Staff intends quarter mill increase to generate same revenue as last year; Councilman Imker says hard decisions are being ducked
Peachtree City council members have been given a proposed city budget to study, and it includes a quarter-mill property tax increase to the tune of $459,000 and further use of city reserves at $764,000.
The quarter mill tax increase will cover the 4.6 percent decline in property values but not more, said city Finance Director Paul Salvatore.
“That quarter of a mill would allow us to generate the same level of property tax revenue that we generated last year,” Salvatore said.
According to the budget, the $764,000 in cash reserves will be used to pay cash instead of financing for a new fire truck and eight new police vehicles.
The budget includes no employee raises of any kind and no new employees for the 2010-2011 budget year. It also cuts $358,000 for 10 existing vacant positions, meaning the workload will be spread among existing personnel.
Outspoken Councilman Eric Imker contends the city should use neither a property tax increase nor city reserves.
“No real progress in facing the city’s budget problem,” Imker mused in a letter to the editor published today on Page A4. “I cannot stand by and allow this to go unchallenged.”
Imker notes that “little” of his $2 million in proposed budget cuts were included.
“Apparently tough decisions can’t be made,” Imker wrote. He added that he disagreed “with comparisons that are only there to show one side” and “surveys that are skewed to obtain the answer desired.”
Imker has suggested furlough days for employees, which would save $46,000 a day, according to city staff. Also he has suggested pay cuts, and an across the board pay cut of 1 percent would save approximately $133,000, according to city projections.
Imker said he opposes a property tax increase, though he recognizes most residents can afford the additional $30 a year tax increase for a house with a fair market value of $270,000.
“Some folks have to choose between, do I pay $20 to join Fayette Senior Services for the year or do I pay $10 to join the Gathering Place for the year,” Imker wrote. “Many, many folks just can’t afford any tax increase. I am not prepared to tell them that we’ve been unable to make the hard decisions and you’ll just have to pay.”
In the letter, Imker said he thinks the city can cut the budget without using cash reserves or a property tax increase. He has argued for employee furloughs, pay cuts and cutting back one of the city’s two retirement programs offered to all employees: a defined benefit pension and a 401(k) investment account.
Among the cuts, the hardest hit was the police department at $234,000, which includes one police officer position that was authorized to start in the middle of the current budget year.
The recreation department was reduced $225,000 with an additional $55,000 taken from the Kedron Fieldhouse and Pool budget.
Other significant cuts included:
• $78,000 from the fire department;
• $84,000 from the library;
• $45,000 from public works;
• $62,000 from the finance department;
• $68,000 from the city clerk;
• $25,000 from EMS;
• $12,000 from the Gathering Place senior citizen center.
While Mayor Don Haddix has argued the city is understaffed given its workload, Imker firmly disagrees.
“I disagree with city employees who feel they should not contribute more to solving the problem,” Imker said of the city’s budget woes. “What would they do if they worked in the commercial/business world?”
This year’s budget process will be a bit different, as council is specially inviting citizens to speak out on the budget at a “town hall” meeting Thursday, June 10 at City Hall. Prior to that meeting, council will have up to two public work sessions on the budget, starting June 1 at 6:30 p.m. and continuing on June 2 at 6:30 p.m. if necessary.
The public, as always, will be allowed to attend and give comments at the work session meetings also, officials said.
The budget is posted at City Hall and is also available on the city website: www.peachtree-city.org.