Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Sylvia Cooper: Augusta Commission can't find enough four leaf clovers to balance the budget

  • Follow City Ink

Monday was St. Patrick’s Day, and on Tuesday the Au­gusta Com­mission found no pot of gold or enough four-leaf clovers to balance the budget or keep the city from going broke in a few years.

And there were no lucky charms to be found when the subject of exempting the sheriff’s office from the 2.4 percent across-the-board budget cuts came up.

At the previous meeting, commissioners had directed interim Administrator Tameka Allen and Finance Di­rec­tor Donna Williams to find money to keep the budget balanced as required by law and exempt the sheriff’s office from the 2.4 percent cut, which would be about $900,000 in real money.

All departments had been asked to identify how they’d make the cuts. Most had responded. Tax Com­mis­sion­er Steven Ken­drick plans to furlough employees and close tax offices for six days. The Richmond County Correctional Institution agreed to eliminate two full-time positions. Recreation would eliminate eight full-time employees, two part-time employees and count on the Patch golf course being privatized by mid-year.

Sheriff Richard Round­tree sent a letter stating Georgia courts have ruled that commissions can’t cut a sheriff’s budget to the point where he can’t do his job, an opinion the sheriff delivered in person Tuesday.

OPTION 1: The first option Allen and Williams presented was to implement the 1 percent excise tax on energy that industries use in manufacturing beginning Oct. 1, which was projected to bring in $625,000 by year’s end. That money would have been dedicated to the sheriff, leaving him with $265,000 to cut.

Had commissioners implemented the tax earlier in the year, when then-Administrator Fred Russell advised them to and Commissioner Donnie Smith begged them to, it would have raised as much as $2.5 million this year.

OPTION 2: The second option was also to implement the excise tax, with proceeds to go the sheriff’s office, and furlough other city employees for five days to save $1.1 million. If the sheriff’s office was exempted from the furlough days, the rest of the employees would be furloughed 10 to 11 days.

Smith pleaded with his colleagues to pass the excise tax, which would raise $4 million, equivalent to 1 tax mill, when fully implemented next year. He reminded them that the state has already given the industries a 4 percent tax break, along with the city’s 1 percent that municipalities have to vote to re-impose as though it were a new tax, which it isn’t. He asked them to look long-term, an impossible task for those who can’t see beyond the end of their noses.

Smith painted a dire picture showing commissioners using $4.5 million of the fund to balance this year’s budget and $4 million more to make up for the lost excise tax revenue.

“We’re going to work on next year’s budget in July with a $7 million deficit,” he said. “We’re in the position we have to do something with this budget. … This government is looking at being totally broke in three years. Those aren’t made-up numbers.”

DAMN THE TORPEDOS! FULL SPEED AHEAD! At that, Com­mis­sioner Marion Williams said they should raise property taxes and made a motion to exempt the sheriff from the cut.

Smith recommended they start the procedure to implement the excise tax.

“Sheriff, would you be willing to work with us (on cutting $265,000)?” he asked.

“Absolutely I would if in fact we are going to try to solve this issue and not just postpone it,” Roundtree replied, adding that he’d be willing to “discuss” the $265,000 throughout the summer.

Roundtree then informed them that he was not a department head but an elected official.

“I’m more than willing, but not at a risk of jeopardizing public safety,” he said.

Commissioners Bill Fen­noy and Bill Lockett argued for raising property taxes.

“What we need to do is what Commissioner Wil­liams is talking about,” Lock­ett said. “Get some revenue.”

But they can’t get enough, even with a 2 mill property tax increase, to plug all the holes in Augusta’s leaky ship of state.

Commissioner Alvin Ma­son said the sheriff should be exempt from budget cuts permanently.

But wouldn’t that be like writing him a blank check? And with all the drastic decrease in crime he’s been bragging about this year, shouldn’t he be able to accommodate the less than 1 percent cut to his total budget?

Commissioners eventually voted against the excise tax, with only Lockett, Donnie Smith and Joe Jack­son voting for it. Then they were back to the motion to exempt the sheriff’s office.

BUT WAIT! NOT SO FAST! Allen insisted they say where the money was coming from because by law they must have a balanced budget.

“Does it come from other departments?” she asked. “The other option is to go into the general fund – which we do not recommend – cuts to other departments or potential layoffs.”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver proposed a special called meeting to discuss the matter, at which point he got into the first of three verbal duels with Marion Williams over Wil­liams’ attempt to dominate the conversation.

