One local government is increasing taxes and salaries.
North Augusta City Council members voted on Nov. 6 on a series of ordinances, including the final budget for FY 2024, the tax millage rate, and the water and wastewater fees.
The city’s consolidated budget for 2024 is just over $54.5 million, an increase of 8.14% from this year’s almost $50.3 million spending package.
Mayor Britton Williams said the budget is the outgrowth of a council retreat held earlier this year. Department heads were asked to submit growth expectations over the next decade and what it would take to continue to provide services at the level expected by residents.
“So, the budget we have tonight really is beginning to address those issues,” he said. “I’m very pleased with our administration and directors. They have put a lot of planning into the future and the decisions this council is making. We’re making some tough decisions, and it doesn’t make everybody happy, but we are doing the right thing.”
One of those tough decisions is to increase city property taxes by two mills from the current 75.5 mills to 77.7 mills. That will translate to an increase of about $19.00 a year on a home worth just over $230,000. This followed a similar increase for this year’s budget, which was the first mill rate increase since 2018.
“We’re making hard decisions that quite frankly, should have been made over the last 20 years, we’ve increased our capital projects fund by 3.8 mills in the last two years alone. And prior to that, the city had not increased our capital projects fund for many, many years,” said Williams. “And we literally did not put any money in our long-term savings from 2001 to 2016. We put no money in, we were spending money out of without ever putting money in. So, we’re making the right decisions.”
Williams said the decisions were partially responsible for Moody’s upgrading the city’s bond rating.
City Administrator Jim Clifford said the announcement from Moody’s came on Oct. 25.
“They put out a press release on the 25th of October of this year, which upgraded the city, our rating to double-a-three from a one,” he said. “Concurrently, Moody’s upgraded the city’s lease appropriation rating to a one from a two. The rationale was driven by consistent surpluses that have significantly bolstered reserves in recent years, as well as steady new economic activity that has driven revenue growth.”
According to Moody’s report, “The rating also incorporates the city’s stable resident income ratios, above average long-term liabilities, and above average fixed costs ratio. North Augusta’s above average debt burden is likely to moderate in the coming years due to the lack of near-term borrowing plans, as the city intends to fund short-term capital needs with state grants and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds instead.”
The millage increase also covers a 4% cost of living (COLA) increase for all city employees, creating new positions including an engineering inspector, building standards inspector, and program coordinator for the activities center.
One of the largest increases is for the Department of Public Safety, the city’s police and fire department personnel. The FY 2024 budget for the department is just under $11.75 million. That’s a nearly 18% increase over the 2023 line item of almost $10 million.
The FY 2024 budget takes effect Jan. 1, 2024.