City Leaders dwell on payment options to pay off $800K debt

City Leaders dwell on payment options to pay off $800K debt

AUGUSTA, GA (WFXG) - Richmond County is more than $400,000 in the hole for maintenance on streetlights for 2016.

"It's been over a 20-year problem that we're trying to find a way to resolve," says Commissioner Ben Hassan.

Time is ticking. By the end of the year, Richmond County will owe about $855,000 dollars for the up-keep of streetlights. That may involve some locals paying more on their taxes in a couple of weeks.

So how did the city get into so much debt? One leader says this is a result of decisions made by the commission back in the mid 90's. "As they consolidated, they began to absorb those kinds of debts but never tried to reconcile how to make it work. So we're at the point in time where it's time to pay the piper," explains Hassan.

From the mid 90's up until 2015, the county used general funds to cover the costs. But despite increases in the costs of electricity and maintenance, leaders tell me the fees have never been adjusted.

Now, Richmond County has limited options. First, land owners could pay a flat rate, either $15 or $20 dollars per parcel. The other option is charging between 10 and 50 dollars, depending on whether land is urban or rural and if it's a home or business.

"I think the most simplest one is talking about a $15 or $20 onetime fee. I think for me it's the simplest and not a lot of calculating, you have a raw number," says Hassan.

The county wants to move quickly. If commission votes in the next two weeks, it could put a plan before the tax commissioner by August 1st. That makes it right before tax bills are mailed.

But leaders say moving forward, they need to change the system so something like this doesn't happen again.

"Moving forward we actually would like to rework the system so that we don't incur this problem again," says John Ussery, Assistant Director of Traffic for Engineering.

"2018 we need to be looking at a simpler base system where we all contribute to the streetlights. We need to get streetlights in people's places who don't have them and where a new subdivision is being built," says Commissioner Sammie Sias.

The full commission has its regular meeting on Tuesday. We're waiting to see if commissioners put this item on the agenda or decide to wait an extra week.

Copyright 2017 WFXG. All rights reserved.