LAYING DOWN THE LAW: Before leaving, Roundtree told commissioners that by law they can reduce his budget if it doesn’t interfere with public safety, but case law in Georgia says they can’t arbitrarily cut his budget.

“There have been two case laws on that,” he said. “That is not the direction we want to go, but it is something that is going to have to be addressed.”

THE BOY KING GETS TOUGH: Still angry because he couldn’t get what he wanted from Russell’s hard drive and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation saying it found no crime had been committed, Marion Williams put the subject back on the agenda with an item to discuss city records security.

After Williams had badgered Allen, who’s also the IT director, Copenhaver said, “I think she’s answered your question.”

He then said his executive assistant, Al Dallas, had spent three hours last week with the garrison commander at Fort Gordon, who specifically said the Pentagon has expressed concerns with the city, one being the commission, particularly the hard drive issue and the school system.

“They’re looking at us every day,” Copenhaver said. “That comes directly from the Pentagon.”

“I understand that, but I’m not going to sit here and allow somebody to break the law because somebody is looking at us,” Williams said. “They ought to be looking at us.”

The final confrontation between the two came while the regional vice president of First Vehicle Services, which maintains the city’s vehicles, was speaking. Williams started to interrupt, and the mayor said, “I have not recognized you. I have not recognized you, Com­mis­sion­er Wil­liams!”

“He was addressing my question about the motorcycle mechanic,” Williams said.

“He was not finished. Back off!” Copenhaver shouted.

“You back off!” said Williams, determined to have the last word.

I couldn’t help thinking that some of the city employees Williams regularly berates would love to see him back off, especially if he was standing on the edge of a cliff.

HOW IS THIS FOR SELF PROMOTION? Last week, Geor­gia Regents University Pres­i­dent Ricardo Azziz was reported to be a candidate for the president’s job at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. A news release from his office stated, “As a national thought leader, Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz blah, blah, blah.”

I’d never heard of a thought leader, so I looked it up. The most succinct definition I could find was, “Thought leaders are people who have an influence over how people think about an issue or situation.”

He’s one all right.

Two days later, he announced he was no longer pursuing the Texas job, which can mean only one thing: The eyes of Texas were upon him.

Comments (49) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Conservative Man
5577
Points
Conservative Man 03/23/14 - 03:43 pm
3
0
I am GLAD we are being talked about….

…..we NEED to be held up as a shining example of what NOT to do..

Little Lamb
46370
Points
Little Lamb 03/23/14 - 03:48 pm
3
0
Graduation

Countyman, I don't think anyone has graduated from the new technical magnet school yet. They are starting it up slowly, one new grade per school year.

countyman
20234
Points
countyman 03/23/14 - 03:55 pm
1
7
Reality

Do you honestly want people to believe the movie theater, Cabelas, and Costco didn't play a role in attracting the outlet mall? There's acres of much cheaper land along I-20 in the surrounding counties.. The Columbia County government created the outlet mall survey and can offer cheap land from Grovetown to Harlem right off the interstate. The North Augusta exits are directly across the river from the VAR and they could have build there.

Please show me anything to back up your 2,500 jobs? Many of those people are obviously living and moving here. When is the last time South Augusta was growing this fast? Please ride down Peach Oechard and see the ongoing changes.

Did you even read the stories regarding the outlet mall? The trade area of the outlet mall is almost 2 million people. The developer specifically mentioned Lakes Oconee to Columbia, SC was the target area. The per capita income of Aiken County is higher, but not much higher. The developers across the US don't care, because Richmond County has some of the richest individual areas in the CSRA(West Augusta, Summerville, Forest Hills, North Richmond, Lake Aumond, etc).

Why is the Holiday Inn Express about to open if the TEE Center is doing so bad? When is the last time the CBD had a brand new hotel?

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 03/23/14 - 04:32 pm
7
1
Not Quite Accurate

"The funny thing is people don't actually know the reality of the economy in Detroit. The entire metro area LOST population when the area fell on hard times.."

Actually, the only county that lost population in the Detroit metro area was the one Detroit is in, Wayne County. They lost 240,000 from 2000-2010, while the entire metro area only lost 44,000.

Pops
9008
Points
Pops 03/23/14 - 04:41 pm
6
2
The graduation rate in Richmond County

is fast approaching 95%.......all you people need to back off......oh....the United States never landed a man on the moon and George Bush was responsible for 9/11.....and the Augusta/Richmond County government is functioning perfectly....

