Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Commissioners want to raise property taxes to make up deficit

Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 9:55 PM
Last updated Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 1:47 AM
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Augusta Commissioner Grady Smith called Saturday to say he was having second thoughts about his earlier statement in favor of exempting manufacturers from paying a 2 percent tax on energy used in manufacturing. Last year, the state gave the manufacturers a 6 percent exemption – 4 percent from the state and 2 percent from local governments. The legislation authorizes local officials to reinstate their 2 percent if they so choose.

Smith said he’d since received information about “kickbacks” and refunds manufacturers already receive.

“We don’t want to look business-unfriendly, but this shouldn’t be put on property owners either,” he said.

Smith had this great revelation after meeting with City Administrator Fred Russell and finance director Donna Williams on Friday to work on trying to balance the 2014 general-fund budget

The issue of the 2 percent tax dominated the first part of last week’s public meeting on the budget that had an $8.5 million deficit when they started and rose to $9.4 million at one point which was comical because they were trying to narrow the gap, not widen it.

Anyway, Russell wanted to get the matter of the excise tax settled early on because the city will lose $2 million if they don’t impose it, a loss that would likely be made up by increasing the tax rate by a half-mill. And that would increase taxes on a $100,000 house by $17.50 a year. In 2015, if continued, the exemption would cost the city $3 million and in 2016, the loss would grow to $4 million which could mean a 1-mill increase that would raise taxes on a $100,000 house by $52.50 a year.

Russell asked commissioners in favor of imposing the tax to raise their hands, and of the six present only Commissioner Donnie Smith did.

“If you’re not going to do the excise tax, the only other option you have to talk about raising the millage rate,” Russell said.

He then called for a show of hands from those willing to consider a property tax increase, and Commissioners Corey Johnson, Bill Fennoy and Marion Williams raised their hands.

“I don’t see any way to cut any more,” Johnson said. “We’re adopting the mindset we’re still that small town before consolidation. … So let’s just go ahead on, make this happen and be done with it. Let’s not increase it by 0.1. Just go ahead on and look at a 1 mill increase and generate $4 million…”

When Johnson finished, Donnie Smith leaned forward and asked, “How many property owners do we have? Ninety thousand that own property in Richmond County. So we’re willing to tax 90,000 to the tune of $4 million, but we’re not willing to collect money to run the city from the 11 (manufacturers)? I’m confused by that.”

“I guess there’s some really good lobbyists for the 11, and not such good lobbyists on behalf of the 90,000 although I consider myself a lobbyist for the 25,000 in District 7.”

Russell said the excise tax is a “wonderful example of a small group benefitting greatly to the detriment of lots of other people. … And if you look at some of these companies, no matter how tight they are their employees and their stockholders are making money the past couple of years. Your citizens of Richmond County have had to put up with holes in the road, holes in the street and grass six feet tall.”

THE GRUCIFICATION OF AUGUSTA CONTINUES: GRU President Dr. Ricardo Azziz managed to get everybody in town all riled up again when he told the Georgia Board of Regents last week that Augusta’s population has declined 10 percent. What he should have said, and would have said, had it not been for a lapsed synapse or a bad briefing by some poor sap, is that the still-fertile folks in Augusta haven’t been making babies like they used to. Either that, or they’re all moving to Columbia County, and as a consequence the under-17-year-old population has declined 10 percent.

All of this – well, not all of it – was explained by one of his spin doctors who said Azziz speaks with so few notes he left that part out.

“He gets a lot of information and he pores over it,” David Brond, GRU’s senior vice president of communications and marketing, told a Chronicle reporter. “He has a lot of this data in his head and he knew about the population trends. So he knew about that.”

The number of young folks is important because they’re “the future lifeline for a university,” Brond said.

But I still wonder why Azziz mentioned Augusta’s population decrease without mentioning the population growth in surrounding counties.

A GRUESOME PRESENTATION: Another not-completely-unrelated PR nightmare occurred last week when a TV station aired a story on the document Augusta Collaboration Project consultant Matt Kwatinetz used in his presentation to GRU officials in April about renovating the historic Sibley and King mills – now referred to as simply The Mills – and making them part of GRU’s campus.

