Russell versus Guilfoyle in the battle of the budget

Russell versus Guilfoyle in the battle of the budget

Augusta Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle had clearly had enough.

Enough of a 2014 proposed budget that had been out of balance by more than $8.5 million for weeks.

Enough of discussions about increasing property taxes to maintain city services.

Enough of poring over the hundreds of budget pages without getting much feedback from his colleagues.

During this week’s Augusta Commission meeting to discuss adopting the 2014 budget, Guilfoyle had reached the end of his rope and he decided to take his frustrations out on City Administrator Fred Russell.

The meeting began fairly calmly with Russell explaining to the commission that Augusta is faced with the challenge of not experiencing a great deal of growth in its revenue.

“But we have had a great deal of growth in our expenditures,” Russell said. “What concerns me now is not where we are today, but where we need to be in a couple of years.”

Since Russell had not received enough input from the entire commission during the budget workshops, the city administrator felt he did not have the six votes needed from commissioners to support any of the individual budget suggestions.

Therefore, Russell concentrated on his original recommendation to the commission: Raise the millage rate to help reduce the budget shortfall.

“I think we’ve been fairly good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Russell said. “But we have also put ourselves in a situation where we are living in a world where we are taxing less than we did in 2007.”

That is unrealistic, Russell said.

“If you look at a 0.5 mill increase, it would give us about $2 million,” Russell told the commission on November 19. “That impact on a $100,000 home is $17.50 a year.”

For a 0.75 mill increase, that would equal a $26.25 a year increase on a $100,000 house and would generate $3 million in revenue.

“If you go to 1 mill, you get $4 million, and that’s $35 a year on a $100,000 house,” Russell said, adding a 1.5-mill increase would generates $6 million for the city. “That’s $52.50 a year on a $100,000 house. That’s a dollar a week.”

Russell said he felt Augusta had no choice but to raise property taxes.

“As much as I have avoided wanting to do this over the past several years, I really don’t see any way in the world that it could be reasonable for me, at this point, to recommend a budget that wasn’t cognizant of the fact that we haven’t raised our millage rate since 2007,” he said.

Russell also backed off of his original suggestion to provide each county employee a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, of $1,500. Instead, he recommended that every employee receive $500.

Along with several other adjustments to the budget, Russell also suggested a 2.4 percent across-the-board cut of each department. Russell again told commissioners that he was suggesting an across-the-board cut because he did not receive any consensus from the majority of the commission on what programs or departments needed to be cut.

By that point, Guilfoyle was fuming.

“I’m pretty sure I’m right on this,” Guilfoyle said, looking directly at Russell. “The administrator is supposed to present a balanced budget.”

Russell quickly responded, “You have got one in front of you, sir.”

Guilfolyle immediately shot back, “That is not a balanced budget.”

Russell replied, “Yeah, it is.”

Guilfoyle quickly realized this debate was going absolutely nowhere, so he decided to present his colleagues with a motion.

“I make a motion to task the administrator to return to this body with a balanced budget with no tax increase or no excise tax (on energy) implemented,” Guilfoyle said.

As the conversation continued, both Russell and Guilfoyle began to quickly raise their voices.

“Mr. Mayor, you can make all the motions you want, unless you give me some direction other than that, I will be happy to bring you that budget,” Russell said. “But let me suggest to you that, at the end of the day, I will be making cuts and I will be doing things that you might not want as a group.

“If you want me to cut it and slice it and dice it, I can do that. And have no problem with that whatsoever.”

However, Russell warned that it was simply an “exercise in futility” if the commissioners did not approve those budget cuts.

Guilfoyle told Russell that, for the past three years, the budget has been “laid in the laps” of the commission instead of Russell taking the reins.

In fact, after a budget meeting last week, Guilfoyle said he couldn’t help but call his office staff and tell them what a “joke” the budget discussions had become because Russell was giving the commission no real direction.

“It is the same thing as me getting one of my helpers to balance my company without having knowledge of the revenue, expenditure or any of the other details,” Guilfoyle said. “And that is what we as a body are having to do.”

Guilfoyle told Russell that he needed to take some responsibility over the budget.

“What provisions are we putting in place to save money every year so we don’t have this dog and pony show that comes before this body every year?” Guilfoyle asked.

Russell insisted those final decisions must come from the commission.

“All you have to do is tell me what to cut,” he said. “And y’all agree on it and the dog and pony show goes away. You make policy. I don’t make policy. If you want me to cut out recreation, tell me to do that. We can cut it out. That’s fine.

“If you want to cut out anything, that’s up to you to make that policy. Or you can live with the recommendations I make. But you can’t have it both ways.”

Guilfoyle told his colleagues that they had wasted their time during the recent budget workshops.

“I can promise you one thing, my time is very valuable in what I do for a living,” Guilfoyle said to Russell. “No different than it is for you. But for me to sit here and waste y’all’s time and make me waste my time and energy, I think we need to refocus.”

Following the lengthy debate, commissioners agreed that the body needed more time to discuss the budget. They voted to continue the meeting until December 2 so the commission could meet again next week to discuss the best ways to balance the budget.

  • Bulldog

    How dysfunctional! All this should have been worked out in committee meetings. Russell is right. Unless the Commission votes for the needed cuts, nothing is going to happen. The Commission needs to form a consensus on what to cut and then direct the administrator to do it. All this is happening because there is NO LEADERSHIP on the Commission, And at least 2 of the commissioners do not have the intellect begin to understand the process.

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