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

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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.

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Riverman1
79471
Points
Riverman1 03/22/14 - 07:47 pm
10
2
Thought Leader

Yeah, we had fun in the comments the other day about the "Thought Leader." I personally think his comments in his Huffington Post blog are affecting his reasoning ability. He's starting to believe his stale, trite comments are actually important.

Riverman1
79471
Points
Riverman1 03/22/14 - 07:51 pm
15
3
Our Cartoon Character Mayor Gets Tough

I know he's trying to appear tough to spruce up his milquetoast reputation, but saying the Pentagon is seriously concerned about Commission meetings and Fred Russell's hard drive must have brought a chuckle from the audience.

Gage Creed
15740
Points
Gage Creed 03/22/14 - 09:48 pm
14
1
I motion that Marion Williams

I motion that Marion Williams STEP OFF... do I have a second?

just an opinion
2357
Points
just an opinion 03/22/14 - 10:26 pm
15
2
Marion Williams is a Clown

The smart people who will be moving to our area will pass Augusta over because of clowns like this. They don't have to put up with it. And yes Marion our schools will get worse because of your "payback" antics which keep the good people away.

just an opinion
2357
Points
just an opinion 03/22/14 - 10:35 pm
2
2
.....

.....

Little Lamb
43839
Points
Little Lamb 03/22/14 - 11:11 pm
6
7
Huh?

I wonder about this:

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

The trouble is, when Tameka Allen "answered" Marion Williams’ question, all she did was say, “My people said they didn’t delete anything. That’s good enough for me.”

Well, I'm sorry, Ms. Allen, but it's not good enough for me. A forensic audit needs to be conducted on the city's computer servers. It will show what files were deleted from the servers, when they were deleted, and by whom (or at least by the login data). For Tameka Allen to ask merely for a show of hands among her personnel is not good enough.

Graymare
2616
Points
Graymare 03/23/14 - 04:26 pm
12
1
What a mess!

How do these people sleep at night? Oh yeah, they're brainless driftwood. Raise taxes? Richmond County is so smurfed. How much money have they wasted? This is what happens when you elect incompetent folks to run your government. I bet their constituents, who own property, are real happy with them right now. Talk about sickening! This could be such a wonderful place to live,but instead they are flushing it right down the toilet! Let the mass exodus begin!

deestafford
23792
Points
deestafford 03/22/14 - 11:57 pm
16
1
Williams actions are that of an...

Williams actions are that of an idiot and as he expands his ego he is doing damage to the city which cannot be repaired.

Very few people are so full of self-love and narcissism that they are willing to tear down their community. Of course, he is only emulating the occupant in the White House--just on a smaller scale with less power.

dichotomy
30623
Points
dichotomy 03/23/14 - 12:39 am
14
3
Wouldn't you know that

Wouldn't you know that Williams, who is behind in paying his property taxes, would be the first one to want to raise taxes on the people who actually PAY THEIR TAXES. We need a law that says that the commission cannot raise ANY taxes as long as there is a single commissioner who OWES UNPAID TAXES of any kind. It OUGHT to be a law. Williams is the worst kind of a blow hard old hypocrite.

And I can tell you with this "can't cut anything so let's raise taxes" group that is taking over, we are in big trouble with the likes of Williams, Lockett, and Fennoy around. They have stated their "let's get some revenue" mentality. From that statement my guess is they are all dyed in the wool Obama Democrats. Tax..tax...tax....let's take some more money from our "subjects". The direction we are taking with the shift in power is obvious. If the Army is watching us they should see by now they should run like hell to another post where the local municipality has intelligent leadership. I guess it's a good thing that Cyber Command ain't here yet or Marion would be trotting out there with Russell's hard drive trying to get them to find something on it. Williams is pathetic.

And Sheriff Roundtree....I think your HEAD is exceeding YOUR HAT SIZE. Of course the commission can cut your budget. Who the hell do you think you are bluffing. Whatever amount would be endangering the public is a VERY ARBITRARY figure and I think you would have to prove it in court. I'm certainly not sure that $900,000 out of your department's budget would "endanger" anything except maybe your EGO. I am sure that since you are a black elected official that Marion Williams would rather raise my taxes than cut your budget...because race is all that he is about....but of course Marion Williams doesn't pay his taxes on time does he? Apparently raising other people's taxes is easy peasy for brotha that don't pay his taxes on time...maybe not at all.

Riverman1
79471
Points
Riverman1 03/23/14 - 02:09 am
8
3
Ronnie Strength Said Same Thing

Former Sheriff Ronnie Strength also brought up the point the city had to support the RCSO because he was a constitutionally elected official, yada, yada, yada. Nothing came of that. The fact is the county doesn't have the money and the RCSO will have to be cut like everything else.

specsta
6078
Points
specsta 03/23/14 - 02:46 am
11
1
Live Within Your Means

"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."