Unfortunately for Kwatinetz, who was not immersed in the local scene because he commutes from California, “The Augusta Regional Collaboration Projects GRU presentation” refers to the “Save the A” campaign that citizens and Augusta State University alumni waged in an effort to keep Augusta in the name of the new university as an “embarrassment.” It also refers to Augusta commissioners holding closed-door meetings in which they renewed their commitment to support GRU.

Not unexpectedly, folks were outraged over the reference to the campaign being an embarrassment, especially chairman Nick Evans who in a TV interview said it was an insult to 90 percent of the people in Augusta.

What was most interesting to me was the reference to commissioners holding closed-door meetings. They have a way of doing it that skirts the law without breaking it, which was the case here.

Several commissioners said they didn’t meet as a group. What happened is that Mayor Deke and Kwatinetz had been working on the proposed project but had not informed them. The media had the story and was going to go with it the next day. Not wanting commissioners to be blindsided with questions, they called them to the Marble Palace in twos or threes for briefings.

When asked about the “embarrassment” reference, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said via e-mail he believed the Save the A campaign showed the “pride and passion” the community has for its university and the city’s name.

“And there’s nothing embarrassing about that. I have seen that same passion with the overwhelming support to see our university focus on master planning for expansion in our urban core. In my opinion, our focus should be on continuing to galvanize support around the future growth and expansion of Georgia Regents University Augusta, and as a proud alumnus I am fully engaged with helping to make this happen.”

Kwatinetz e-mailed to say the document referred to in the news story was a “very early draft” that he’d been passing around for input.

“Once we were able to sit down with Commissioners and others in the community we revised it to reflect their input and then presented it broadly to the public.”

Comments (21) Add comment
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Gage Creed
18730
Points
Gage Creed 11/16/13 - 10:08 pm
7
1
Save your A

I think Kwatinetz gives the phrase "Save the A" a whole new meaning....

The_Wilhenford
65
Points
The_Wilhenford 11/16/13 - 10:15 pm
12
0
Cluster

Why is our Richmond County government so dysfunctional? I've only been around for eight or nine years, but this seems like one of the worst governing bodies around. I don't know how to fix it, but I feel like major reform is needed.

Riverman1
90109
Points
Riverman1 11/16/13 - 11:07 pm
6
4
"Kickbacks and Refunds Manufacturers Receive"

Yep, to all those things Sylvia mentioned.

As far as this: "Smith said he’d since received information about “kickbacks” and refunds manufacturers already receive."

That sounds like tin foil hat stuff when liberals speak of evil corporations and how they do all kinds of immoral and illegal things. Show me proof of what you are talking about instead of all the black helicopter stuff. If there's something illegal or unfair going on something can be done.

However, I suspect it's just a feeling Fred has without a shred of evidence and he passed that feeling onto Grady. Fred, stick with passing out the water bottles at commission meetings and leave the evil corporation talk to others.

Riverman1
90109
Points
Riverman1 11/16/13 - 11:48 pm
7
3
Fred and Water Bottles

I'm telling y'all Fred passing out the water bottles at Commission meetings is REALLY starting to bother me. LOL. Maybe it's because of that walk of his that seriously calls out for Dr. Scholls help or the way he holds up fingers at the Commissioners asking if they want one. Maybe it's because the public in the audience is not drinking anything. Can't they just put a bottle of water in front of the Mayor and each Commissioner without Fred doing his routine? Please humor me.

seenitB4
93337
Points
seenitB4 11/17/13 - 06:28 am
8
1
They will have to raise taxes

Of course they will.....and more people will leave.....more $$ will disappear for good.....more damage & all because some can't make the right decisions.... you really need to clean house.

nocnoc
46895
Points
nocnoc 11/17/13 - 07:57 am
6
2
T-Minus

TAXES seem to be the solution to all of DOWNTOWNS Problems.
Not freezing NEW DOWNTOWN Projects.

