Growth slowing to crawl

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Columbia County officials say the area's years of exorbitant growth have come to a near halt.

Officials are predicting just 1.5 percent growth next fiscal year in the county's tax digest.

"We're used to getting anywhere from an 8 to 14 percent increase," county Finance Director Leanne DeLoach said. "This is the lowest it's been since I've been here."

The tax digest is determined using the reassessed value of property, new home construction and new businesses.

"Columbia County saw such a tremendous growth every year because home values were going up in our county and new businesses were coming here," Deputy Administrator Scott Johnson said. "Subdivisions were popping up all over the place, which was adding to the digest."

All that has slowed in the wake of the recession and a collapsed housing market, he said.

To prepare for the stalled growth, county officials are preparing a new budget for fiscal 2009-10 with just a 0.3 percent increase. Commissioners likely will vote on the budget in June.

The proposed budget, about $55 million, will be similar to the current one. To accomplish that, Mr. Johnson said, county leaders have avoided filling vacant positions, re-examined service contracts, streamlined operations and cut capital expenses.

"We asked our employees to do more with less," he said. "We asked them to cut the capital, like doing without a new desk or a new computer. We've asked our employees to be diligent."

There were only four or five new hiring requests from department heads, Ms. DeLoach said.

"Any vacancies we have we're really scrutinizing and sometimes we're not filling," she said.

The budget does include a 4 percent merit raise.

"Our first stab at the budget came in low enough for us to go back and calculate in a merit raise, and that balanced the budget," Mr. Johnson said. "But I don't know that it will remain in there. It's a long time between now and June."

Despite the slowdown, it's still growth, he said.

"Other communities, not only has the tax digest growth slowed, but it's been reduced," he said. "While we're fortunate to have some increase in our digest, there are some communities that have double-digit reductions."

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (16) Add comment
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Riverman1
90759
Points
Riverman1 04/04/09 - 07:13 am
0
0
Sewer and water lines to

Sewer and water lines to nowhere. Forbes Magazine predicted a 1.7% DECREASE in the value of homes in Columbia County this year. I knew the county was in trouble when a certain department head asked everyone to refill ballpoint pens instead of getting new ones. Heh. But economic cycles can be a good thing when they cause us to reexamine how we spend. It makes funding the STATE Highway Patrol station look foolish when they don't patrol in Columbia County doesn't it?

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 04/04/09 - 09:11 am
0
0
GOOD... we're trying to
Unpublished

GOOD... we're trying to overdevelop Columbia County anyway!

JimiBob
0
Points
JimiBob 04/04/09 - 09:46 am
0
0
well well well.....columbia

well well well.....columbia country sprung up with all those overpriced plastic siding houses. Those things aren't going to be worth a crap when this is all over with!

workingmom
0
Points
workingmom 04/04/09 - 09:53 am
0
0
Problems with the economy

Problems with the economy affect everyone and all areas of the country, JimiBob. As nice as Columbia County is, it is not immune to some of the same problems as other communities. Why are people so envious of others who choose to live in areas to improve their quality of life? Be happy with where you are or move.

whatmistake
100
Points
whatmistake 04/04/09 - 11:09 am
0
0
How nice that Ron Cross and

How nice that Ron Cross and company have decided to use more taxpayer dollars to assure a raise for public employees. Such an increase wouldn't begin to cover the pay CUT I took recently to keep my private sector employer from eliminating my position.
Raises for those paid by the taxpayer should not even be considered during times of extreme economic hardship. Especially when Cross & Co. will gladly accept the additional income brought in by higher property assessments. Hard times or not, public employees remain some of the best paid and most securely employed people around.
When taxpayers are making sacrifices to accomodate the times, no less should be expected of taxpayer-paid workers, no matter how diligent they may be in their duties.
Reagan was right. Government IS the problem.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 04/04/09 - 02:00 pm
0
0
Some people that might

Some people that might consider moving have reasons they don't, for instance, they are caregivers that need to stay near disabled family members that can't be moved at this time. They aren't envious of those who move to other areas, thinking they are "improving their quality of life", they simply think everyone should feel safe in their own homes in America no matter where they live. Quality of life is being able to love and serve the people you love without having to worry about doors getting kicked in, dodging bullets, or having your possessions stolen by repeat offenders. Quality of life doesn't have to do with high incomes, big houses and material possessions. It has to do with peace and quiet, serving others with love and compassion, and reasonable security. That should be achievable without being forced to move. We don't have to be happy with where we are, if laws are not being enforced. And if we aren't happy we shouldn't be arrogantly told to move from our family estate instead of something being done about crime. Not everybody can uproot their whole family's and extended families' households, just because they're unhappy with what is happening to their community.

Many Arrows
-1
Points
Many Arrows 04/04/09 - 02:04 pm
0
0
NET growth of 1.5% is

NET growth of 1.5% is actually pretty decent. Even in the areas of the Southeast with solid gains are seeing home price decreases of 2 to 4%, so new construction will be strong enough to offset existing home price decreases.

Commercial will take a hit, with rental rates probably adjusting 15 to 25%. Eventually this will hit the digest hard, but not this year.

