$24 millage increase OK'd for now

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Augusta city commissioners adopted a tentative millage Thursday that will mean a $24.68 increase this year on a $100,000 house with homestead exemption.

However, that rate was adopted with the understanding that commissioners might reduce the increase to $17.50, if City Administrator Fred Russell can reduce expenses or find other revenue sources within the next few weeks.

The rate increase would be added to the current tax levy, which is $974.19 on a $100,000 home in the city district, and $825 in the county.

There will be three public hearings before millage is finally set on July 28.

The motion on the city's millage increase passed 7-2 with Commissioners Joe Bowles and Jerry Brigham voting against it. Commissioner Johnny Hatney was absent.

When commissioners adopted this year's budget in December, the proposed millage increase to fund it would have added $48.76 to this year's tax bill on a $100,000 house. Then the city ended 2007 with a $5.1 million surplus, so Mr. Russell proposed using $3 million of that to reduce the proposed millage increase and put the rest into the general fund as a cushion against higher fuel costs and escalating medical and food costs for jail inmates. He insisted that was a "very prudent and conservative" course.

"We don't know what the future holds," he said.

Mr. Bowles, Mr. Brigham and Commissioner Don Grantham argued the surplus should be used to eliminate any property-tax increase at all this year.

"I think this is the year we look seriously at having no tax increase," Mr. Brigham said.

Mr. Bowles said the government should look at other sources of revenue rather than coming back time and again to taxpayers.

"I'm sick and tired of charging every citizen in Augusta to make up for what only certain citizens are using, whether that be parks and recreation, transit, other services, the golf course, business licenses," he said.

"It's time that we look at upping our fees for some of these events. I think you can pay $30 a year for membership at Diamond Lakes. At other gyms, it's $30 a month."

Mr. Russell said they should look at that when setting next year's budget.

Commissioner Alvin Mason made the motion to approve Mr. Russell's proposed 0.705 mill increase. An amendment was added by Mr. Grantham for Mr. Russell to look for ways to reduce the millage even further before the final vote July 28.

After the meeting, Mr. Brigham said the government should look at cutting costs for the rest of this year and next year rather than raising fees and taxes.

"We had about a $12,000-a-day increase in expenses from 2006 to 2007," he said. "I'm assuming we're going to have that same increase in 2008 or more, and I think we need to work on reducing that daily cost."

IN OTHER ACTION Thursday, Bonnie Cox, partner with Cherry, Bekaert & Holland, presented highlights of financial data for 2007 that indicated "a good positive trend" in city finances. For example:

- The city had a 26 percent increase in general operating cash and short-term investments at Dec. 31. And, including money due from other funds at the end of the year, the city had $32.9 million in general-fund cash and temporary investments, compared with $26.16 million at the end of 2006.

- At Dec. 31, the city had 105 days of operating cash reserves, compared with 88 days at the end of 2006.

- The city's unreserved fund balance increased 19 percent, which brought it back to the 2003 level after its low point in 2005.

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

What's Next

The public will have three opportunities to be heard before Augusta commissioners hold the final vote July 28 to set millage.

Comments (20) Add comment
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dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 07/11/08 - 03:49 am
0
0
Let's see, it's alright to
Unpublished

Let's see, it's alright to raise the taxes because the city has some very important projects to look at, trolleys downtown
for whatever reason because no one has a clue who will be
downtown to ride the trolleys, or maybe we can spend some tax money on hiring the civic center authority members an anger
management consultant, maybe spend some money on our
crepe myrtle patrol officers or our water control officers, maybe
the commissioners need to just give fred russell an open check
book to do as he deems necessary. Great move Augusta, just
keep watching businesses leaves Richmond county for Columbia
county and some go to N. Augusta. Not to worry though, according to richmond county tax appraisers our homes are not
losing value, we are the only ones in the U.S. I guess and our
SUV's and trucks should be a lower value but not according to
the tax department. You see, once they raise taxes, no matter
what happens, they never lower them. People protest these
rate increases or they will never end!

Interested Citizen
0
Points
Interested Citizen 07/11/08 - 06:52 am
0
0
Thank you Mr. Bowles & Mr.

Thank you Mr. Bowles & Mr. Brigham, It is time you all look elsewhere.....the wasteful spending. For instance.....the really stupid replacement of perfectly good garbage cans, the money it cost to hire 4 people & a truck to go around and pick up the perfectly good cans that had been replaced. That had to be the most wasteful project anyone could think of. COME ON COMMISSIONERS.....mind our money. I am tired of paying more taxes for your incompetence. With gas & food increasing the way it is.....get rid of cell phones, gas allowances, etc.

