AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The city of Augusta is open for business and is excited to give citizens the chance to learn about the inner workings. An upcoming forum will pull back the curtain to allow residents to learn about the city’s services. Plus, there is an opportunity to weigh in on the 2023 budget. Interim Administrator Takiyah Douse explains just how you can take part.

Brad Means: Thank you so much for what you do for our town, your town, and thanks for being here.

Takiyah Douse: Thank you so much, Brad. I appreciate it.

Brad Means: And I do say your town, because, you know, when I think of administrator, I think of people who have come and spent two to three years in Augusta, and then off they go. This is your whole life, right?

Takiyah Douse: That’s right, Augusta is my home. I am extremely proud. A Hephzibah graduate, a Paine College graduate, Augusta State University, Troy University. So Augusta is definitely in my blood, for sure.

Brad Means: Well, we’re grateful to have you working for our town, and especially in this high profile role right now. And you’re using that role to have this chance for taxpayers, citizens to come in and learn more about how things work. Let’s kinda go step through step through this budget forum. And you kinda tell me if I’m seeing it the right way. Is it a chance for people to show up and give you their wishlist, and say, here’s what I want you to do? Or can they look at the proposed budget as it stands and say, yes, no, yes, no? How’s it work?

Takiyah Douse: So, it will actually be a little bit of both. This is an opportunity for our citizens to come and tell local leadership how they would like for their tax dollars to be spent. And so, would I consider it a wishlist? Absolutely. But that input, that information will definitely be valuable for commissioners when they adopt the FY23 budget. So if you have a wishlist, bring it along. If you have some things that you would like to see changed, also bring that input as well. We will have a survey available that is currently open right now on our city website for you to tell us how you would prefer for those dollars to be ranked.

Brad Means: Yeah, we are gonna give that address later on in the program, certainly for you to fill out that survey. It’s due in late June, but yeah, jump on that and let folks know at the city how you feel. So I know you can’t get into commissioner’s minds and know how they think when they’re doing their budget planning, but is there a chance perhaps that if a citizen showed up and said something about a line item, that that item might be changed or influenced by their input?

Takiyah Douse: Well, this is definitely a time for us to take all things into consideration, to gather as much data as we possibly can. Because at the end of the day, these are taxpayers dollars. And so while we want to be accountable for those dollars, we definitely wanna make sure that this particular forum allows the citizens to give their input. And this is a rare opportunity. We are bringing local government to you. And so, this will be all of our city departments, many of our government, as far as judicial offices, the sheriff’s office, the marshal’s office, the mayor’s office, commissioners. And so, this is gonna be a fun event, an exciting event. We’ll have police vehicles, fire trucks, bounce houses for the kids.

Brad Means: Wait, we can bring our kids?

Takiyah Douse: Absolutely.

Brad Means: It’s family affair?

Takiyah Douse: Absolutely, this is Augusta on display. So we’re really excited about it.

Brad Means: Lemme ask you this. And this is something I wanted to make sure I got in right at the beginning of our time together. I reported something on the news a few weeks ago that we had, at that point, like $11 million left over in American Rescue Act money. That’s that pandemic relief money that the federal government gave to towns all over the country. Is that helping the budget process? Is that money that’s maybe making things easier as we go into this fiscal planning? Or is that a separate category of money that we can’t use for the budget?

Takiyah Douse: So, I would say that it’s twofold. While it does give our general fund some relief, we are using those dollars to ensure that they provide us with long term benefits. And so you’ll see a lot of those dollars being utilized for Vax Up Augusta, if you recall that program. Or even blight and affordable housing, as well as, of course, some equipment for our various public safety offices, and even some infrastructure improvements as well. So it’s twofold, like I said. While it helps the general fund, it’s definitely being used for the greater good.

Brad Means: Okay, and tell me if I go outside of your area. Again, I know you play your role, commissioners play their role. But I have yelled at the TV a lotta nights, for instance, when the sheriff said we need $60,000 for security cameras, or when other agencies have come forward. I’ll say, “Use the 11 million!” So what you’re saying is sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.

