Originally created 12/22/99

Commission cuts budget items



Augusta commissioners agreed Tuesday to close recreation facilities, raise fees, and cut money from the Golf Hall of Fame and Coliseum Authority in an effort to find more money for indigent care in the city's 2000 budget. But their efforts saved only $260,324, and the meeting was recessed until next week.

By law, the commission must have an approved budget by Jan. 1 and must adopt it at its last regular meeting in December, which is why the meeting was recessed instead of adjourned Tuesday.

The 2000 budget includes $1.2 million for University Hospital to fund medical care for patients certified as too poor to pay themselves. The hospital asked for $4.9 million but hopes to get at least $2.5 million.

Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard said the commission must find more than $1.2 million for indigent care.

"I think we have to get pretty close to at least $2 million," Mr. Beard said after the meeting.

Commissioners went down the list of possible cuts, voting on each proposed cut or fee increase and came up with $545,324.

But they also added $285,000 in new expenses, including $102,000 for employee Christmas bonuses, $150,000 for increased security at the Municipal Building and Joint Law Enforcement Center and $33,000 for Augusta Tomorrow, which had been cut to $11,000 in next year's $88.4 million general fund budget.

They rejected transferring $1 million from waterworks to the general fund after City Administrator Randy Oliver advised against it, warning that the utility director would have to reduce construction projects or raise water rates above the amount already in the proposed budget.

The city already transfers $538,000 to the general fund to pay for administrative services provided to waterworks by the government and a 3 percent franchise tax similar to other utilities for use of county rights of way.

The votes were tied, so commissioners took no action on seven proposals, including dipping into $2.5 million in cash reserves that would help keep the government running in an emergency, and are expected to revisit those issues when the meeting reconvenes Tuesday.

The city has enough reserves to pay government expenses for 71 days. Dipping into reserve funds would reduce that capacity to 60 days, the absolute minimum that should be considered, said Mr. Oliver and the city's independent auditor.

Commissioners also tied on using pension fund money to pay health insurance costs for retirees in the former city of Augusta's pension plan. That would save the city $600,000 a year but is vehemently opposed by the retirees, who say they will go to court to try to keep that from happening.

Commissioners also took no action on hiring a deputy administrator to assist Mr. Oliver. Some commissioners had said that there would be no one who could run the government if Mr. Oliver were to leave. Those discussions prompted Assistant Administrator Walter Hornsby to write the mayor and commissioners Monday and object.

"Having worked with Richmond County government as Assistant Administrator prior to consolidation, with the consolidated city of Augusta as Assistant administrator and then Deputy Administrator, I firmly believe that I have the ability and experience to run the day-to-day operations of this city on an interim basis," Mr. Hornsby wrote.

Commissioners also tied on cutting $12,500 for Character First training for city employees and cutting expenses from Human Resources and Public Works.

After the meeting, Mr. Young said the board was making progress, taking things off the table and putting things on the table.

"And that's what you do when you try to reach consensus," he said. "You've got this one group of commissioners that want to increase the contingency next year to $1 million. So we've got to try to find a half-million for that. You've got another group of commissioners that want to increase the hospital funding, double it to $2.5 million, so we've got to find another $1.25 million for that.

"So we're looking at trying to come up with another $1.75 million, and you saw today we came up with $260,000. We're sitting here playing with a lot of peanuts, but we haven't found any walnuts yet."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 .

Budget changes

Augusta commissioners agreed Tuesday to cut these expenses from next year's general fund budget to come up with more money for indigent care:

Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, $68,000

Commissioners' summer youth employment program, $39,900

Alcohol tax payments to Coliseum Authority, $65,000

Food stamp money for Department of Family and Children's Services, $59,061

Raise fees or cut expenses at Newman Tennis Center, $11,626

Raise planning commission fees, $22,560

Eliminate positions in tax commissioner's office, $45,500

Eliminate payment to Augusta Housing Authority, $2,400

Delete mechanic shop operations, $80,251

Close Eastview Recreation Center (indoor), $21,484

Close Hickman Park Recreation Center (indoor), $21,484

Close Highland swimming pool, $15,000

Raise athletics participation fees, $26,750

Raise after-school and summer day-camp fees, $48,120

Delay opening Blythe Community Center, $18,188

Total cuts: $545,324

Commissioners agreed Tuesday to add these expenses to the budget:

Contribute to Augusta Tomorrow, $33,000

Pay city employees $50 Christmas bonuses, $102,000

Increase security at Municipal Building and Law Enforcement Center, $150,000

Total additions: $285,000

Net savings: $260,324