Augusta insurance tax passes first reading

Christy Howell-Hoots - [email protected]
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AUGUSTA — A motion to raise the insurance tax levied by the city to 8 percent was approved during city council meeting Wednesday.

The current tax is 5 percent.

During the meeting, council members discussed finding a way to pay for renovations to the city pool. Augusta Mayor Wendell High said he had a loan in place with US Bank in Augusta, but would have to know how the city planned to repay the loan. Several options were discussed, including raising the property tax, raising the payroll tax and raising the insurance tax.

Council Member Joe Goecke was not present at the meeting, but sent a letter for High to read to the council, to express his thoughts on raising taxes.

“As most of you know, I am not, and never have been, in favor of raising taxes; however with the repair of the swimming pool being more or less promised, I believe some new money in form of some new taxes is necessary for the next administration to operate the city,” Goecke said in the letter. “Besides the pool, there are other ongoing projects.”

Goecke suggested raising the payroll tax to 1.30 percent and the insurance tax to 6 percent, along with raising the motor and boat tax if possible.

“I believe this, along with the extra property tax from Berry (Global, formerly Clopay Corp.), having one less maintenance person and the tourism position only being part-time, will be enough to keep the finances in order,” he said.

During the discussions, Council Member Matt McCane said he was tired of talking and never moving forward.

“The problem is that opportunities to raise taxes keep passing us by,” McCane said. “That catches up to you eventually and then you find yourself where we are today where we don’t have the money for a pool or we don’t have the money for other things. We have to raise taxes. No one wants to be the bad guy, but you have to be. It’s in our hands to do and we have to do something. We can’t pass on this now and we can’t raise it just a little.”

High agreed with McCane.

“Every year, things go up,” High said. “Insurance goes up 10 percent. You have to weigh things like that. Everyone has a household budget and every year, that budget goes up.”

McCane said he wanted to see the tax increase through the insurance premium, because it would be something that would require everyone to pay the tax and not just property owners.

“I would like to see it come through the insurance tax,” he said. “That would bring in more than what we need.”

According to Augusta City Clerk Gretchen England, the insurance tax has only been raised twice, once in 1984 and once in 2001.

McCane made the motion to raise the insurance tax to 8 percent. It was approved by all present council members, except Tay Kelsch, who voted against the measure.

According to England, the additional 3 percent would raise the city’s revenue by $46,000.

“Starting in July of next year, you’ve funded the pool,” High said.

If the second reading passes, the tax will take effect on July 1, 2019.

High said he is meeting with contractors to go over the final information on the pool.

During the meeting, the mayor also appointed Augusta resident Barry Bratton to the Augusta Regional Sewer Authority.

Before approving the appointment, Kelsch asked Bratton how he felt about surcharges Augusta residents have to pay under ARSA.

According to Kelsch, the ordinance originally passed for ARSA does not mention surcharges for Augusta.

“I want to know how you feel about surcharges,” Kelsch said.

Bratton said he needs to review the information for ARSA, but does not agree with surcharges.

“I won’t know much about the surcharges until I get in here and see all of the information,” he said. “The first thing I’m going to do is request all of their information and look through it.”

Bratton said he will serve on the board, not only as a representative of Augusta, but for everyone.

“The sewer board will not answer anyone’s questions,” he said. “I want right answers and I’ll serve for everyone.”

Bratton is replacing John Yingling, whose term expired this month, and was not asked to return.

“I began my time on the board two years ago,” Yingling said. “I was asked to step in when Greg Mains left and to fulfill the remainder of his term. I had hoped to continue on the board, and I’m a little disappointed that no one contacted me or asked me if I would like to return.”

High said Bratton was asked to serve on the board because of his experience with sewage plants.

“He worked for an engineering firm that oversaw the building of sewage and water plants,” High said. “We just thought — with construction beginning soon — that he would be a better fit. It was nothing personal. (Yingling) did a great job on the board. He’s a fantastic man and we appreciate everything he’s done for us. We just thought (Bratton) would be a better fit with the construction starting, since he has experience overseeing construction projects similar to this.”

Other items discussed at the meeting included:

— An announcement by Tay Kelsch that the Rotary Club Heritage Days showcase event will be a memorial service for the 100th anniversary of World War I. Kelsch said Bracken County residents are invited to display memorabilia from World War I.

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Christy Howell-Hoots

[email protected]