Mayor Deke Copenhaver had one important vote blow up on him a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t about to happen again.
Monday’s 5-5 split Augusta Commission vote on the 1.75 mill property tax increase, with the Mayor breaking the tie to pass it, was as well planned as any vote in recent memory.
Commissioner Joe Jackson had sworn up and down he would never vote to support it, so he had to go. And go he did. His resignation due to personal, family issues was 100 percent legitimate, but the timing? Wow. What a coincidence.
His District 6 replacement, Ben Hasan, stepped in 60 seconds after taking his oath and did exactly what the majority of the people who voted him into office would have wanted him to do, and that is vote for the increase. So don’t blame Ben.
If you want someone to blame, the mayor, Wayne Guilfoyle, Mary Davis, Donnie Smith, Al Mason and Grady Smith are your targets. Had any of the listed commissioners abstained from voting, the hike would have failed. Had the Mayor voted no to break the 5-5 split, it would have failed. If any of those officials had genuinely wanted to stop this vote from going through, they had it in their power to do so.
But none of that happened, and do not let any of those officials off the hook for their part in this increase. If any of them bad mouth the increase, they are hypocrites and they are playing their constituents for fools.
Funny thing: I really don’t blame them for the increase, but I do take strong issue with all the theater and obfuscation that led to this staged event Monday morning.
The City of Augusta is to the point where, in a budgetary sense, they have cut as deeply as they can possibly cut. Political activists and naysayers aside, there are simply no numbers left to be juggled. The city government has more money going out than they have coming in, and with requested pay raises seemingly on the way for county law enforcement personnel, the 22 percent millage rate increase passed this week won’t even come close to covering next year’s expected budget. More increases are needed, and more will soon be coming.
But just deal with it honestly. Comparatively speaking, Augusta has been getting off cheap. Take a look at the rates around the state, both with Georgia’s similarly sized secondary cities, and then with other smaller local counties.
2013 Millage Rates
Richmond (Augusta) 8.042 (this does not include higher rates in urban service districts)
Muscogee (Columbus) 3 different rates between 17-10 Mills
Clarke (Athens) 13.95
Bibb (Macon) 12.003
Chatham (Savannah) 11.908
Even with the 1.75 mill increase passed this week, Augusta’s new main rate comes in lower than all the other secondary cities. But it won’t be enough. Operating costs continue to rise and long-standing municipal wage scales need to be adjusted upward. As they say on “Game of Thrones,” in a financial sense, winter is coming and it ain’t gonna be pretty.
Other counties make use of other revenue sources that may soon be under consideration here. A storm water fee for Augustans? Columbia County knows all about that one, and you better believe it is a concept that has been discussed. Increased user fees, excise taxes, utility taxes, franchise fees… just watch and see.
Funny how we just had several commission posts elected, not to mention a new mayor, and there wasn’t a heck of a lot of talk about any of this stuff. But they are talking about it now, by gum, and you better believe they all knew about it before this past Monday.
So did we have uninformed neophytes on the campaign trail or liars? In time, we will know. But one thing is for certain: if any of those five “no” votes tell you they didn’t really want the tax increase, you will know for a fact you are talking to a damn liar.
They could have stopped it. They didn’t.