Deficit points to tax increase

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If the Augusta Commission's first briefing on next year's budget is any indication, the city is in for a dismal 2010.

The city faces a deficit of nearly $8.6 million, and City Administrator Fred Russell recommends a tax increase and closing the Augusta Municipal Golf Course.

Collections from a penny sales tax meant to offset property taxes are down, as are ad valorem taxes and state and superior court fines, Mr. Russell told commissioners at a called meeting Tuesday. The law enforcement budget is projected to come up about $5.9 million short, and Mr. Russell said he and Sheriff Ronnie Strength couldn't find any cuts to make.

That hole could be plugged with a 1.317 millage increase, which would add $46.10 to the tax bill on a $100,000 home and put the millage at 92 percent of the city's tax cap, the administrator said.

But that still wouldn't balance the budget. Among other things, Mr. Russell recommended raising bus fares and cutting services to make up a shortfall of nearly $1.8 million in Augusta Public Transit, cutting department appropriations by 15 percent to save $1.2 million and closing the golf course, known as "The Patch," to save $310,400.

"This is probably the toughest budget that we've had to put together in the eight years that I've been here," Mr. Russell said.

In perhaps the only good news he offered, Mr. Russell said his estimations were conservative and that some of the painful decisions could be put off until next summer, when revenues could turn out to be more than expected.

After the presentation, several officials complained that the city has no way to raise more money.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver suggested passing a resolution in support of the Georgia Municipal Association's efforts to persuade the Legislature to allow cities to collect more sales taxes. Mr. Russell said that with an extra half-penny tax per dollar spent, the city wouldn't be in this situation.

Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason also suggested dipping into the Utilities Department's enterprise funds, an idea Jerry Brigham and Jimmy Smith warned against.

"At some point we have to stop looking at just the homeowner to bail us out," Mr. Mason said. "We're not talking about raping and pillaging it."

According to a spreadsheet provided by Steve Little, the assistant director of finance and administration for the water department, it has $65.8 million in operating cash on hand, but it's off limits.

For starters, because of the old city government's penchant for raiding water revenues as it was sinking toward bankruptcy, bond covenants forbid dipping into proceeds to replenish the general fund or any other coffers, Mr. Little said. To do so would leave the city open to lawsuits because the agreement helps the city obtain a favorable bond rating and bond underwriting to fund the water system.

Also, the money is already targeted. Of the $65.8 million, $48.6 million is contractually obligated; $5 million is for Fort Gordon; $4 million is for a required cash reserve; and the remaining $8.2 million will go toward capital projects budgeted this year, according to the data.

An additional $40 million in needed projects still has to be funded, and utilities is already looking into stimulus funds and state loans, Mr. Little said.

If the city were to use up its water department funds, then have a major water main break or other unforeseen disaster, it would be in a crisis, he said.

Commissioner Joe Bowles reiterated Tuesday that the city golf course should be privatized. He wondered why the city government hasn't been furloughing or laying off employees as private companies are doing.

Mr. Bowles said the working budget shows how poorly the city has its priorities set, considering the largest shortfall is in law enforcement.

"Public safety and infrastructure should be the top priorities of this commission," he said.

Mr. Brigham called some parts of the budget "dead on arrival" and suggested getting input from the public on which services it would like to see cut first.

Mr. Russell said he expects a budget to be formally adopted in late November. "It's not going to be easy," Mr. Russell said. "It's always easier to do a budget when you have lots of money."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (28)

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dickworth1
725
Points
dickworth1 10/21/09 - 04:38 am
0
0

