Originally created 10/20/04

Augusta's 2005 budget would raise taxes

Augusta officials hope to remedy a $9.3 million budget deficit and balance the city's 2005 budget by raising property taxes, cutting departmental budgets, decreasing services and dipping into the city's emergency fund.

Interim Administrator Fred Russell unveiled the spending plan, which includes a 1.5-mill increase that would cost a homeowner with a $100,000 house about $53 more in taxes on next year's bill.

The increase would generate $4.78 million more in taxes.

The $107.7 million proposal represents a $3.5 million increase over last year's general fund budget.

The plan to balance the budget also includes $820,850 in cuts, $2.76 million in expenditure reductions and a $500,000 appropriation from the city's reserve fund.

The plan calls for law enforcement agencies to cut their budgets 1.3 percent and all other departments to cut 4.3 percent.

It includes no new programs, personnel or employee raises.

"The impact of reduced services and increased taxes are not popular topics, but if we are to continue to move Augusta forward, they must be discussed," Mr. Russell stated in his presentation.

Commissioners received the proposal and will meet at 1 p.m. today for a work session.

Mayor Bob Young said he had not had a chance to review the budget and could not comment on it, as did Commissioner Andy Cheek.

Mr. Cheek, however, said the board would go back and review every area in city government where they can cut before considering a tax increase.

"It's going to be as tough as the SPLOST initiative," he said. "I just hope it doesn't take as long to work out the details."

Commissioner Barbara Sims said she was against any proposal that called for a tax increase.

"We are going to have to take a hard look at it," she said. "I'm looking for a way to keep from having the taxpayers pay for it every time there is a shortfall."

The proposal calls for $390,510 in cuts in the city's law department. The litter patrol would lose half of its $346,000 annual budget. Clean and Beautiful would be forced to cut one full-time and one part-time employee.

Historic Augusta would lose half of its $15,690 allocation, and the Industrial Development Authority Forward Augusta would lose half of its $100,000 allocation.

The general fund pays for government operations such as administration, law enforcement, fire service and finance.

The total budget for the city is $752.3 million and is composed of enterprise funds, such as waterworks, debt service and special revenue.

In other business, the $486 million special-purpose local option sales tax package was the subject of a rancorous closed-door meeting, ending with a public no-action vote concerning a sports arena and amphitheater.

Commissioner Marion Williams' motion not to approve agreements with the developers of the proposed arena for the Regency Mall site and an amphitheater at Diamond Lakes Regional Park failed to receive the necessary six votes to pass.

The vote followed the closed-door discussion during which Commissioner Don Grantham tried to persuade commissioners to rescind the tax referendum that will be on the ballot Nov. 2.

This would allow the government to come back with another sales-tax package in March if the current referendum fails.

There is concern that the multiple questions on the ballot could be subject to legal action.

Developers of the proposed arena did not attend Tuesday's meeting, but Jerry Dickerson, the developer of the amphitheater, and his attorney sat through 8 hours without even being acknowledged by the board.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

The Augusta budget proposed for 2005 could cost property owners more in taxes if the millage is increased the suggested 1.5 mills. The millage increase is one of the proposals to help commissioners make up a $9.3 million deficit.


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