Originally created 02/12/02

Spending plan stays unresolved



Five weeks after Augusta's new fiscal year should have begun, government offices are spending taxpayer dollars using last year's figures.

Even though city commissioners had the opportunity to move forward during a called meeting Monday afternoon, a series of failed votes left the city's spending plan in limbo for at least nine more days.

"We're standing still," said City Administrator George Kolb. "We're at the exact same place we were December 27."

The only city budget to receive approval from an Augusta Commission majority passed Dec. 27, and in addition to enacting a 1.555-mill property tax increase, it would eliminate dozens of jobs, close several recreation centers and cut popular cleanup services provided by the Public Works Department.

That budget plan was so unpopular with constituents, however, that commissioners tabled its implementation for more than a month, enacting a moratorium that expired Monday.

It was the same Dec. 27 budget that was - by a lack of commission action - effectively set in motion Monday. A few hours after the no-action meeting, Mr. Kolb said he had decided to enact an administrative moratorium on the budget until Feb. 20, citing the continued concerns of elected officials.

"I have gotten indication from several commissioners that they are not prepared to implement any reductions at this time," Mr. Kolb said. "They want a chance to reconsider."

A series of budget amendments presented Monday by commissioners proposed several changes to that spending plan, but none passed. The single motion to be approved was one to adjourn the meeting.

"It'll be back next week," said Commissioner Willie Mays.

Even though it has yet to be implemented, the approved budget was balanced through a combination of property tax increases and cuts to city government. Tax increases would cover a $5.13 million deficit in next year's law enforcement and fire protection budgets.

Another $406,000 was cut from city departments - mainly Parks and Recreation and Public Works - and $1.6 million was drawn from the city's reserve fund. As many as 28 full-time and eight part-time employees could lose their jobs, although some vacant positions could be eliminated instead.

Since December, however, $965,000 in found revenues has been discovered. The current budget plan does not address where that money should go, so it would likely be placed in contingency, officials said.

Commissioner Steve Shepard, who helped draft the Dec. 27 budget, said he continues to be disappointed in the lack of action and consensus by commissioners.

"All the time and effort that went into it, I would just as soon have avoided it," Mr. Shepard said. "It's a lot of wasted time and effort."

BUDGET TIMELINE

By law, the Augusta Commission must pass a balanced budget by Dec. 31. The city's spending plan is still in flux:

DEC. 27: Commissioners approve a balanced budget that includes $1.8 million in cuts to services and personnel and a 1.555-mill property tax increase.

JAN. 2: Commissioners approve $175,000 of additional expenditures and an additional 0.18-mill increase in property taxes. They also enact a 30-day moratorium on implementing a budget.

JAN. 8: Officials determine the city has an additional $965,000 not included in the budget passed Dec. 27.

JAN. 17: Commissioners are presented with a budget that uses the $965,000 to reduce cuts to city services and personnel.

FEB. 5: The budget moratorium is extended six days.

FEB. 11: The budget moratorium expires. The Dec. 27 budget takes effect, but Administrator George Kolb enacts an administrative moratorium.

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