Originally created 10/09/01

Increase in taxes rejected



When Richmond County property tax bills are mailed later this month, residents shouldn't expect any increases in the base rate.

But city department heads say the price of a fiscally conservative government is taking its toll on their offices, and unless more revenue starts coming in to city coffers, in the future those coffers might not be able to serve the public.

Augusta commissioners voted to renew the county millage rate at 6.523 mills for 2001. The Monday vote was a formality of last year's budget considerations, when commissioners chose to reduce city budget operations by 3.5 percent instead of pass a tax increase.

City department heads - including the tax commissioner, the district attorney and the clerk of civil and magistrates court - say the decision to cut their budgets instead of raising taxes is unrealistic, and several have appeared before the commission in recent weeks to say they're out of money.

For those departments that have run out of money, the finance department and city administrator's office will consider using contingency funds to supplement budgets through the end of the year. The city has about $700,000 in its contingency account.Commissioners and city officials are talking about the possibility of increasing taxes next year.

"I'm not ruling a tax increase out," said City Administrator George Kolb, who is charged with preparing a budget proposal for commissioners' consideration. "If it means a significant cut in services, that option is on the table."

He said he also is looking at reorganizing some city offices to find some cost savings.

The Richmond County Board of Education also voted Monday to keep school taxes at 20.548 mills.

Tax officials expect final approval of local millage rates from the state Department of Revenue by the end of this week. Property taxes, as OK'd by school and city officials, will amount to $1,189.89 in the urban tax district and $845.19 in the suburban tax district - for a $100,000 house with homestead exemption.

About 23,000 homeowners will see a new, line-item charge of $81.25 for city-run garbage collection on their tax bills this year. But some taxpayers could see a decrease in their overall bills: Legislation from the governor provides an additional $152.76 discount on property taxes for homeowners with homestead exemption.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215.

The impact:

The base property tax for Richmond County residents will not increase this year, but other factors such as trash collection fees and increased homestead exemption could affect the amount paid.

What's next:

Property tax bills should be mailed Oct. 19. Bills are due to the tax commissioner's office by Dec. 20, and those who pay by Nov. 8 will receive a 1 percent discount.