PTC budget and tax increases: Taxpayers already doing more


I am writing in response to Peachtree City budget discussions as reported by The Citizen on March 17, 2010. Once again, I find myself in need of publicly thanking [Councilman] Eric Imker for his depth of thought and clarity of proposed action in relation to Fiscal Year 2011 budget planning. To his credit, Mr. Imker came to the table armed with credible analysis and insights that he had developed on his own, with input from citizen discussions.

Unfortunately, it seems that some members of the PTC council, including Mayor [Don] Haddix, did not come prepared for frank discussion and tough decisions. Actually, what was reported in the article suggested just the opposite. (In fairness, I must say that I was not able to attend the meeting, so my only source of information was the reported story).

I found one reported quote from our mayor to be particularly disturbing. It was, “Employees, you can pay for it all. Citizens, we expect nothing from you.”

This quote suggests an alarming disconnect from current economic reality. One such seemingly overlooked reality is the fact that most PTC citizens have been negatively impacted by the current recession through falling property values, layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions or reduced bonuses.

Also, seemingly lost on our mayor is the fact that most property owners are having to pay more in property taxes due to the state’s elimination of the homestead exemption.

These two facts alone (lost pay and higher taxes) mean that PTC citizens are ALREADY doing more than “nothing” because they have less disposable income with which to pay even the same rate of PTC taxation.

PTC staff reportedly provided a city survey’s results as justification for a tax increase (residents stated they wanted higher taxes rather than lower services). While this may be true of the survey results, the survey itself was too vaguely worded to be credibly relied upon.

The proposition of higher taxes or lower service was presented as an all or nothing choice. A more appropriately worded survey would have listed prioritized reductions as compared to specifically stated dollar increases in taxes. For example, “Would you prefer to pay $30 to $100 dollars in increased property taxes or have non-essential offices closed for one day per month?”

I am also concerned that the current budget planning does not include enough discussion of what the city will do if revenues decline precipitously as they seem to be doing all over Georgia, both at the state and municipal levels.

Unfortunately, it seems that some on the council and city staff are so intent on justifying tax increases that they are not preparing for severe downturn.

Given the severity of revenue shortfalls all around us, prudent budget planning would suggest that, by now, we should have seen three views of our potential budget.

At least two of these views should have been downside scenarios that would allow the city to implement changes quickly, without disruption to critical services. Of course, all of these views would require that the staff list out all budget activities, with the City Council prioritizing them.

Perhaps some such scenarios exist. If so, they should be pulled out of the bowels of staff desks and shown to the public so we can know that PTC Council members and staff understand the current economic climate and are prepared to act accordingly.

This would show leadership and help citizens to feel confident in their city management. Who knows, such an outreach to the public might lead council members to elicit meaningful feedback and solutions – sort of like Mr. Imker is trying to do.

Scott Austensen

Peachtree City, Ga.