Riverman1
84889
Points
Riverman1 03/23/14 - 04:40 pm
6
2
Demographics Close to VAR

Oh, I think the demographics of Columbia County close to the VAR have much to do with development there. West Lake, Stevens Point and Jones Creek are pretty close and all have very high incomes. Actually, your mythical North Richmond County has a zillion low rent apartments along Stevens Creek Rd and more going up if I understand your mythical boundaries of everything north of Riverwatch.

MrClen1944
233
Points
MrClen1944 03/23/14 - 06:00 pm
0
5
Augusta Chicken, I mean Comical. I mean Chronicle

you wouldn't even want to see me comments regarding Marion. At least there is the Atlanta Journal/Constitution. To you, everything is demeaning or racist bah bah bah unless it is you who is writing it.

MrClen1944
233
Points
MrClen1944 03/23/14 - 06:04 pm
0
4
I love Augusta

Augusta government, newspapers and life should be the envy of the rest of the United States. We have the most progressive leaders and the best reporting of any metro area in these United States. Thank you for your reporting acumen and insight.

MrClen1944
233
Points
MrClen1944 03/23/14 - 06:05 pm
0
3
I love you guys.

I love you guys.

countyman
20234
Points
countyman 03/23/14 - 06:25 pm
2
5
Reality

The population of St. Clair County decreased by .7% between the 2000 and 2010 census.. Two other counties grew at .5% and .7% respectively in the previous decade.. The entire metro Detroit area lost population between 2000-2010 based on the 2010 census. The Detroit MSA had two fast growing suburbs in the previous decade, but it didn't really help the entire metro like the growth in the city of Detroit would have. The 2010-2012 estimates still have the Detroit MSA losing population, but it's starting to rebound(only -.1%)...

The trade area of the outlet mall is close to 2 million people and multiple neighborhoods are in close proximity. The neighborhood Rockbrook is right around the corner and people are paying $1k for 1 bedroom apartments on Alexander Drive..

What apartments are north of Riverwatch? The Watervale Townhomes are in the area, but they begin around $650-$700 per month.. The rent at Stevens Creek Commons is between $800 and $1200, Ridgecrest is around $600 to $1000, Rocky Creek ranges from $750 to $800, and the only low rent complex is Iron Horse..

Have you seen the apartments nearby in Martinez/Evans? The communities along Blue Ridge Drive, Old Evans road, etc? The rents at Shenandoah Ridge start in the $500's and Wedgewood is between $500-$700.

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 03/23/14 - 08:21 pm
4
1
I wonder if countyman will

I wonder if countyman will ride off into the sunset when Deke gets excommunicated?

KSL
131231
Points
KSL 03/23/14 - 08:39 pm
2
1
Countyman

Are you a Realtor?

KSL
131231
Points
KSL 03/23/14 - 08:43 pm
3
1
Or more appropriately, a

Or more appropriately, a real estate sales person?

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 03/23/14 - 09:50 pm
0
0
TCB22.... That is a great

TCB22.... That is a great analysis... sad... but great

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 03/23/14 - 09:52 pm
4
0
"Why is the Holiday Inn

"Why is the Holiday Inn Express about to open if the TEE Center is doing so bad? When is the last time the CBD had a brand new hotel?"

Do the words tax subsidy have any meaning?

Gage Creed
17375
Points
Gage Creed 03/23/14 - 09:54 pm
2
0
Oh... just to set the record

Oh... just to set the record straight... it's not brand new.... the shell was reused and it used to be a hotel. But seeing as some have no history in the area, they probably didn't know that. Bless their heart....

Little Lamb
46370
Points
Little Lamb 03/23/14 - 11:00 pm
4
0
Correct

The "new" Holiday Inn Express in Olde Towne is merely a renovation of an old motel shell. The previous motel was known as a fleabag place. The new one soon shall be.

Truth Matters
6984
Points
Truth Matters 03/24/14 - 12:16 am
1
0
I am not defending Marion

I am not defending Marion Williams but he behaves like Darrell Issa.
He sinks his teeth into a bone (hard drive, in this case), and he won't let go regardless of what the evidence shows, or doesn't show. If Marion had a left wing media to rally his claims the way right wing talk radio does for Issa, he could convince some of you that his position has merit.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 03/24/14 - 01:57 am
2
0
Old saying...

"When your out go is more than your income, your up keep will be your downfall."

Taxes will be raised.

Brad Owens
4583
Points
Brad Owens 03/24/14 - 01:00 pm
1
0
Here's an idea..

How about we make each Department Director start with Zero-based budgeting and justify their entire budget each year?

Back to Top

Top headlines

Developer fined by Georgia EPD

The developer of a Grovetown subdivision has been fined by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for failing to control erosion and other water quality control violations.
Search Augusta jobs