11-17-13 @ 7:51AM

We have approximately just 128 days remaining in ARC.
We had family looking in Helen and Clayton last week for us last week.

We'll be looking in Toccoa ,Lake Hartwell and Hart County in the coming weeks before Christmas .

Riverman1
90109
Points
Riverman1 11/17/13 - 08:22 am
9
2
Azziz, Again Misses

"But I still wonder why Azziz mentioned Augusta’s population decrease without mentioning the population growth in surrounding counties."

That is a perfect example of the way Azziz misses the most important aspects of an issue. It is less than ten miles from Columbia County to ASU and the county is one of the fastest growing in the NATION. The kids there go to college. It is affluent. Why ignore the possibilities that exist with the young potential college students there? Create a great college and they will come. Azziz is inept and clumsy.

1313
91
Points
1313 11/17/13 - 08:23 am
5
1
"Save the A"

Well thanks for clearing that up. When I saw all the "Save the A" signs last fall, I couldn't believe that many people on the Hill were supporting Obama.

dichotomy
36032
Points
dichotomy 11/17/13 - 09:04 am
10
0
Did they think about this

Did they think about this while they were DOUBLING and TRIPLING the amount of OUR money they were spending on the TEE, the PARKING DECK, and the MARBLE PALACE? Did they think about this while they were obligating us to REALLY BAD LONG TERM operation and maintenance contracts with Paul and "associates" for the TEE and PARKING DECK? Did they think about this while they CONTINURE to spend OUR money and make STUPID decisions about the PATCH? Did they consider this when they continue to authorize $half million dollar "studies" and sign $half million dollar "coordinator" contracts?

Our bunch of LOSERS downtown cannot do a damned thing right....but ain't it amazing that they can always seem to get together when it comes to RAISING OUR PROPERTY TAXES. They BLOW our money on every grandiose "progressive" scheme that comes along and THEN RAISE OUR TAXES AND FEES TO DO THE BASICS......AND POORLY AT THAT.

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 11/17/13 - 09:30 am
9
0
No Choice?

“If you’re not going to do the excise tax, the only other option you have to talk about raising the millage rate,” Russell said.
BULL! The obvious choice is to cut spending and get rid of some non essential services. Our "leadership" needs to "man-up" and make some tough decisions.

Fayette
93
Points
Fayette 11/17/13 - 10:57 am
6
0
Property tax increase

The dysfunctional Commission should reduce the out go to balance the budget....NOT increase taxes. They could start by reducing their pay and benefits.

Little Lamb
47848
Points
Little Lamb 11/17/13 - 01:06 pm
9
0
Fred and Water Bottles

By conspicuously consuming bottled water, our commissioners, mayor, and administrator show us customers of Augusta Utilities that our piped drinking water is unsafe. Tom Wiedmeyer should tell his boss, Fred, that during commission meetings they should drink Augusta tap water from pitchers and glasses. That would help inspire confidence that our water is safe.

rharris3237
11
Points
rharris3237 11/17/13 - 01:32 pm
4
0
Re-Tax increase

If my commissioner votes yes I will vote against him come election time.

creolechick
72
Points
creolechick 11/17/13 - 01:36 pm
3
0
NO MORE PROPERTY TAX INCREASES!

How about decreasing the section 8 vouchers! Property owners are giving enough to the county which just squanders our money on stupid studies & decisions. Please someone tell me how we can get rid of Fred Russell & his nonsense!!!!!!

countyman
21240
Points
countyman 11/17/13 - 02:57 pm
1
6
Richmond County is the most important county in the CSRA

I think Dr. Azziz understand the success of GRU is directly related to the health of Richmond County.. GRU will have to attract people from all over the US and the majority of young people want to live in vibrant urban areas...

The growth in any of the suburban counties of Augusta don't make the city stand out. Every small to large city in the US can offer growing suburbs and suburban counties.

The ability to offer the Augusta canal, Riverwalk and Artist Row is something that Greenville, Charleston, Columbia, Chattanooga, or Savannah can't match.

