November 30, 2006
After going back and forth for months, Augusta commissioners now have a plan for next year's budget.
On a vote of 6 to 4, the commission approved a budget that includes major cuts to departments, layoffs, and a tax increase.
If you're a property owner in Richmond County, your taxes are going up. A 0.34 percent tax increase was just approved. That's an extra $11.90 you'll pay on a $100,000 home.
Big changes at the transit service. Two managers will lose their jobs and the downtown shuttle will be eliminated. But there is some good news. No routes will be eliminated. Instead most routes will run one hour apart instead of 30 minutes apart. Fares will not increase.
The sheriff's office is getting cut half a million dollars, but no deputy positions will be eliminated.
The biggest loser is the recreation department. One million dollars will be axed from their budget, and nearly all recreation fees will increase.
But the big winners in this budget are the arts and the Weed and Seed program in Barton Village. The arts will get the $100,000 they fought for, and the Weed and Seed program will be fully funded. Originally they were going to be cut altogether.
In this budget, city employees get a 2 percent raise. Unfortunately, at least a dozen employees will lose their jobs. Fred Russell is not telling us which jobs. He will announce that at the first of the year.
The vote nearly split the commission in half. We spoke with commissioners about this controversial decision.
"I'm satisfied with this," Commissioner Marion Williams said. "It's not the best, but for what we had, it's the best we could do right now. It wasn't a large increase on taxpayers."
"This budget is a lot of smoke and mirrors," said Commissioner Jerry Brigham. "We're going to continue to run into financial problems unless we get serious about reducing the size of this government, and we had an opportunity, and we wasted it."
Six votes is what they needed to pass this budget, and that's exactly number they got. Here's how the commission voted: