There has been a trend to create new cities in the north metro Atlanta suburbs during the past five years. The newly incorporated cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, Milton and Brookhaven seem to have appeared overnight.
Grass-roots efforts helped establish the new charters through enabling local legislation by the General Assembly followed by an affirmative vote by residents of the proposed cities.
The shiny new cities have promptly elected mayors and councils, hired employees and selected private companies to provide key services to constituents.
A majority of residents of the new cities are happy to distance themselves from inept county governments such as DeKalb and Fulton but find that operating cities is an expensive proposition.
Outsourcing government services to private sector companies is not always cost effective because the service providers must make profit beyond the actual cost of the work.
The arrangement also requires cities to maintain staff to oversee the contracts, monitor the work and respond to public complaints.
More is lost in costs than is gained in efficiency and some Peachtree City residents are coming to the same conclusion. Outsourcing services in Peachtree City is not working well and is overrated in cost, level of service and responsiveness to residents.
Peachtree City’s first significant experiment with outsourcing was the brutal firing of landscape maintenance employees in the Public Works Department followed by the sale of top of the line New Holland tractors, flail mowers and other equipment at a pittance.
The City Council convinced the public that contracting with a commercial landscaping company to cut grass and maintains right of ways would save the city more than $800,000 annually.
How did that work out? Look at the unkempt landscape areas around town, compare the present situation to five years ago, review the expenditures for the contract including extra services and the cost of staff to oversee the service and draw your own conclusions.
The question for citizens to ask is “Why did the Public Works Department budget increase from $2,872,249 in FY2010 to $3,746,841 in FY 2012 excluding the cost of stormwater expenditures and engineering?” This reflects a 30 percent increase in two years.
The City Council’s second major exercise in outsourcing services involved firing most of the Building Department staff in another alleged cost savings maneuver.
No-bid contract for fees
It followed this classless act by promptly adopting a new fee schedule for construction plan review and building inspections which almost tripled the fees passed along to homeowners by remodelers and home builders.
Council members subsequently outsourced construction plan review and building inspections to SAFEbuilt, Georgia, Inc., apparently without reading the contract.
Meeting minutes reflect that council simply approved a motion to authorize the mayor to execute a contract with SAFEbuilt for services. The actual contract was not part of the agenda package that is normally seen by council members and made available to the public.
A 90% share of fees
The original SAFEbuilt contract was not competitively bid and was an absolute sham. It permitted SAFEbuilt to retain 90 percent of the proceeds of most fees while the city retained only 10 percent.
The City Council clearly violated the city ordinance requiring competitive bidding for service contracts. Some city insiders were also miffed because of the cozy relationship between the mayor and SAFEbuilt representatives.
The Board of Directors of the Home Builders Association of Midwest Georgia engaged an attorney to make an issue of the no-bid contract. After more than a year of evasiveness and foot dragging, the City Council agreed to follow the law and bid the contract competitively.
Company influenced fees?
The request for proposal for the new bid was advertised using specifications and requirements influenced by SAFEbuilt representatives.
The council spit in the face of local builders and their clients by basing the bid on the same escalated fee schedule. It is significantly higher than fee schedules in nearby cities using SAFEbuilt services and the same building code criteria.
The number of bid finalists was two and … you guessed it … SAFEbuilt won the bid over competitor Charles Abbot Associates, Inc. in a unanimous vote by the City Council last week.
The split of proceeds set forth in the new proposal is a more reasonable 70 percent for SAFEbuilt and 30 percent for the city. Draw your own conclusions about the events that led to this sorry situation!
Something is amiss
This writer has concluded that something is amiss. Those who sense corruption may be on the right track.
The third major effort to privatize city services was the Recreation Department fiasco. The city fired several recreation employees and outsourced programs for senior citizens to Fayette Senior Services on a contract basis.
Fayette Senior Services is a private “non-profit” organization that outsmarted the mayor and council in contract negotiations.
The taxpayers now pay too much for managing senior programs in addition to agreeing to totally renovate two city-owned buildings for exclusive use by the private organization. The renovation is being done on borrowed money!
A major selling point expressed by one City Council member was that Peachtree City seniors will be in great hands with Debbie Britt as head of Fayette Senior Services.
Debbie Britt recently nullified that argument by resigning from Fayette Senior Services for a job at the hospital.
How did the outsourcing of senior programs work? Are senior citizens better off today than they were a year ago? Check with a senior citizen and draw your own conclusions.
It is obvious that some elected officials in Peachtree City have gone privatization crazy at the expense of taxpayers.
Finances just don’t add up
Cash reserves are being reduced, long term debt is up, fees are up and services are reduced while the city budget continues to increase. The finances just don’t add up!
It is no surprise that the city property tax millage rate was again increased by the City Council.
Peachtree City citizens have an option that is not available to the new cities north of Atlanta. We are blessed with an effective and efficient county government compared to Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Sometimes this writer thinks Peachtree City residents should throw in the towel, ask Representative Matt Ramsey to introduce enabling legislation to de-charter the city and go through the steps to become an unincorporated part of Fayette County in exchange for less hassle and a reduction of property taxes.
My thoughts about de-chartering quickly disappear when I think about the new county commission. It isn’t much better than the Peachtree City mayor and council.
[Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. His mother’s family has owned property in what is now Peachtree City since 1820, before there was a Fayette County. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]