As expected, Augusta commissioners approved a property tax increase Monday that will fund rising costs in the city's fire and police departments to the tune of nearly $6 million.
Unexpected, however, were two votes opposing the increase. Augusta Commissioners Andy Cheek and Tommy Boyles both voted earlier this year in favor of 2002 budget proposals that accounted for increased spending in public safety related areas. The vote passed 8-2.
Both commissioners said they were upholding election promises to their constituents - Mr. Boyles less than a year after being elected and Mr. Cheek one year away from a possible second-term election campaign.
"It's inconsistent. It's totally inconsistent," said Commissioner Steve Shepard, referring to his fellow commissioners' conflicting votes.
"The budget was driven by Sept. 11," Mr. Shepard said. "If you're going to vote for the budget, you've got to vote for the funding."
Mr. Cheek said if he chooses to run for re-election next year, he will use his vote against the tax increase as proof of his commitment to lower taxes and increased efficiency in government.
"I knew that this thing was going to pass, and it will allow me to keep my word to my district," Mr. Cheek said.
Since early this year, Mr. Cheek has denounced the campaign efforts of Mayor Bob Young, which criticize commissioners for "unnecessary" tax increases and waste in government.
Mr. Cheek has argued that government efficiencies are abundant, even delivering a State of the District address in February to rebut Mr. Young's State of the City address delivered about the same time. Mr. Young's speech criticized commissioners for approving a budget with tax increases.
"We should not be held hostage by election-year rhetoric," Mr. Cheek said in response to the mayor's address.
On Monday, Mr. Cheek said, "My main concern right now is that I made a pledge to my constituents."
Mr. Boyles, at his first commission meeting Jan. 2, was one of seven commissioners who voted in favor of a slight property tax increase to restore a $500,000 cut from the fire department.
Mr. Boyles said Monday that he could not support a millage increase now, even though he voted for the one in January, because his west Augusta district would be the hardest hit after a recent citywide revaluation of property.
"It was my first meeting on the commission," Mr. Boyles said of his earlier vote for increased budgetary spending. "I don't feel I received the correct information, and that was the only thing I voted for - the 0.18 increase on fire service."
Property tax increases approved Monday amount to about $55 more on a $100,000 home compared with last year for residents within the former county limits and $1.54 less on a $100,000 home in the former city limits. The increases will go to police officers' salaries; higher fire insurance premiums for the fire department; and increased security at public buildings, including the city municipal building.
Also Monday, several commissioners criticized the mayor for his televised campaign advertisements blasting them for raising taxes instead of cutting waste in government. Mr. Young is running for re-election this year.
"This perception that commissioners are not doing anything, I take offense to that," Commissioner Lee Beard said. "That's false and it's offensive to me to have to sit there and listen to that, because it's political rhetoric."
"The budget was driven by Sept. 11. If you're going to vote for the budget, you've got to vote for the funding." - Commissioner Steve Shepard, on his fellow leaders' conflicting votes
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|A tentative schedule has property tax bills being mailed out by Oct. 25, with a payment deadline of Dec. 31.|
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