacity to say that his job performance should be evaluated by them annually. How can those ten commissioners plus one mayor (i.e., the great unwashed) dare to think that they can properly evaluate the machinations of the man behind the curtain?

He is playing them like a drum with his ridiculous budget. He has deflected the budget cut questions away from himself and onto the department heads he, himself, is responsible for.

We need six votes to remove his severance deal from the operations and procedures manual; then we need six votes again to fire him for dereliction of duty and insubordination.

That's all it would take.

dickworth1 10/19/13 - 09:27 pm
traffic engineering waste!

Traffic engineers put up yield signs at intersections and now some drivers think that they have the right of way over cars turning right. If
you are making a left turn when the traffic light is green for thru traffic,
you are in violation of the law by cutting across in front of people turning right. If you are in an accident in this scenario, you will be at fault! You should check with the sheriff's office if you do not understand the law. If I have a green light, do not turn across in front of me because I am turning right, remember I have a green light. The
yield sign is there when the light is red.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 10/19/13 - 09:38 pm
Thumbs Up . . .

I agree with you, Dickworth, but several others (including my spouse) say otherwise. It has been several decades since I have read the Georgia driver's manual; but one day I am going to get a copy and check out the manual guidance for myself. Until then, I'm trying to drive defensive.

Graymare 10/19/13 - 09:59 pm
I guess property owners are

I guess property owners are the only ones who get rained on? Let's tax every citizen for a "rain tax"! And, yes, I pay school taxes even though I have never had any children in the school system in the state of Georgia! Ridiculous! We older folks on fixed incomes struggle to pay property taxes which have tripled since I purchased my home. I shouldn't have to pay school tax and property owners shouldn't be the only ones shouldering the burden for all the mismanagement
in this stinkin' county!

wcr250 10/19/13 - 10:52 pm
Cut the Commissioners

What a group of idiots
All together they couldn't write a fifty page book.

triscuit 10/19/13 - 11:19 pm
Glad Donnie is my

Glad Donnie is my commissioner and concerned about National Hills... Which was pretty much crapped on years ago with drainage problems (which continue today) because of total incompetence by the then-sitting commission and engineering depts. Instead of dissing Donnie Smith, go after your area's representative first.

willie7 10/19/13 - 11:38 pm
Graymare, you must not be age

Graymare, you must not be age 65---senior citizens 65 and older ,don't pay school property tax. School property tax are 18+ mills and city property tax are 9+ mills---total 27+mills. 27 Mills --- 27 dollars per thousand on property assessed at 40%, minus homestead exemption and 1cent sales tax credit

rebellious 10/20/13 - 12:06 am

What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.
Mark Twain - Notebook, 1902

What's the difference between a Tax Collector and a Commisioner? The Commissioner only passes the law for the tax.
Rebellious - AC 2013

Riverman1 10/20/13 - 08:51 am
I wish Dichotomy would quit

I wish Dichotomy would quit sugar coating things and say how he feels :).

itsanotherday1 10/20/13 - 09:21 am
The fair thing is to only tax

The fair thing is to only tax the people on the storm drain system. Do that and impose fees associated with any new construction that adds to the storm water burden. A 400 unit housing development could easily kick in $500,000 up front, plus the monthly fee for eternity.

Riverman1 10/21/13 - 05:15 pm
JImmy Vowell, in Trouble Again

It looks like the former Columbia County Code Enforcement Officer, Jimmy Vowell, who walked into the girl's house, is in trouble again. He was arrested.

TrulyWorried 10/20/13 - 04:40 pm
Thank you - dichotomy

for sparing me to have to type all those thoughts that you have expressed all over again (for me). You hit the nail on the head.
We also have no drainage system (we all know how to swim!) and now we are expected to finance trouble in other areas of the county? And how about that $300 garbage fee that will be added to our yearly tax payments? When it rains we don't eat that day - have to save the money for the 'rain tax' - this city can't get any more disgusting when it comes to spending the taxpayers' money. Use what you have wisely and don't squander it on consultants, trips and goodness knows what else. As commissioner one should have enough intelligence and brain to figure out these various problems, not pay an outrageous sum each time to out of town consultants. They LOVE to come to DISgausta where all those stupid people don't know how to solve their own problems. You make me sick - I am too old to move or I would get the heck out of this miserable county.
One idea would wake them up,(if all would go along) - DEDUCT any inappropriate fees from your tax payments - they'd have to build a larger jail for all of us 'red headed step children'!!

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