Augusta budget battle heats up

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News 12 at 6 o'clock, November 21, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---The budget battle is heating up. A .971 millage rate increase would mean raises for some Richmond County Sheriff's deputies...but not firefighters.

"I think they deserve it because they do put their lives on the line, where as I know everyone thinks they deserve a raise, and that would be great but I think above all they do," says Rebecca Freeman.

The cost to taxpayers is about $33 per year on a $100,000 home...including firefighters would mean an additional $8.

"More power to them, I think it's a great idea," says Augusta State professor Dr. Ralph Walker.

The firehouse is really like a second home. They spend about 24 hours a day there at least 10 days out of the month. The starting pay is about $25,000, and they certainly don't do it for the money, they say it's something they love. "Absolutely, I'd say that the majority of the people who work here love their job, and are here because they are dedicated to it because they have something inside driving them to do this line of work," says firefighter Michael Tomasweski.

It is a line of work that has some looking for 2nd and 3rd jobs.

"Yeah, I'm gonna have to get a second job." Peter Schmidt served in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Yeah, I'm scraping by right now...I got a lot of bills...I was in school before this, and I gotta pay off school loans."

"I don't feel for them, I'm sorry." Serena Becker says the raise should go to teachers: "Honestly, I think that any Tom, Dick, or Harry would be willing to go to anyone's support to put a fire out, but we don't have that many people that are willing, or that have the knowledge to help our children."

But is raising taxes the answer? "To be honest with you our property taxes are too low," says Dr. Walker. Preliminary studies put the cities revenue at less than $115 million's like Columbus are closer to $200 million. That's a difference of $85 million.

Dr. Walker says, "Somebody has to have the guts to say we need money to run the city. We want to be a first class city, if you want to be a first class city pay for it."

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