The age group of 18-24 enjoys several things and Richmond County offers the best chance at bringing them here.

1. The continued revitalization of the CBD and gentrification of Laney Walker, Harrisburg, Bethlehem, and 15th street.
2. Attracting private developments along the Riverwalk and Canal.
3. Additional local businesses in the CBD, Medical District, Laney Walker, Summerville, Olde Town, Midtown, and Harrisburg.
4. Expanded public transportation system around the county.
5. Multiple nightlife districts
6. Sidewalks and bike lanes
7. Local culture
8. Cosmopolitan feel
9. Diversity
10. Things to do

The same logic applies in terms of attracting growth to the entire CSRA. The growth in Richmond County for example will help bring growth to Edgefield, Mcduffie, and Burke counties...

The best places in the metro for white collar office jobs are the CBD/Medical District(ESI, Rural Sourcing, etc) and West Augusta(ADP, multiple companies surrounding Doctors Hospital, etc)

Little Lamb
47848
Points
Little Lamb 11/17/13 - 03:04 pm
5
0
Funny

Countyman posted:

The ability to offer the Augusta canal, Riverwalk and Artist Row is something that Greenville, Charleston, Columbia, Chattanooga, or Savannah can't match.

That was supposed to be a joke, wasn't it?

Riverman1
90109
Points
Riverman1 11/17/13 - 04:26 pm
6
1
The medical students rate the locations of schools

LL, I thought it was pretty funny. The medical students rate the location of their schools. MUSC is in downtown Charleston near the water. It is rated the second best location for a medical school in the U.S. Hawaii was first. Augusta was next to last.

What Azziz said is the number of young people in Richmond County has decreased. What he neglected to say is the pool of potential students in Columbia County has increased dramatically.

countyman
21240
Points
countyman 11/17/13 - 04:51 pm
1
5
Little Lamb. How was that

Little Lamb. How was that funny? I guess you think the strip malls, chain resturants, and big box stores will make Augusta stand out.

Riverman. The ranking was related to the Medical District not offering any type of "campus feel" and rather being just a collection of buildings.

There's a reason why GRU wanted the GGHF site on the river.

Riverman1
90109
Points
Riverman1 11/17/13 - 05:01 pm
6
1
Actually, the rating is based

Actually, the rating is based on "environment and safety." You can't seriously compare the environments of Charleston and Savannah to Augusta. I don't know what Azziz is going to do. There's no way he can move ASU to Frog Hollow in 50 years or for that matter the mills or the GGHOF site. There's too much at ASU. As far as med students, they don't usually look for campus type living conditions. Many are married with children.

The frustrating thing is the person chosen to lead our college and the state's medical school doesn't think too much of Augusta and wants to build a presence in Atlanta. He comments in negative ways such as the population has decreased, then tries to modify his statement by saying he meant young people.

countyman
21240
Points
countyman 11/17/13 - 07:36 pm
1
1
Facts

Why can't I compare the environment of Charleston or Savannah versus Augusta? They have a nicer urban core, but that's about it...

The 'safety' part is also related to being pedestrian friendly and the Laney Walker pedestrian park will help that..

Little Lamb
47848
Points
Little Lamb 11/18/13 - 11:29 am
0
0
GGHF

Countyman posted:

There's a reason why GRU wanted the GGHF site on the river.

Actually, Grooo did not "want" the GGHF site. It was given to Grooo by the State Properties Commission because they did not desire to go through all the work of marketing the site for sale. If you remember, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill for the Properties Commission to sell the site at auction. That takes a lot of work, and the commissioners did not want the controversy and the hassle. When the new president was brought here, the State Properties Commission just dumped the site on Grooo for expediency.

Sure, Dr. Azziz put on a happy face and said he would be glad to do something with the property (he first hinted it would become a medical engineering research center — that means medical devices for those of you in Rio Lindo). Frankly, I think that would be a great use for the land. But centers such as that take a lot of planning and a lot of funding.

Azziz has so many irons in the fire that the GGHF property is probably way down on his priority list. Moving to Atlanta is occupying his attention at the moment.

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