Augusta residents face a 22-percent increase to their property tax millage rate.
And they’re entitled to an explanation from elected officials.
Why is there a nearly $6 million budget deficit? Why can’t it be offset by cutting expenses? Are there really no “nonessential” city employees or duplicated services? Why does the proposed increase have to be so high?
These questions and others deserve answers. City taxpayers will have the opportunity to ask at three state-law-mandated public hearings starting today at 10 a.m. at the Warren Road Community Center gymnasium at 300 Warren Road, and at 6 p.m. at the Henry Brigham Senior Center, 2463 Golden Camp Road.
The third hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 19 in the Lee Beard Commission Chamber of the Municipal Building, 530 Greene St.
The proposed 1.75-mills increase, which would bring the millage rate to 9.788, would amount to a $61.25 annual increase on a $100,000 homesteaded home, or a $175 annual tax hike on a $250,000 home.
That may not seem like much to the 10 commissioners perched on their raised dais at city hall, but it certainly is to the county’s taxpaying residents, who – if they are representative of the broader American public – likely have not seen any increase in household income in recent years.
When costs increase without a corresponding rise in revenue or debt load, there is no better rational choice than to cut expenses. Certainly, the county government has an obligation to prove it has done everything it can to cut waste and nonessential expenses before reaching deeper into our wallets.
And if such cutbacks resulted in a reduction of services, so be it. Let the taxpaying public that funds those services decide whether those services are wanted or needed.
Isn’t that how government is supposed to work?
Of course it is. But all too often our elected leaders seem to stop representing people and start representing the bureaucracy the moment they are sworn into office. Public hearings are the place to remind politicians and government workers whom they work for.
Raising taxes should be a last resort – not the easy way out. City leaders must realize any property-tax increase simply reduces money that otherwise would have percolated into the community. The city government can’t take millions out of the local economy without expecting to see an impact somewhere.
The fact that Augusta-Richmond County hasn’t had a tax hike in years – instead choosing to erode its reserves – is neither justification for an increase nor absolution from accountability.
This government is not unlike most others – its current financial situation is a result of overspending, not undertaxing.
Elected officials would serve the public better by reaching for axes, not taxes.