When the New Year rings in, Peachtree City will have three new rookies on the City Council and a familiar face as mayor.
Incoming Mayor Don Haddix, giving a preview of what to expect in the early going, is already ruling out one thing: further job cuts.
“To be honest, when it comes to employees we are actually understaffed, undermanned,” Haddix said. “We actually need two or three more in code enforcement, several more police, staff for the Emergency Operations Center command and operations for the fire department. The administrative staff is always buried and our employees out in the field are always buried.”
But with declining revenue as the city’s sales tax revenues remain stagnant make it impossible to add employees now, Haddix said.
“But contrary to rumor, cuts are not on the horizon,” Haddix said.
In early spring of this year, council eliminated 23 landscaping and maintenance positions in the public works department along with four more jobs in the city’s building department to save a projected $1.34 million in the 2009-2010 budget.
Haddix and new council members Vanessa Fleisch and Kim Learnard will be sworn in after Jan. 1. New councilman Eric Imker has already taken office as there were slightly more than two years remaining on the Post 1 seat following the election. The Post 1 seat was vacated by Haddix in early fall when qualifying began and he declared to run for mayor.
The new council will have to grapple with finding additional efficiencies to save money, particularly since the previous council declined to enact a property tax increase and county voters shot down a special purpose local option sales tax that would have helped ease budget concerns.
“There’s an old expression, ‘Kick the can down the road,’” Haddix said, referring to the previous council’s vote to use cash reserves to balance the budget instead of raising property taxes. “That can got dented, squashed and finally got kicked over the cliff, and I don’t have any intention of following it.”
A big financial priority for council is improving the city’s tax base by attracting more employers, Haddix said. That will help improve the tax base, he said.
Citizens can expect some changes in the way meetings are conducted, if only because the new council members are of like mind on many issues, Haddix noted.
Haddix also wants to change how public input is gathered on controversial issues. He wants the public to have its say in special workshop meetings on such issues, such as the proposal to locate cellphone towers on city-owned parks.
Haddix said he doesn’t want controversial issues “to drag out forever” so he thinks workshop meetings “are the time for public input, not the council meeting” in which council is to make its decision.
Haddix clarified that council will not “shut down” public hearings which are required by law to give citizen input, such as those required preceding adoption of the city budget.
Haddix said city staff has already been tasked with preparing to eliminate the special use permit process that allows developers to apply for special permission from council for stores over the city’s 32,000-square-foot size limit. There is not a pressing concern for that to happen quickly as council will have the ability to vote down each request that comes before it, he added.
City staff is also working on preparing ordinances to create additional buffers along commercial projects to add berms, foliage for screening and setbacks to prevent situations that have occurred with the McIntosh Village and Shoppes at the Village Piazza shopping centers on Ga. Highway 54 West, Haddix said.
City staff is also researching how to proceed with creation of an online forum for citizens to interact with elected officials and city staff. Haddix is hopeful such a forum would become a major conduit of information for the city to the point where it would eliminate multiple phone calls from city residents on the same topic.
It is unclear at this point whether citizens would be allowed to post information and questions directly to the site immediately or whether the information would be moderated or whether the information/questions would be summarized by staff as staff responds to the concerns.
“If we get it in the proper format, it will encourage interaction with citizens and allows them to put ideas to us in a more collective format,” Haddix said. “It’s so much easier than handling everything by email.”
One of the concerns staff must address is how the forum must be handled due to Georgia open records laws.
Haddix said staff’s presentation about the online forum will likely occur at the council retreat scheduled for March.
Staff is also researching the possibility of televising city council meetings, Haddix said.