Ummm, that's part of being a good manager, the ability to work within a budget and make the necessary revisions in personnel and priorities.

Didn't these guys just waste taxpayer funds on a "week-long online prostitution sting" in January? How much did that cost? We get no answers. Augustans can now rest easy that consenting adults won't be tempted to engage in business transactions of that nature. Murders, armed robberies and violent assaults must take a backseat when it comes to prostitution arrests.

The RCSO can tighten its belt just like any other government agency. They are no more important than the Fire Department or Emergency Services or even the Library - all perform important services for the citizens of Augusta.

Every adult in this country must live on a budget or go bankrupt. Why should the RCSO be exempt from that?

dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 03/23/14 - 04:18 am
17
2
Augusta voters need to wake
Unpublished

Augusta voters, majority black, need to wake up and realize the black dream is coming true, blacks will rule Augusta and Augusta will be the southern Detroit, bankrupt and raising taxes while many people, black and white, will be exiting from Richmond county. I live in Richmond county and will cut my losses and move to another county, I've had it with the elected officials that apparently will continue with those resembling what we already have in our government. Most of these commissioners do not have a clue of how to run a city and they fired the one that could have held things in check, Fred Russell, and now it is exposed that the pentagon is looking at the leadership with questions. What a mess! I wish Augusta the best and hope the voters wake up and vote wisely for their commissioner and mayor. I see no improvement in the future for Augusta, unless we vote in some real college grads from real schools and not these schools that call themselves colleges and most of their grads can't hold water to some high school grads. These so called educated with a degree will come to roost in the near future. I hate this for the hard working honest citizens of Augusta because they deserve better but it is not in the cards. Even the golfers don't want a key to the city!

geecheeriverman
1644
Points
geecheeriverman 03/23/14 - 05:41 am
15
2
Raising taxes

Fennoy, Lockett, and Williams, want to raise taxes. They have nothing to lose with their constitutes because the majority of them pay no taxes. A tax hike would not effect him. He does not pay taxes anyway. Fort Gordon is not the only one looking at A/RC. This government is being talked about in many circles.

sawgrass
1233
Points
sawgrass 03/23/14 - 07:08 am
16
2
disgusted

I've lived in Augusta my entire adult life but people like Morion Williams are ruining this city. I own a condo I can't give away because people don't want to live in Augusta. Go away Morion Williams.

seenitB4
81543
Points
seenitB4 03/23/14 - 08:07 am
11
3
Leave Roundtree alone please

I have noticed more punks are arrested faster than ever .....he is doing something right.

Some of my kin & friends are talking of moving out of Richmond & for the same reasons just posted on here.... the commish needs a good shaking......you really are running good folks away.
You might shine in the spotlight for a few moments but the exodus will leave you asking.."What happened here?"

Pops
6945
Points
Pops 03/23/14 - 08:11 am
9
1
Gutsy call.......bold leadership

"Mayor Deke Copenhaver proposed a special called meeting to discuss the matter"

deestafford
23792
Points
deestafford 03/23/14 - 08:30 am
7
2
Do y'all realize all we say here....

Do y'all realize all we say here about Williams he will take back to those who voted for him and say, "See how I'm getting back and under the skin of those who have put you here in this substandard housing and making you live off of EBT? These are the same ones who got what they have by taking it from you. They took it from you while you weren't looking and didn't know that you had it. Keep voting for me and keeping me in 'walkin' around money' and I'll keep fightin' them for you."

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 08:40 am
5
7
"The RCSO can tighten its

"The RCSO can tighten its belt just like any other government agency. They are no more important than the Fire Department or Emergency Services or even the Library - all perform important services for the citizens of Augusta."

Sure, when somebody breaks into your home, tell them to go check out a library book.

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 08:41 am
11
6
Property tax increases are

Property tax increases are inevitable. RC is going broke, me and a few others have been predicting it, because there is a dysfunctional commission who is obsessed with promoting tourism (really?) while the infrastructure is crumbling.

It's just a matter of time, now.

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 08:45 am
7
6
"Didn't these guys just waste

"Didn't these guys just waste taxpayer funds on a "week-long online prostitution sting" in January? How much did that cost? We get no answers. Augustans can now rest easy that consenting adults won't be tempted to engage in business transactions of that nature. Murders, armed robberies and violent assaults must take a backseat when it comes to prostitution arrests."

You know what? I refuse to stay in an Augusta hotel, because so many of them are filled with drug users and prostitutes, and the prostitutes aren't just limited to the low-end ones.

