Budget talk gets heated in PTC

What should have been the routine approval of Peachtree City’s annual budget Thursday night turned into a cringeworthy event as council members attacked Mayor Don Haddix for not proposing specific budget cuts despite advocating for a property tax decrease.

Several audience members walked out of the room in clear disgust over the political theatrics, which were clearly designed to shame Haddix. Haddix was asked at least a dozen times by Councilmembers George Dienhart, Eric Imker and Kim Learnard to provide specific budget items he wishes to cut.

Haddix explained several times that he prefers seeking citizen input to determine service cuts, which can be used to guide “permanent budget cuts.” Determining service cuts is better than the “band-aid” approach of making budget cuts currently used by council, Haddix said, adding that his citizen committee to study the matter is set to begin meeting soon.

That explanation wasn’t good enough for council as they continued to push the issue at length. At one point the conversation got so heated that Haddix gaveled down Dienhart for interrupting him immediately after a warning not to do so.

After banging the gavel, Haddix briefly pointed the gavel at Dienhart, who sits to his right, and said “Shhh, stop!”

“Are you telling me to shut up Don or are you going to hit me?” Dienhart retorted.

Near the end of the discussion, Imker said he was puzzled why Haddix wouldn’t recommend specific budget cuts.

Learnard said she was “kind of disappointed” that Haddix didn’t propose any specific cuts to be debated by council during the budgeting process.

When all was said and done, Haddix was the only dissenting vote on the $28.6 million budget, which was approved 4-1. Dienhart said he was grudgingly going along with the budget though he wanted to see more budget cuts as well. Dienhart said in the future it may come down to cutting personnel.

Unlike their treatment of Haddix, council members did not demand that Dienhart reveal what parts of the budget he would prefer to cut.

The budget includes a millage rate increase to counteract a shortfall of approximately $600,000 that would have occurred due to shrinking property values. The budget also uses $503,000 in cash reserves, which has been planned to help “spend down” the stockpile of cash that has reached 38 percent of the city’s annual budget in recent years.

The budget includes a 2 percent of salary “bonus” for city employees instead of a raise at a cost of $280,000. The city is also adding six part-time employees for buildings and grounds maintenance and a civilian evidence custodian for the police department which will allow a sworn officer to be shifted back to the patrol division, said City Finance Director Paul Salvatore.

The tax increase will raise the millage rate by .372 for a total rate of 7.148 including the bond millage rate of .422.