Takiyah Douse: That’s right, that’s right. Because they’re federal dollars. they come with with different constraints, different regulations and such. So, everything is not eligible.

Brad Means: Okay, that’s very helpful for me personally, and I appreciate it. Lemme ask you about your day to day life as interim administrator. What are some of the biggest concerns from taxpayers? What comes through your office? Is it fix my pothole, pick up my trash? What do you hear?

Takiyah Douse: So right now, what I hear most from citizens would be the time it takes for a city of Augusta to complete a service. And so at this point, all of Augusta, even most of the United States, are fallen prey to the positions that they have vacant. Just being able to fill staff positions-

Brad Means: It’s everywhere!

Takiyah Douse: Find personnel. And so, Augusta is no stranger to that issue either. You may recall there was a story in the news recently that stated how many positions we have vacant. And so, because of that, that can sometimes affect our service delivery. However, we have great staff on board that definitely puts forth the additional effort to make sure all of our citizens’ request are completed in a timely fashion.

Brad Means: What’s the difference between administrator and Central Services director? And I wanna make sure I don’t miss any responsibilities. As Central Services director, here’s what you had to be responsible for: The 311 system, facilities maintenance, fleet services, real estate and records retention. Do you find that as interim administrator, you’ve already done a lot of the job in your previous life?

Takiyah Douse: Absolutely , absolutely. And it’s funny because I still get a lot of Central Services calls. At the same time, there is a lot of overlap, yet I had nothing to do with engineering. I did not have to be concerned about Augusta utilities, or even environmental services, or information technology. So, this is definitely government at a higher level. Being able to look at it from a holistic standpoint, than having blinders on just for Central Services.

Brad Means: I mean, it’s pushing 3000 employees-

Takiyah Douse: That’s right.

Brad Means: Isn’t it?

Takiyah Douse: That’s right.

Brad Means: And a budget of almost a billion?

Takiyah Douse: That’s right.

Brad Means: What about those job openings? I don’t wanna just brush past that. Is this a good time for people to try to get a job with the city?

Takiyah Douse: Absolutely. Please see our website, please definitely submit a resume. Do everything you need to do to follow up. But apply, because there are a lot of valuable jobs out there, as well as working for the city of Augusta is awesome. Come December, I’ll be with the city for 15 years, so it is definitely a great place to work.

Brad Means: Let me hit on that community engagement forum one more time and just ask you what your hopes are for it. What do you hope that the city walks away from it with, what do you hope that citizens walk away with?

Takiyah Douse: So for one, I hope that the city comes out in droves. I hope that-

Brad Means: Me too.

Takiyah Douse: The citizens that show up are able to feel a sense of involvement in our budgeting process, as well as having their concerns heard. Their needs may not be met at that particular time, but at least having someone to hear your concerns, and for you also to give feedback as to how well we are doing.

Brad Means: Let me ask you this. I know this is your hometown, I know that you love it, but step back and compare Augusta to other towns. How are we doing? I know that with your job, you probably get a lot of complaints and concerns. And why can’t you do this or that, and why can’t you do this or that faster. How are we doing as a town overall, compared to other places?

Takiyah Douse: Well, if you did not catch the most recent media release concerning Augusta, and that it is not only a great place to work, but also was nationally ranked as a place to live. So, I would say that even if you don’t take my word for it, just look around. Because Augusta is a great place. And I think we’re doing great. I think we have a lot of potential. I think that there’s definitely strides we can continue to take to make Augusta the Garden City that we all know it to be. But we’re definitely in the running, and we’re right there.

Brad Means: Well, we are, and a large part of that is because of your leadership, Takiyah Douse.

Takiyah Douse: Thank you.

Brad Means: Thanks for the forum that you’re planning, and thanks for talking about it with me today.

Takiyah Douse: Excellent, Brad. Thank you for having me, I enjoyed it.

Brad Means: Me too. Takiyah Douse, the interim administrator for the city of Augusta. Go to the forum.