Proposed cuts in Augusta budget have neighbors nervous

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August 18, 2006

"Not only do I expect departments to make cuts, but I myself will make a cut," says Augusta commissioner Joe Bowles. Bowles has asked City Administrator Fred Russell for a pay cut, making himself a personal example of trimming the budget.

The county is looking to cut $6 million in services and perhaps over a hundred jobs, so Commissioner Bowles says it's only fair to cut his earnings as well.

Short of raising taxes, the only way to balance the city's budget is cutting spending. Almost every city department faces cutbacks, with the sheriff's office taking one of the largest hits.

The sight of officers is comforting for Adelaide Henderson. She says her neighbor went to jail after firing shots through her window.

"I'm shaking in my boots when he get out...knowing him he still come do something to me and my property," she says.

Others say increased patrols make the neighborhood a little safer.

But Fred Russell's budget proposal would eliminate 25 Richmond County sheriff's deputies, dropping the total number on staff to about 700.

Commissioner Bowles says if the community feels the effects of cutbacks, he should too.

"It is apparent to me the commission wasn't making a big enough sacrifice--myself as a commissioner wasn't making a big enough sacrifice," he says. "I decided this was something I needed to do to show not only do I expect departments to make cuts, but I myself will make a cut."

In a letter to Russell, Bowles writes, "Please reduce my salary 15% immediately. I feel that if I am cutting the county's budget, there is no better way than to start with myself."

"I hope the public will see the commission is willing to bite the bullet a little when we're asking other employees to do the same," he tells News 12.

Russell says the city would save roughly $12,000 if the entire commission agreed to the salary cutback.

"There's something on [this list] that's going to affect everyone in this city, and most of them aren't going to like us cutting what they like versus what everyone else likes," Russell says.

Adelaide's neighborhood wants to keep the cops.

"As far as the police...they've done a beautiful job cleaning this neighborhood up," Adelaide says.

But scaling back could be the only way to get the city's finances back on track.

Commissioner Bowles called for the entire commission to reduce their salaries by 10 percent. Their salaries are set by the state, so the cut would require special permission.

The final budget will be finished by November.

The list of proposed cuts totals six and a half million dollars. It includes taking three quarters of a million from the recreation department, which would close several parks and community centers; over a million dollars from transit, reducing bus service; and a million and a half dollars from the sheriff's department.

These recommended cuts would have to be approved by the Commission before going into effect.