Augusta Commissioners approved next year's budget without a property tax increase, but even some of those who voted yes were not totally happy with the finished product.
"It's an unfortunate situation and you're almost dogged if you do and dogged if you don't. At the end of the day, we weren't getting anywhere," says Commissioner Alvin Mason, who was one of six yes votes to approve the budget.
What city leaders ended up with is a budget balanced in large part by using $4.5 million from city reserves.
"It is frustrating, as a Commissioner, when we can't balance revenue with spending. This government can't push its way from the table," said Commissioner Donnie Smith.
On the table was a 2 percent excise tax for industry to make up for manufacturers no longer paying sales taxes on the energy they buy. Commissioners did not approve that tax, costing $1.5 million in revenue.
"The will of the body was to do it that way, it wasn't my initial recommendation, and I have my personal opinion," says City Administrator Fred Russell.
Russell had not only recommended the excise tax, he also recommended giving employees a raise...$1,500 at first, but then $500. But, without the revenue from the excise tax, Commissioners voted not to give workers any salary increase.
"That was part of the problem, I mean, we don't have the revenue to give to the employees and we choose to give it to a select group within the community, by not imposing the excise tax," says Commissioner Donnie Smith, who voted against the budget.
Commissioners did approve an across the board 2.4 percent cut for all city departments to save $3.8 million, so not only are workers not getting raises, the budget axes hanging over their departments.
"Two point four percent could cause someone to lose their job," says Commissioner Bill Lockett. "So, no raises and maybe some job losses?" we asked. "That tells our employees how much we appreciate what they do on a daily basis," said Lockett.
Commissioners stress budgets are working documents, and can be changed and it's important to remember...Commissioners do not officially vote to set the property tax rate until late July or early August.
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