Richmond County Board of Education member Jack Padgett has one word to describe the school system’s financial situation.
“Dire,” Padgett said. “D-I-R-E.”
The district is facing $19 million in continued state cuts along with $2.5 million in new reductions for the 2013-14 budget year, following suit with the $117 million Georgia has slashed locally over the past five years. In addition, Richmond County will have to pay $1.8 million more in health care costs for noncertified employees than last year, with more increases projected for 2015.
To make up for the losses, Superintendent Frank Roberson last week instructed all principals to cut 7 percent from their schools’ budgets. The principals were given freedom in where the money could be drawn from, but worksheets given to them included options for personnel layoffs, utility cuts and reductions in the use of substitute teachers.
“It’s going to be difficult in some situations, but that’s where we are,” Padgett said.
If Augusta’s bridges were given superlatives, a crumbling span on a gated segment of Goodrich Street might win the title of “most likely to fail,” according to state and federal records.
The Fifth Street bridge received a “poor” rating from state inspectors. In addition, the bridge was given a low score – 27.4 out of 100 – from the Federal Highway Administration.
“This bridge is in poor condition with serious conditions in the superstructure and substructure,” the Georgia Department of Transportation wrote in its most recent inspection report.
Bridge conditions again returned to the national consciousness with the collapse of a Washington state bridge May 24. The National Transportation Safety Board called it a warning for the entire nation.
Most of Richmond County’s 245 bridges earn satisfactory rankings, with the number of “structurally deficient” spans falling from 16 in 2009 to just eight in 2012.
With their city offices, city name badges and city equipment, Forrest White, Jacques Ware and Butch Gallop are often mistaken for Augusta employees, but they aren’t.
They are part of a decade-old relationship between the city and private construction management firm Heery International.
Unlike city employees, however, Heery and its two “subconsultants” – Gallop and Associates; and Dukes, Edwards and Dukes, headed by state Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany – have annual 4 percent rate increases built into their contract, which has helped propel their hourly rates to more than $200 and award the group $9.5 million in billed fees since 2004.
The Augusta Commission, meanwhile, has twice reaffirmed the rate increases, agreeing with little comment to extend the firm’s contract and shifting money budgeted in Heery’s “not to exceed” contract for abandoned projects to new ones.
The best-paid jobs on the city of Augusta’s payroll aren’t held by city employees, but by independent contractors.
For the past decade, Heery International has garnered $9.5 million in fees. On Tuesday, the Augusta Commission is set to approve another contract extension with Heery that would keep its employees on the city’s books for two more years as overseers of sales tax-funded construction projects.
The firm has heralded the opening – “on time and under budget” – of the Augusta Judicial Center, the new sheriff’s administration building, the Augusta Convention Center, the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library and the Reynolds Street parking deck over the past four years.
Little independent data, though, are available to back up Heery’s contentions, given that the company sets and adjusts the project budgets, then reports back on savings.
One example is the judicial center. Heery’s original contract lists the courthouse as a $72 million project. The building turned out to be smaller and woefully lacking in parking when it opened in 2010. Heery listed the project budget as $67 million and claimed a $5 million savings for the city.
The Floyd County Board of Education is looking at a balanced budget for 2014, but none of the members are happy that the balance is based on 10 furlough days for each staffer.
“We’re not satisfied until those days are gone,” said Superintendent Jeff McDaniel.
The proposed budget includes nearly $2.1 million in increased expenses for health care, teacher retirement and mandated longevity raises for eligible certified instructors.
“That’s $2.1 million — with less people — that we have no control over,” said Chairman David Johnson.
ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is offering several opportunities for families to celebrate National Fishing and Boating Week.
Department spokeswoman Melissa Cummings says National Fishing and Boating Week runs from June 1 to June 9, and the department is offering free fishing days to anglers on June 1 and June 8.