DeborahElliott2
4
Points
DeborahElliott2 07/11/08 - 07:08 am
0
0
I agree with Interested

I agree with Interested Citizen, if they can't stop their cell phone and gas allowance, we need to sue the city for that. The economy is a bad enough time to start raising taxes, when there are NO MONIES left to the people to buy necessities like food and gas as is. People are having a hard time finding jobs cause they have LEFT the area, and the commissioners are chasing all small businesses away intentionally. How are the people going to pay this higher tax when they are all ready dependent on food banks that run out of food, or meals on wheels that ended some people's routes cause of gas prices, what about them? They are struggling to make it NOW, and you want to raise taxes? I think the people should sue you for wasteful spending.

alsway
0
Points
alsway 07/11/08 - 07:46 am
0
0
OK, Let's look at this a

OK, Let's look at this a little closer. In the last two years my property appraisal from the city has increased twice thus increasing my tax burden twice. (And by the way, the last increase from the city was 6%. On the very same day I received notice from my mortgage company that my property actually decreased in value by more than 15% because of a "market correction" thus reducing my home equity credit line.) I took both letters to the tax office for an explanation, but of course the tax office did not agree with the "market" and could not explain the 21% difference in appraisals. On top of this, I must accept a millage rate increase twice in the last two years and now I am expected to pay even more for a third increase. Someone please tell me what I am getting for all the extra money in taxes I continue to pay!

SmokinGun
0
Points
SmokinGun 07/11/08 - 08:00 am
0
0
This is the same horse and

This is the same horse and pony show that goes on every year. The commissioners always make a bold stance for the taxpayer stating that cuts need to be made, and that they have to look out for the taxpayer. It's all a show. They know taxes are going to be raised. They know that this city is going in the toilet because of all the entitlement and free services that the under priviledged (lazy people who would rather suck the government dry than get a job) have come to expect, and act as if they have been robbed if a sevice is cut. Yet these people provide nothing, they just take. We are headed to a point where all government should be abolished, and people should take care of themselves. What a great l;ife that would be. We pay these politicians, and they do whatever they want to do. I say get rid of them all!

mojo
0
Points
mojo 07/11/08 - 08:32 am
0
0
when and where are the public

when and where are the public hearings? we should attend and voice our objections!

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 07/11/08 - 08:35 am
0
0
before all the UNIFORMED

before all the UNIFORMED PEOPLE START MAKING IGNORANT AND DOWN RIGHT STUPID STATEMENTS regarding your tax assessments....you need to contact your state legislature who writes the laws that ARE ENFORCED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE REGARDING ALL OF THE COUNTIES IN GEORGIA MUST FOLLOW, INCLUDING YOUR PRECIOUS COLUMBIA COUNTY. or better yet before you go spouting off about what other parts of the country how would you like your values influenced by what people are paying for homes in NEW YORK OR CALIFORNIA where a 1200 sq ft home will sell for 250,000. why don't all of the uniformed with big mouths who don't know what they are taking about or rely on "WHAT MY REALTOR FRIEND SAYS" here are 2 sites you need to look at.....GAAO.ORG AND THE GA. DEPT OF REVENUE WEB SITE REGARDING YOUR PROPERTY ASSESSMENTS

alsway
0
Points
alsway 07/11/08 - 09:03 am
0
0
iisomir....It really is not

iisomir....It really is not about the legality of the actions, it is about why it seems to be the quickest path used by our commissioners to balance their budget. I do not think any of us mind paying our "fair" share to support our government, but we do mind us property owners having to pay the majority all the time! I would just like to see all the "waste" cut, or even better controlled before you look to increase my burden. Also, for your information, I currently have three properties for sale in Richmond county and can state with certainty that the market is soft and prices/loan appraisals reflect this, but my tax appraisals actually show that they are worth more. You want to explain that?

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 07/11/08 - 09:20 am
0
0
Do these commisioners ever

Do these commisioners ever read the replys to these articles?
Retired people on fixed income are haveing a hard enough time making ends meet already. Gas prices up, groceries, medical bills, etc. But all the commisioners see is tax increases, I hope they can understand basic economics and realize we are already paying enough taxes, all they need to do is learn how to budget the money.
I think we need a Grand Jury to investigate why the tax commison says property values are up but the money lenders say the opposite.

thistownisunbelievable
1
Points
thistownisunbelievable 07/11/08 - 10:03 am
0
0
Jsmjr--is there SOMETHING

Jsmjr--is there SOMETHING wrong with your KEYBOARD? It seems to jump back and FORTH to all caps. Weird. As to you substantive point (that was buried somewhere in the CAPS), this article is about raising the millage rate (i.e. tax rate). That has got people in a tizzy--and it should. Between the unexplainable valuation increases (which are simply a back door way to raise taxes without having to vote for a tax increase) and actual rate increases, the tax burden of ARC property owners has jumped through the roof in the past few years. THAT is why we are mad, and THAT is one of the reasons for the slow drain of people to Coco and N. Augusta.

justanotherjake
0
Points
justanotherjake 07/11/08 - 10:13 am
0
0
Its simply a question of what