One day, hopefully, the

One day, hopefully, the commissioners and tax dept, fred russell, and the mayor will realize thatyou are taxing your
property owners out of the county. If I move to columbia
county, I would spend money in stores closest to my house,
therefore you lose sales tax revenues. If the average wages goes down for richmond county, guess what, the spending goes down! When richmond county realizes that people replacing these citizens moving out, do not make as much income and
paying more taxes, therefore has less money to spend with
merchants, then maybe the city will cut non essential services.
I feel the representation from the commissioners for the taxpayers is non existant. The city has the attitude of let them
go to another county, someone will take their place, but do
they spend money like the one's that left? Do they pay their
taxes? Also, the county spends tax money on new projects,
such as a new judicial center and then argue about the name of
the building. Quit naming every building after someone, especially someone who has destroyed richmond county school
system with the forced busing issue! Our school system is terrible.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 10/21/09 - 05:33 am
0
0

cut out the fluff.. Metro

cut out the fluff.. Metro Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Development Authority of Richmond County, Downtown Development Authority, Augusta Tomorrow, Inc Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission.... surely there is at least a LITTLE bit of overlap there.. What exactly do all these organizations DO? Not to mention money wasted on study after study after study. Cut the commissioner's perks. And Fred Russel's too. ps.. stop filling lawsuits against LEGAL businesses because they go against your vague perceptions of ethics! (xmart)

Brad Owens
3646
Points
Brad Owens 10/21/09 - 06:17 am
0
0

The DDA gets about

The DDA gets about $150,000.00 a year...

skimpy159
0
Points
skimpy159 10/21/09 - 06:27 am
0
0

The first thing the deficit

The first thing the deficit needs to point to is reduce waste, cut the fat and reduce these ridiculous entitlement and "subsidized" programs. If this fails, then talk about a tax increase. If these things were done tho, I believe the county would be rolling in the doe!

WhippingPost
1
Points
WhippingPost 10/21/09 - 07:01 am
0
0

Excellent post skimpy!

Excellent post skimpy!

paulwheeler
105
Points
paulwheeler 10/21/09 - 07:33 am
0
0

Well if the DDA gets $150,000

Well if the DDA gets $150,000 it's worth cutting that useless entity off. Aftrer all Fred wants to close the "Patch" to save $310,000, we could get rid of the DDA and some of that other useless, expensive downtown crap and we could save the golf course!

Just Another Day
0
Points
Just Another Day 10/21/09 - 08:13 am
0
0

Cut ALL county services and

Cut ALL county services and let JUSTUS4 and the others with his way of thinking have the county..........

Just Another Day
0
Points
Just Another Day 10/21/09 - 08:17 am
0
0

OH where, Oh where is that

OH where, Oh where is that $10,000,000 the county gave to MCG to buy and destroy the old Gilbert Manor? Would come in handy right about now...........

auglaney
0
Points
auglaney 10/21/09 - 08:39 am
0
0

Why can't the people in the

Why can't the people in the urban area start paying the same taxes as the people in the suburban area? That would be bringing in extra revenue. I say give furlough days for Fred Russell or better yet get rid of him. If we had someone else, I
bet we would see a difference. Everytime there is a deficit, he
screams property tax increase. How much property tax does he
pay? All Fred Russell is doing is running all the homeowners out of Richmond county and when are the commissioners going to wake up and realize it. There has got to be better ways to deal with the deficit in the budget through the waste of money that Richmond County has paid out for useless projects. Some of these projects that only a select few have interest in could be privatized and supported by the selected few that are interested in them. They can hold fundraisers. There are all kind of alternatives.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 10/21/09 - 08:46 am
0
0

hey joe..why not send out

hey joe..why not send out "flunky, why me worry, tax'em until the bleed fred" to sell the idea of how beneficial the TEE CENTER will be to the taxpayers, he can use his standard line tht he used standing in front of the fire/police station, only this time stand in lot where the center is supposed to be built and chant "if you build it they will come" and can have the person most likely to benefit from the TEE center standing in the backround with his horses...you don't get it the city is broke and you still support a building project that is not guaranteed to generate the revenue that you and the small few who will benefit claim that it will...before you obligate the taxpayers to 40 million more in debt why not make public the feasability study, marketing and the demographic data necessary to support the TEE CENTER... wait i guess you can find that data the same place you can find the data supporting the "ELLIS STREET OPTION" that you promised andy cheek you would support and work to get approved before termed out and HE MOVED ACCROSS THE RIVER TO SOUTH CAROLINA