Cummings says on those days, Georgia residents won’t need a fishing or trout license to fish on a public lakes, streams, ponds and public fishing areas. Cummings says state residents will also not need to obtain wildlife management area licenses to fish at public fishing areas or on Waters Creeks during those two days.
Cummings says free fishing events are also scheduled throughout the state during the week to help introduce children to the hobby.
ATLANTA — Reports out of California last week recounting a dispute between officials about the size of the state’s budget surplus spawn the obvious question about a fiscal bonus here.
The states of Georgia and California will both end this fiscal year with a surplus, and governors in each are counseling legislators not to start dreaming up plans to spend the loot.
Even though Gov. Nathan Deal built this surplus into Georgia’s budget, he still ordered all state agencies except the Department of Education to cut their spending midyear by 3 percent. Then he started with that 3 percent reduction in constructing next year’s fiscal blueprint.
He sounded the alarm early in the fiscal year when tax collections proved weaker than hoped. He still expected a surplus as the economy continues to improve, only it didn’t appear on track to be as big of one as he wanted.
“In the hard times, restraint is a matter of necessity. In the good times, it is a matter of discipline,” Deal said, adding that he’ll ensure legislators don’t go overboard with new spending in the future.
The City Council held a public hearing for Mayor Steve Tumlin’s proposal to spend $35 million as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the problem-plagued Franklin Road corridor on the city’s east side. Most of those who spoke favored the idea and the council voted 5-1 afterward to decide at a June 12 meeting whether to call a Nov. 5 referendum that would ask voters to approve the issuance of the necessary funding.
The council on Thursday also reallocated how the bond funds would be spent. The bulk, about $31 million, would go to buy and demolish blighted garden apartments along Franklin, although that allocation was downsized by $1.3 million.
But by meeting’s end the amount earmarked for improvements across town along Whitlock Avenue had unexpectedly more than doubled, to $4 million from the first-announced $1.5 million. Rather than just the originally planned sidewalks, the Whitlock spending also would now pay for lamp posts, a bike path and possibly even a median turn lane, at the behest of west side Councilmen Grif Chalfant of Ward 2 and Andy Morris of Ward 4.
So where would the money come from for the Whitlock frills? Well, not from issuing additional bonds, but mostly by nixing the $1.2 million that had been set aside by the mayor for renovating the old Lemon Street School in Anthony Coleman’s Ward 5, the segregation-era high school for local African-American students.
ATLANTA — The Obama administration is open to considering more than one option to pay for a national expansion of early learning programs and will work with Congress and states to find the necessary money, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday.
Duncan was in Atlanta to promote President Barack Obama’s proposal to spend $75 billion over 10 years to partner with states on establishing pre-kindergarten and other programs across the country. During a town hall meeting with Duncan, Gov. Nathan Deal said he supported the commitment to early education programs but disagreed with the president’s plan to raise cigarette taxes to pay for it. That prompted Duncan to say the Obama administration is willing to be flexible.
“We’re absolutely committed to exploring every option. To me, the goal is to get this done,” Duncan said after the town hall. “I’m not interested in symbolic victories.”
Duncan said the plan, which would fund public pre-school for 4-year-olds from families at or below 200 percent of the poverty rate, is essential for a strong economy and said early childhood learning should not be a political issue.
KENNESAW — The wife of the late Councilman Bill Thrash has announced her intention to fill her husband’s role for the remainder of his term.
Suzanne Thrash said Thursday she submitted an affidavit to the city of Kennesaw to be considered for his Post 4 seat.
Under the city’s charter, if a vacancy in the office of the mayor and/or council occurs within 12 months of the expiration of the term, it should be filled by an a election by the mayor and council of a qualified person to serve out the unexpired term.
Anyone interested in being considered for the role can submit their name along with a sworn affidavit stating he or she is qualified to serve. The affidavit can be found on the city’s website at kennesaw-ga.gov/government/city-clerk/elections or at City Hall.
The deadline for the application is 5 p.m. Friday, June 7. The mayor and council will elect the new council member in a subsequent meeting.