Last public meeting on tax rate today

Property owners who want to voice their opinions on a proposed property-tax increase before Augusta commissioners set this year's tax rate have their final chance today.

The last of three public hearings on a proposed 0.34 mill increase will be at 3:45 p.m. in Augusta Commission chambers, on the eighth floor of the municipal building, 530 Greene St.

At 4 p.m., commissioners will meet to set the rate that will be reflected on this year's property-tax bills. The increase that City Administrator Fred Russell is proposing will add $11.90 a year to the bill of a $100,000 house.

State law requires cities and counties whose tax digests have grown to roll back the rate so they will collect the same amount of taxes as the previous year unless they advertise a tax increase and hold three public hearings. The Richmond County tax digest increased 6 percent this year, and to collect the same amount of taxes as last year, commissioners would have to roll the millage back two-tenths of a mill. But there has been no discussion of a rollback, only of whether to raise the rate 0.25 mills or 0.34 mills.

At the last meeting, commissioners Don Grantham, Jerry Brigham, Joe Bowles and Jimmy Smith pushed for the lower increase, but Mr. Russell said he needs the 0.34-mill increase to properly run the city.

Besides, he said, the increase already is being spent in this year's budget adopted in November.

Mr. Brigham, the commission's finance chairman, said he will continue to push for the 0.25-mill increase.

"I would prefer to roll it back, but I understand from the administrator that for the finances to stay intact we can't afford to roll it completely back," he said. "There's no need to play games. I would prefer not to do this, but I think this is what we need to do."

Mr. Brigham said commissioners voted to roll the millage back last year and ended up having to borrow money from the city's reserve funds.

The 0.34-mill increase would generate $1.16 million.

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