FallingLeaves
26
Points
FallingLeaves 10/21/09 - 09:59 am
0
0

I already lost a neighbor due

I already lost a neighbor due to increased property taxes last year. He moved out of the county. I guess more of my taxpaying neighbors will be leaving now and more of the tax-guzzling neighbors moving in.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 10/21/09 - 10:46 am
0
0

LIFELONG, I never supported

LIFELONG, I never supported the Ellis Street project. I promised Andy to clean the canal we have now, which I did on a monthly basis and I am sure you were there with us???

creolechick
55
Points
creolechick 10/21/09 - 11:32 am
0
0

NO Tax increase. You've

NO Tax increase. You've taken enough of our money. The commission needs to find another way. I definitely think Fred needs to go and we need to get someone who can help the taxpayers! I also think one thing they could do is decrease trash pickup to one day a week. I would rather that than an increase in taxes.

jack
10
Points
jack 10/21/09 - 12:45 pm
0
0

North Augusta is even better

North Augusta is even better than CC for taxes, good government and services at a very reasonable tax rate. We built a fine, new city government building and we ain't getting a tax hike. However, we don't have the sponges that RC has sucking off the dole and paying no taxes (old city limits). Gee, go figure.....

MrAlwaysRight
0
Points
MrAlwaysRight 10/21/09 - 12:53 pm
0
0

Would everyone strenuously

Would everyone strenuously objecting to increasing local taxes due to budget shortfalls please apply the same logic to our Federal Government? "No new taxes" drove Bush I out of office. "No new taxes for the middle class" should do the same to Ma0bama.

Chief_Broom
21
Points
Chief_Broom 10/21/09 - 12:58 pm
0
0

Go anywhere in the world and

Go anywhere in the world and tell people you're from Augusta, Ga. and golf automatically comes up in the conversation. Augusta is synonymous with golf. It is preposterous to think of this city without a municipal golf option for the average person who can't afford a ritzy club membership! Especially when you consider the storied tradition that is the Patch. Our Patch! I grew up at the Patch and learned how to play golf there. Certainly budget concerns should take precedence but we must figure out how to keep the Patch. Think of all the money wasted on the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame on Reynolds street when everyone knows that golf is really supported and handed down to future generation trhough municipal golf courses like the Patch.

corgimom
19232
Points
corgimom 10/21/09 - 01:16 pm
0
0

Chief Broom, then, of course,

Chief Broom, then, of course, you would have no problem making the Patch pay for itself and raise the rates until it does.

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 10/21/09 - 01:55 pm
0
0

hey joe then i think you

hey joe then i think you better contact him because the article in the metro spirit or augu chronicle about andy cheek must have been wrong because if i am not mistaken it indicated (or possibly in the aug chronicle) the you agreed to continue the effort to make the ellis street option a reality...P. S. hey joe being a politician and UP FOR RE-ELECTION I WOULD EXPECT YOU TO BE THERE AND SEEN AS CARING FOR THE CITY...i wish you had that much fiscal discipline to vote against obligating the taxpayers for 40 million dollars without supporting documentation to back up claim that the TEE CENTER will profitable

lifelongresidient
0
Points
lifelongresidient 10/21/09 - 01:58 pm
0
0

chief, that's the short

chief, that's the short sighted thinking of the commission, close the golf course to save 300,000, while spend 40 million on a pipe dream and i guess without the necessary market reaserch data/feasability study supporting the claim that the TEE CENTER will be profitable for augusta not just one influencial individual

1of the frontrowgang
0
Points
1of the frontrowgang 10/21/09 - 02:41 pm
0
0

Show us the amount of money

Show us the amount of money the tennis center and the swimming pool cost the county. Show us the amount of people using each of the three areas. Does the revenue from green fees etc. go back to the golf course or is it divided up? Tell the whole story Mr. Russell.

truthsetmfree
70
Points
truthsetmfree 10/21/09 - 03:36 pm
0
0

Certainly Fred Russell could

Certainly Fred Russell could come up with something better than this. The Patch lost money last year because its proceeds are combined with the losses of the Tennis Center and the Aquatic Center. If we are looking to raise bus fees, and close the golf course to raise money we are in trouble. We could save 300,000 by getting rid of Fred, and his assistants, and maybe his two secretaries.

