A proposed property tax increase for Peachtree City property owners has become a moving target, at least for now.
Three council members Tuesday night said they want to see numbers on a 1.25 mill increase, which would result in an additional hit of $108 for a home valued at $272,000. Two others want to see a more modest increase of .5 mills, which would result in a $43 increase for that same property.
Mayor Don Haddix and Councilman Doug Sturbaum said they would prefer up to a .5 mill increase, with Haddix noting that a 1.25 increase would hurt the city’s ability to attract industrial employers.
Others, however, are seeing a potential case for the 1.25 mill increase as a way to close a looming $18 million projected shortfall over the next five years. The 1.25 mill increase would raise an estimated $10 million over the next five years.
Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch said although raising taxes goes against “everything I ever thought about government” this council is supposed to straighten out the city’s financial problems.
“So I’ll look at 1.25 and see where we go,” Fleisch said.
Councilwoman Kim Learnard said while a 1.25 mill increase is “tough” she agreed with Councilman Eric Imker that the long-term problem needed to be solved.
Imker said he merely wanted to see the model for a 1.25 mill increase though he indicated he didn’t support it because he feels the city hasn’t made deep enough cuts to the budget.
Except for Imker, the remainder of council has indicated they support no further staffing cuts or reductions in service levels. But to stay afloat and avoid a property tax increase, the city would need to cut $3.6 million a year to balance its budget, according to City Manager Bernie McMullen.
To make that drastic a cut, the city would have to eliminate funds for the entire recreation department, the Kedron Fieldhouse/Aquatic Center, the Gathering Place and the library, McMullen said.
“That’s the order of magnitude we’re talking about,” McMullen said.
Imker has said he wants to use employee furloughs and an across the board pay cut to trim costs, but there is no stomach to do so among the other four members of council.
Earlier in the meeting, City Finance Director Paul Salvatore noted that in the past two years the city has eliminated about 12 percent of its workforce and also increased employees health insurance costs by $600 a year.
Several council members said they would be willing to consider only a voluntary furlough policy that would allow employees to have more time off should they choose.
Council members also agreed to at a later date explore changes to the city’s retirement plans including a lengthening of the vesting periods in an effort to cut costs, as suggested by Imker.