What will be interesting will be the effects of the NEW tax shift from corporations to county residents and commercial owners on the millage rate and whether it will be publicized.

workingmom
0
Points
workingmom 04/04/09 - 02:19 pm
0
0
Hopefully, Columbia County

Hopefully, Columbia County will be able to withstand this small setback. I have noticed a dramatic decrease in new homes being built as well as a decrease in homes being sold. This might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise and give the county time to catch up on traffic control. Only time will tell.

gnx
7
Points
gnx 04/04/09 - 05:12 pm
0
0
CC will never catch up on

CC will never catch up on traffic control as long as the current commission, complete with skewed priorities, is in place. I hope eventually they'll stop with all new building and give those empty homes and strip malls a chance for occupancy. This county's largest problem is lack of proper infrastructure - while there may be water and sewer lines to nowhere in many areas, there are many extremely nice neighborhoods still on septic systems. Our quality of life and home values will never improve until the CC commission practices financial prudence across the board and concentrates on improving county-wide infrastructure BEFORE spending on their wish list.

workingmom
0
Points
workingmom 04/04/09 - 09:44 pm
0
0
I totally agree with that too

I totally agree with that too gnx, but I am happy to have nice restaurants, shopping closer to my home and jobs in our community. This progress does have its drawbacks as you and Many Arrows have pointed out and we must take the bad with the good as our area continues to thrive in tough economic times.

HillGuy
7
Points
HillGuy 04/04/09 - 10:11 pm
0
0
Atleast Columbia County is

Atleast Columbia County is still seeing growth, albeit very modest growth, whereas Augusta continues to lose people.

Batman
18
Points
Batman 04/04/09 - 10:32 pm
0
0
The heck w/CC. AIKEN is 10x

The heck w/CC. AIKEN is 10x better. NO traffic, great schools, fewer "wanna be's". You can keep CC!

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 04/05/09 - 03:33 pm
0
0
Augusta continues to lose

Augusta continues to lose people, because those that leave are too short-sighted to see if they don't combat the problems here, the jobs in Augusta that are supporting commuting Columbia county residents will eventually disappear. Everyone has the "not me" attitude about crime. They don't want to be victims of crime, but when it comes time to report it, they say, "not me" and flee. That's what criminals are counting on. They'll destroy Augusta and spread to their next targets. Don't count on being unscathed by the problem, they can move anywhere you do.

workingmom
0
Points
workingmom 04/05/09 - 04:50 pm
0
0
Again, NO area is immune to

Again, NO area is immune to crime. However, there is nothing wrong with leaving an area where you feel it is unsafe to raise a family, where the property values have declined tremendously, where the only things left are places such as the hospitals and large businesses that keep the county's head above water. I wouldn't move to Richmond County now if someone gave me a home there. Again, crime can happen anywhere and has recently. The horrible tragedy with Mrs. Parsons is just one example. I am not willing to take on criminals alone and risk my life or my family's lives. If the police department can't control the crime, then how are citizens supposed to do it? I feel as safe as I can possibly feel where I am right now and I like it that way. (And yes, I do realize all that could change tomorrow.)

KSL
140455
Points
KSL 04/05/09 - 11:05 pm
0
0
Careful there, cockytiger.

Careful there, cockytiger. Don't want you to be too cocky. Columbia County has a lot going for it in it's convenience to Augusta. I happen to love Aiken because it is it's own entity. In 1969 when we were looking for a place to live in Aiken County, we bi-passed North Augusta because it just had too much feel of a bedroom community of Augusta and no real feel of a town on it's own. Aiken has always had its own real reason for existence. Snobby, I will admit.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 04/06/09 - 12:26 pm
0
0
There is something wrong in

There is something wrong in leaving an area when you will be leaving other family members behind that are dependent on you and your children are excelling the best school in the state, a school they can no longer attend if they leave the county. If something isn't done about crime here the magnet schools and the International Baccalaureate school are going to suffer & die too, along with more businesses. If families leave because there are no excellent schools left in Richmond County, those are a lot more empty houses and a lot less property taxes to support Augusta. NO! Good citizens shouldn't have to flee the county. More needs to be done about crime here. There are good, law-abiding citizens here who should be protected instead of being forced to make moves that will endanger their financial stability and their disabled family members that would have to be left behind. We have a full police force, right? We need neighborhoods cleared of drug traffickers, litterers, something done about "random" gunfire in subdivisions, trespassers at least ticketed (we shouldn't have to prove whether they can read the sign!), noise complaints addressed 24/7, not everyone is on day shift!

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 04/06/09 - 12:35 pm
0
0
I just reread my post, and I

I just reread my post, and I just want to make clear I don't think there is anything wrong with workingmom leaving the county, I think she had good reasons to do so, in addition to concerns about crime. I'm talking about those that COULD make a difference and don't. I'm talking about there would be something wrong if I, MYSELF, left the county and didn't try to do something about crime here because under MY circumstances it would be wrong not to stand and fight. I'm sure there are some others that left that had my same concerns, but not my ties and responsibilities to people in the area, that I can understand. But people that have family roots here, that have the connections to do something to combat crime here, then don't? What is YOUR problem? If you don't see that there is a problem, well here's a clue! AUGUSTA, we have a problem WITH TOO MANY CRIMES, MISDEMEANORS AND CODE VIOLATIONS!

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