Fred has lost his vision and needs to move on to something else. These recommendations are laughable.

corgimom
19232
Points
corgimom 10/21/09 - 05:08 pm
0
0

"He wondered why the city

"He wondered why the city government hasn't been furloughing or laying off employees as private companies are doing." Commissioner Bowles, that was a rhetorical question, right? I think you know the answer as well as the rest of us do. Thank God there is someone like you asking sensible questions of that circus known as A-RC government.

corgimom
19232
Points
corgimom 10/21/09 - 05:14 pm
0
0

Johnny Edwards. Please

Johnny Edwards. Please publish the figures for the Cabbage Patch, the tennis center, and the aquatic centers. Tell us the gross revenues. Tell us the net profit and/or loss. Tell us how many people are using them. Give us some FACTS. I'm an accountant. What municipal fund combines all three of those entities, because that makes no sense whatsoever? How can the Cabbage Patch lose money but supposedly make money, but be combined with the tennis and aquatic facilities and offset their losses?

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 10/21/09 - 06:16 pm
0
0

Corgimon, The Patch loses

Corgimon, The Patch loses that much, The Aquatic center another 300,000 and the Tennins Ctr around 50 or 75 per year.
It's funny that when the Patch was losing 70,000 a year, there were those that wanted Tom Beck to be fired, but now that it's losing 300,000 a year it's no problem???????

justanotherjake
0
Points
justanotherjake 10/21/09 - 06:42 pm
0
0

Fred Russell has been

Fred Russell has been propping up the general fund through what ever means necessary. He's even tried taking money from fire fees to off set expenditures in the general fund, this is specifically against the Augusta charter. At least according to my source.

enana031
0
Points
enana031 10/21/09 - 06:49 pm
0
0

The only thing Fred Russell

The only thing Fred Russell knows is to propose balancing the budget on the backs of Richmond County property owners. Enough is enough. Richmond County needs to be on a budget, collect taxes that are way past due and stop spending funds they don't have! We are overtaxed already!

Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 10/21/09 - 07:51 pm
0
0

Good ideas Joe Bowles.

Good ideas Joe Bowles. Privatize it all! Throw in the Transit system too. $4,000,000 loss saved. SPLOSTS don't work in bad economies. The Libertarians tried to tell you. Now your taxes will go up, like Fred said they wouldn't. Does that man ever get tired of being dead wrong, or does he not care?

MAnd130630
0
Points
MAnd130630 10/21/09 - 08:29 pm
0
0

Own a house in RC, my home

Own a house in RC, my home assessment goes up $5,000.00 every year. I called the tax fools and was told that they calculate my taxes based on what homes are selling for in my area...B.S. Homes have not been for sale or sold in my area lately (Old Woodlake). I Bought a new house but if they raise my taxes this time, Not only am I I leaving the county, I'm leaving the state. Fiscal responsibilty...Quit spending money before you have it or are sure that you are going to get it. If I over draw my bank account, I get charged a $35.00 overdraft fee so what the F*#! are you doing with my money? Your account is OVERDRAWN

walrus4ever
354
Points
walrus4ever 10/21/09 - 09:54 pm
0
0

Little Detroit pure and

Little Detroit pure and simple. i live in Anderson now and I can tell you that we havent had a property tax increase in four years. What we do have is a sparkling Main St, new police cars and municipal bldg. All without gouging the homeowners. this isnt a big money county but we have folks who know how to get things done. Augusta sure is headed down the tube and I hate to see my old home rot due to racial bickering and dumb priorities.

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