Its simply a question of what services you are willing to pay for. If you want lower taxes cut everything but essential services; i.e. fire, police, public works. Cut out the nice to haves and stick with the gotta haves and you will lower your taxes. On the other hand CITIZENS will have to do without parks and other "quality of life" amenities. Those that are complaining so loud need to take a look at the Atlanta metro area. Their are cities up there that are close to being bankrupt. The cities are laying employees off by the hundreds, closing fire stations, reducing the police force and slashing parks and rec. Augusta seems to be make slow steady progress and is on its way to a more stable economic footing. Another way to lower taxes for homeowners would be to get more homeowners, the more you have the more its shared, get more commercial and industry into richmond county would help lower taxes for homeowners. The cost of doing business is getting more expensive for everyone including the government. The only way to offset that is to increase tax revenue or to cut back on services. Only the citizenry, and I would go so far to say as only those that pay taxes, can decide

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 07/11/08 - 10:22 am
0
0
Interested Citizen, we

Interested Citizen, we purchased new garbage cans so we could cancel our leases from the garbage companies.(yes we were leasing the others cans) We will recoup the investment in 2.5 years. Other than that I agree our spending is increasing at a greater rate than our revenue, my concern as is Jerry's why do we use taxes to make up for the shortfall????
Why not increase fees for transit and park and rec???? A tax for those who use the services.
i BEG ALL TO COME TO THE PUBLIC HEARINGS!!!!!!!!

lathy
0
Points
lathy 07/11/08 - 11:16 am
0
0
thank you joe bowles, you are

thank you joe bowles, you are the only commissioner who reads what we think and how we feel. i am strapped for cash already and with a tax increase it might just put my budget over the edge.

paulwheeler
124
Points
paulwheeler 07/11/08 - 12:38 pm
0
0
I'm just happy to hear that

I'm just happy to hear that there was a somewhat intellgient discussion related to the budget when there was no Marion Williams involved. That could have never happend with Williams on the commission. Now he will hopefully lose his next bid for office (Please help us God) and fade away.

LaTwon
1
Points
LaTwon 07/11/08 - 01:04 pm
0
0
if the properties were

if the properties were properly valuated to todays market R C would be bankrupt. as we slide into what could become another great depression the county needs to tighten as much as possible and do away with all non essential services. the feds are bankrupt, the states, the counties and cities are not far behind. the supply demand of housing in R C is out of balance. as older residents die younger ones are not replacing them due to the school system. our ability to just maintain zero growth is mostly from those most dependant on the govt. sales tax revenue is going to decrease as disposable income tightens. R C needs a plan for worst case scenario and hunker down not trolley follies, not right now............

disssman
6
Points
disssman 07/11/08 - 04:58 pm
0
0
I believe these concerns

I believe these concerns could be answered better if we had a web site telling us what we are spending and budgeting for. I have tried to find info about budget items and all I can find is the yearly ammount allocated or provided with no backup explanation as to how the amount was derived. This is especially frustrating when I see millions being provided to non-proffit (private) organizations with no explanation at all. What is further frustrating is seeing Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds being spent on items that were not included when the citizens voted for the SPLOST. The area would probably save a terrific amount if non consumable items (construction, capitol equipment) were broadcast in the Commerce Business Daily for bids. By the way does the contracting agency have anyone monitoring contracts for completion. The last time I checked that function was being subbed out at a huge (6 figuere salarys) cost to the city when an in house staff could do the same function. Finally, Who is running this city, is the DDA or the commissioners. The way the DDA is operating it appears any suggestion is acceptable to commissioners.

motivatedinhepzibah
0
Points
motivatedinhepzibah 07/11/08 - 05:39 pm
0
0
dickworth what stores have

dickworth what stores have left augusta for north augusta or columbia county. Didn't columbia county just try to get bass pro shops to relocate there. But bass pro shops said no and chose to locate off riverwatch pkwy in west augusta.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 07/11/08 - 08:26 pm
0
0
joebowles: Your comment on

joebowles: Your comment on the new garbage cans sounds like garbage to me. Why, if that were the case, have I not seen it before in print, on the news, or reported in any other way?

southern2
6122
Points
southern2 07/11/08 - 09:01 pm
0
0
Fred Russell has never met a

Fred Russell has never met a tax increase that he didn't like.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 07/11/08 - 09:38 pm
0
0
No longer amazed call Mark

No longer amazed call Mark Johnson, Director of the landfill 706-593-3201.
Why would I lie about the garbage cans??? You obviously don't know me and you just assume that i am a liar??

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 07/11/08 - 10:06 pm
0
0
No, joebowles, all I said was

No, joebowles, all I said was that I have not heard that garbage before. With all the previous negative comments made about replacing the garbage cans, why has this reason never surfaced before? See: http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/060108/met_460708.shtml

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