AUGUSTA — A $69.3 million city and school budget proposed by the city manager would keep the property tax rate the same as it is now.

The budget, submitted to city councilors by Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo on Wednesday, is up by $2.3 million — or 3.4% — over the current year’s budget. But projected revenue increases — including pandemic-related federal relief funds and an increase in the city’s overall property valuation — mean it will not require a tax increase and should allow the rate to remain at its current $20.94 per $1,000 of property value.

For the average residential homeowner, the budget as proposed would result in a tax bill of $2,190.

The budget restores some of the 32 city positions cut in last year’s budget, including a deputy human resources director, the new position of marketing and community relations director, and a code enforcement officer and police officer. It also does not include any employee furlough days, which were part of last year’s budget, though most of them were not implemented.

“This proposed budget attempts to strike the right balance between bringing our funding back to more traditional levels to provide the programs and services our citizens need and expect, while being cognizant of the limits we should place on our taxpayers and the amount that is prudent to rely on our reserves,” Bridgeo said of the proposal.

Of the people who held those 32 positions cut last year in response to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, Bridgeo said, all but three or four have come back to the city, many in different jobs than they held before, while some chose not to return.

The budget uses $900,000 the city expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan, Bridgeo said. He said he tried to use those revenues for one-time expenditures he anticipates will be allowed by the federal government, or items that could be put off if it turns out they aren’t eligible to be covered by that funding.

The budget also taps into the city’s undesignated fund balance, a reserve account generally made up of funds unspent from previous budgets. Bridgeo said that account has grown during the past year due to a number of significant revenue sources exceeding expectations.

The budget would use $2.2 million from that fund, which Bridgeo said would leave about $5.8 million left. The City Charter requires a fund balance of at least 5% of the total budget be kept on hand, and recommends at least 8.3% of the total budget be kept in reserve. This proposed budget would meet the recommended percentage, but just barely, at 8.32%. The use of those funds reduces the amount of money required to come from taxpayers.

“In an ideal world I would not recommend we take as much as we’re taking (from the fund balance),” Bridgeo said Wednesday. “But city councilors have made it clear they don’t want to burden taxpayers with an increase this year.”

The school budget, as approved by the school board in early March and included in the overall budget going to city councilors for debate and eventual approval, is up by 0.3% and is not expected to require a tax increase. That is something Bridgeo credited, in his budget message to city councilors, with helping the overall budget not need a tax increase, despite the proposed increase in municipal spending.

“I am reasonably confident that we can again this year adopt a budget that holds the property tax rate flat while still ensuring that we provide the resources to fully fund the core services necessary to meet the needs of our residents and businesses,” Bridgeo said. “This is due in no small measure to the fact that the School Board has finalized their budget and is not seeking any increase in property tax support for the coming year.”

Municipal spending increases were largely driven, the manager said, by the restoration of some positions cut last year, the elimination of furlough days and by contracted wage increases for city employees, most of whom are due for 3% wage increases in the coming year.

City councilors are expected to debate the budget over the next several weeks, likely wrapping it up in early May and approving it later that month, according to a budget review schedule. That discussion is scheduled to start April 6, with the school budget. The school budget, but not the city budget, will go to voters for ratification June 8.

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