Originally created 09/27/03

Commissioners take opportunity to voice concerns on government



If you ask Augusta commissioners - at least the handful that showed up at a strategic planning session Friday - they'd like to see local government become more customer-friendly.

Translating that idea and many others into a tangible plan is part of a two-day planning workshop elected officials are participating in this weekend at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta. City Administrator George Kolb organized the workshop as part of a broad effort to get local leaders focused on improving the way government operates.

The discussions also will serve as a precursor for upcoming budget talks, which are slated to begin next month. A draft budget will be presented to commissioners Oct. 13.

"One of the biggest problems in Augusta is the lack of long-term vision," Commissioner Andy Cheek said during Friday's planning session. "We are withering on the vine."

And money isn't expected to help solve any problems next year.

When elected officials take up the task of balancing the 2004 budget next month, that spending plan is not expected to account for any growth in Augusta's property-tax digest. This year, the digest unexpectedly slipped about 0.4 percent, requiring commissioners to make fourth-quarter budget cuts.

Despite declining revenues, city surveys show that taxpayers increasingly want more out of their government.

Those surveys, which were conducted two years ago, show that residents want to see improvements in garbage service, road maintenance, water works and law enforcement.

Internal government employee surveys show that city employees are concerned about providing a high quality of service, but job satisfaction is low, Mr. Kolb said.

Commissioners told the administrator they felt there was a "disconnect" between constituents and some of the larger city departments, such as code enforcement and public works.

"The biggest complaint I get is lack of response," said Commissioner Bill Kuhlke.

Commissioner Willie Mays agreed.

"I personally would like to see the system work better," Mr. Mays said, adding he wants to see fewer irate constituents appearing before commissioners.

"Many of these (complaints), if you track back, they are people or groups that are already in the system," Mr. Mays said.

By the time they reach the commission, he said, "A lot of what we're seeing at that point is frustrated people."

Mr. Kolb said depending on how commissioners prioritize their goals, it might result in changing some personnel, adding or deleting positions from the budget, or funding new programs.

Mayor Bob Young questioned how effective this weekend's sessions would be if only part of the commission was attending them.

Six of 10 commissioners attended part of Friday's work session, and only four stayed for the bulk of the full-day session. Even fewer are expected to attend today's sessions.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.