It's gotten so bad, that you can't trust any of them.

Specsta, you don't understand the depth of it, and how unsafe the hotels are getting to be. No, it's not the "victimless crime" that you portray it to be.

sand gnat
395
Points
sand gnat 03/23/14 - 09:55 am
0
1
Top Ten City

See News Release from 2013. We are doing great! Have to give all of the credit to our county government and school system. And the change to GRU.

http://www.augustaga.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/6013

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 01:17 pm
4
3
Specsta, prostitution isn't

Specsta, prostitution isn't like you see on TV and Pretty Woman. It's terrible. It's worse than terrible. Almost all of them, male and female, started as kids, so your idea of a "victimless crime" just isn't true.

If they aren't when the start, they quickly become alcoholics and drug addicts, because of the stress and degradation and danger that they constantly face.

Sweet son
9710
Points
Sweet son 03/23/14 - 02:18 pm
5
0
Agree with Riverman and disagree with Seenit and both are

my friends. Make Roundtree cut his budget like the others. In our home and finances we are making budget adjustments so he should not be exempt. Don't know what his total budget is but he can find some fat somewhere!

Reduction in personnel will be the most like place to find most of the money. Retirements would be first and then attrition and then not hiring open positions.

He is doing well as the Sheriff but we all have to do more with less nowadays.

seenitB4
81543
Points
seenitB4 03/23/14 - 02:32 pm
3
1
sweetson

Ya better "rethink" that.....:)

You know HE isn't always right...who luvs ya baby..hahah

countyman
19155
Points
countyman 03/23/14 - 03:05 pm
3
4
Reality

The sky is always falling in Augusta no matter the circumstance. How are the schools going to become worse? The new magnet high school next to Augusta Tech just opened in 2013 and the graduation rate has increased faster than multiple surrounding counties since 2010.

The city of Augusta was ranked second in the nation for high tech job growth, but somehow were going to become the southern Detroit.. Richmond County and Aiken County both gained around the same number of people in the latest census estimates, but somehow nobody wants to live in Augusta. Why are they building a outlet mall where nobody wants to live? What is the purpose of the Whole Foods if people aren't moving to Augusta?

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.. The jobs at GRU or Fort Gordon can't support the entire CSRA..

The community needs to stick together and stop running away from the problems.. Richmond County will always be the most important county in the CSRA.. The easiest way to attract corporate headquarters, white collar jobs, or aviation/defense jobs is the growth of Richmond County.

nocnoc
38551
Points
nocnoc 03/23/14 - 03:02 pm
5
0
My simple solution

More SWEAT, Less TECH.

Drop all NEW and/or HI-TECH items from the budget until they can balance the budget.

Example: RCSO does not need a lot of High Tech gadgetry to do their jobs right now. They got by the last few years OK not great but OK.

ARC should stay OLD SCHOOL a little longer, until the Tax Revenue is there justify updating equipment.

THE ARC Commissioner need to remember basic Economics.
Every TAX and SPLOST takes money OUT of the local Economy.
Money in the Local Economy being spent and re-spent generates more $$$ tax revenue. Too much or too many taxes hurt the economy.

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 03:08 pm
5
3
Yeah, 2nd in the nation, all

Yeah, 2nd in the nation, all big whopping 2,500 jobs, and that was 3 years ago.

2,500 high tech jobs doesn't keep a county from going broke, especially since many of those people don't live in the county.

Why are they building an outlet mall in Augusta? Because the land is cheap and they got incentives, they know that many of Augusta's residents can't afford to shop there. If you read the stories, Countyman, it was positioned to draw customers from Aiken and Columbia Counties, both of which have a far higher per capita income than RC. It was more about THEM than RC, Countyman.

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 03:10 pm
2
3
noc noc, the tax revenues

noc noc, the tax revenues aren't going to be there for many years, if ever.

During the latest boom times, when other municipalities were filling their coffers hand over fist, Augusta stayed virtually unchanged.

Municipalities, just like consumers, are supposed to bank money in the good times for the bad times that are sure to come.

Augusta didn't have that, and this was coming, and inevitable.

Take a look at the TEE Center, take a look at what's scheduled for 2014. It's pitiful. That was supposed to bring all sorts of business to Augusta, and it hasn't. It's mostly home-grown folks.

Riverman1
79471
Points
Riverman1 03/23/14 - 03:34 pm
5
1
The Leader

Egotistical figures like to be known as the leader it appears. With this latest revelation that Azziz considers himself a "Thought Leader" I'm reminded of another historical person who went by the title, "The Leader."

corgimom
27951
Points
corgimom 03/23/14 - 03:36 pm
3
1
If he's a "Thought Leader",

If he's a "Thought Leader", then God help us all!

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