The Augusta City Council met for five hours Monday night during the second work session on the city's 2014 budget.
Before the governing body adjourned just before midnight, the consensus was leaning toward a budget that would result in a mill levy of 41.762 – up just about one percent from this year's mill levy of 41.053.
The governing body has a follow-up workshop on Monday, July 29 that will take on several topics before ironing out the final budget proposal.
Only Mike Wallace was unable to attend the work session where the governing body learned of a potential leadership vacuum in the city in coming years.
One version of the proposed budget would not include raises for city employees and would actually result in a very small decrease in the mill levy.
The insignificant increase in the levy that was preferred during the meeting Monday included a three percent merit raise for city staff.
The main reason those increases became a priority was that 37.5 percent of the city's department managers – who have 322 years of combined experience - were within three years of qualifying for retirement.
"We have to do this," Councilor Mike Rawlings said. We need to approve these raises and not increase the cost of benefits if we are going to be able to look these people in the face."
Rawlings said comments made by the council and reported in the newspaper in the past had led to an increase of morale issues among city employees.
Other key measures that could contribute to the small increase in the mill levy were paying on the bond for the dam and spillway project at the city lake and also increased funding for park improvements.
The proposed budget only included one new police car for the Safety Department but it would add back an officer that the department has been operating without for several years.
In 2003, the city had 25 officers that split time between fire and police shifts with a population of 8,493. In 2013, only 23 officers are working for the department even though the population is up to 9,274.
Safety Department Chief Tyler Brewer told the governing body that splitting the departments into free-standing fire and police units would result in the need for an additional 10 officers. Beyond the financial consideration, he said his officers enjoy being able to split their time between the two services.
"We need two extra bodies," Brewer said. "But this year, we are only requesting one and we will request the other in 2015."
The lack of staffing has resulted in an overtime charge of more than $60,000 for this year. Reducing that number will offset some of the expense of an additional officer.
Page 2 of 2 - The final budget proposal will be approved Monday night.