Augusta 2007 budget back to the drawing board

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November 22, 2006

They've been talking about it for months now, but Augusta commissioners still don't have a plan for next year's budget.

Now two proposals have been voted down, and the city administrator is working to come up with another plan.

It takes six votes to get a budget passed, but when you are dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars and ten people who have their own ideas of how it should be spent, it means a lot of work and re-working.

"What we've got to do is get a document that at least six people are comfortable with," city administrator Fred Russell told News 12.

The task has proven to be much easier said than done. Russell's first two drafts of next year's city budget have not pleased the commission.

"We're still at the stage where I'm getting ten different sets of directions."

His most recent plan voted down was much different from the first. Changes included restored money for the arts and the Weed and Seed Program in Barton Village, cuts for parts of transit service and recreation, and a small tax increase.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver says until there's a compromise between commissioners, the budget battle will continue.

"It's communication, plain and simple," Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver said. "I had two commissioners in this morning to discuss these issues, and it's getting together and working together and communicating which things you want to see in the budget with which things you want to see out."

Meantime, Mr. Russell says he'll try to come up with Plan C before meeting with city leaders next week for another vote. He's not sure what, if any, changes he will make.

Russell knows many hope the tax increase will be eliminated, but he says the increase is necessary at this point.

"If you go to Georgia Power and BellSouth and the gas company and convince them never to raise your rates again, I won't ever ask for a tax increase," he said.

Commissioners will meet next week to try and approve the budget.

If there's one thing we have seen commissioners agree on this year, it's to make sure not dip into the fund/reserve balance. That's something they've done for the last five years...

Is there a deadline for when they need to have the budget approved.

The Commission has set a deadline of December 5 to have the budget approved...but as we saw last year, this could go into next year if there are not six votes.