Athens-Clarke County commissioners likely wrapped up the county’s fiscal 2018 budget last week, adding more than $1 million to the $124 million operating budget for pedestrian safety infrastructure, transit and other programs.
Mayor Nancy Denson had proposed cutting back bus service two hours—ending it at 7:45 p.m.—to help fund a new Eastside shuttle, but commissioners restored the $160,000 expense. “To me it is unconscionable to run a bus route for one or two people,” Denson said of night service, which costs about $40 per rider to provide. “I just don’t see how we can ask taxpayers to subsidize that kind of cost.” But even though few people use the service, those who do rely on it for work.
Night buses are only safe for a year, though. Commissioners instructed staff to research alternatives, like Uber or taxi vouchers. “We should give them a voucher for a taxi or something,” Commissioner Jared Bailey said. “It may cost us $10 a person, but that’s still a big savings.”
Commissioners also appropriated $76,000 for raises for ACC Library employees. In her proposed budget, Denson included funding to bring part-time, seasonal and temp workers up to $11.60 an hour, which is the lowest wage for full-time ACC employees. But because libraries are technically part of the Board of Regents, not the city—although ACC supplements state funding—they weren’t initially included. Some make as little as $8 an hour; they’ll now make $11.60, too.
Other additions include $25,000 to continue the West Broad neighborhood feasibility study; $75,000 to begin implementing whatever comes out of the Envision Athens process; a $100,000 revolving loan program that will employ high-school students to fix up historic properties; and $350,000 to give ACC employees a $500 raise to help offset rising health-insurance costs.
Funding for the additions will come from a property-tax windfall—the final digest is $500,000 higher than expected—and leftover money from the current budget year. Commissioners are also planning on raising the downtown parking rate from $1 to $1.25 per hour, raising another $240,000.
In a separate “enterprise fund,” or self-funding program, commissioners allocated $2.5 million for stormwater projects on private property, to address flooding in suburban areas. Some homeowners are facing bills in the tens of thousands of dollars because they didn’t know they were supposed to maintain ditches and detention ponds, according to commissioners Jerry NeSmith and Andy Herod.
The county will also divert some hotel/motel tax revenue into an account that could be used to fund projects in the downtown master plan, according to Commissioner Allison Wright, who’s long sought to reduce the Classic Center and Convention and Visitors Bureau’s share of the 7 percent tax to free up money for other purposes. Instead of getting 6 cents out of 7, as they have in the past, those agencies will receive a set amount of $1.7 million and $974,000, respectively.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday, June 6.
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