About a dozen Peachtree City residents attended an informal budget meeting with councilman Eric Imker Saturday morning.
In addition to his presentation on the proposed 2011-2012 city budget, Imker also got feedback from those in attendance at the three-hour meeting. What emerged was several members of the populace who took a keen interest in the budget.
Resident Michael Posey questioned why the city wanted to spend $450,000 on the new “bubble” off-season cover for the Kedron pools, theorizing that few residents use the pool in the off-season.
“You ran on the premise of no tax increases,” Posey said of Imker, “… And I think this is the time to rein in the belt, not spend, spend, spend.”
Resident Lynda Wojcik — who also serves as a volunteer member of the city’s Planning Commission — countered that even though she doesn’t use the Kedron pools, the bubble helps her property value.
Imker noted that not including the expenses for lifeguards and other staffers, the pools generate $60,000 in revenue during the off-season when the bubble is in use, which will more than pay for the bubble expenditure. He also added that the bubble, in addition to helping property values, also helps make the city “a desirable place to live.”
Imker later noted that he devised more than $2 million in budget cuts last year that were defeated on separate council votes. And because the city faced a severe projected budget shortfall, the other choice was to raise taxes, Imker said.
The good news, though, is that in addition to avoiding a property tax increase this year, the city is on track to have a sustainable budget within the next several years, Imker said.
Starting in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the city had to add $1.5 million additional for public works to cover the street and cart path resurfacing and maintenance that previously had been funded with proceeds from the 2003 countywide transportation sales tax initiative.
Resident Scott Austenson suggested that the city should have developed its budget by asking staff to do a series of budget recommendations based on varying levels of cuts such as 2, 4 and 6 percent. He also was critical of the fact that his subdivision, Hyde Park, remains unconnected to the city’s cart path system.
The cart paths, Austenson contended, are one of the main reasons that people move to Peachtree City, yet the city hasn’t included general fund budget money for cart paths the past several years due to using SPLOST money instead, he added.
Imker replied that the city will have some money to build the “smaller” new cart path, which can have a significant impact, he said. Imker said one of his high priorities is to have one going up the northern part of Robinson Road and then east on Ga. Highway 54 toward the Publix shopping center.
Austenson also said he worried about the City Council seeking more than $3 million in new bond financing for infrastructure repairs and maintenance but not adopting a more transparent process so citizens can get information on the progress of the various projects. Austenson said he was very unhappy with the lack of information available on the city’s website relating to the city’s projects completed as part of the county’s 2003 transportation sales tax.
Imker also noted that one of the budget policies he pushed for last year, which was approved by council, requires the city to roll back its millage rate and thus lower property taxes whenever it gets an unexpected revenue stream such as a new sales tax initiative. He noted, however, that the policy could change at any time.
Imker also pointed out that the new bonds will allow the city to refinance and see a cost savings on several other existing bonds as well. The estimated savings is tabbed at $162,000.
Another citizen suggested that he has seen what he perceives as a large number of city vehicles on the road, with a suggestion they be reduced for a cost savings.
Imker said that while the police department initially requested 10 new vehicles this year, the request later was trimmed by one.
In terms of the overall budget, Wojcik said she would rather the city spend what it needed rather than slash the budget in the hopes of saving her $100 a year in city taxes.
“If I have my way, there will never be another tax increase in Peachtree City … because we’ve been taking care of the budget,” Imker said moments later.
Imker’s slot on the council is one of two positions to be voted on in city elections in November. He is in his second year of a two-year term in the post vacated by Mayor Don Haddix when he resigned to run for mayor.