Let me take this opportunity to expound upon recent [Peachtree City] Council actions.
On WASA, I am not going to dig into the particulars of every comment made or responses after the meeting. But a few comments are worth mentioning.
As Chairman Mike Harman said, problems with sewer and other utility rates are a nationwide issue. In the GMA Utilities class I attended, it was packed with cities experiencing similar problems with their municipal-owned systems. I note Senoia has been encountering rate issues as well. Many do not know utilities are required to maintain a 20 percent reserve. Nor do they realize water restrictions lower income, as do low flow toilets, etc.
Historically speaking, I am familiar with conflicts between WASA and council. So, while there have been collisions, it is time to move forward.
While not at all letting WASA off the hook, a big problem is council members throwing bombs at WASA as if they are totally to blame for everything. Fact is there would be no overcapacity issue, for example, if prior councils had not backed the bonds to expand the capacity of WASA. The responsibilities are mutual on many fronts.
The city taking over WASA, as some on council desire, would not fix any of the problems. In fact, some would be made worse due to tighter restrictions on cities. There is blame to go around over many years.
Moving on, once again citizens are being told how well the majority has handled the city finances and all is well. Wow, we even have enough surplus to pay down some general obligation bonds! G.O. bonds are loans/debt on which we have to pay principal and interest, just like your credit card and mortgage. You are also told how slowly spending has risen from 2005.
But does it hold up to a reality check?
Council member Vanessa Fleisch said, “In 2005, when the economy was significantly different than today, the city received a AA+ rating by Standard & Poor’s. Our total budget in 2005 was $27,018,673.”
The budget for 2013 is $28,608,355. In eight years our budget has grown an average of .74 percent a year or a total of 5.8 percent in that time period.”
For clarity, the budget year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 and is always passed and billed in the October year. The actual spending for 2005 was $24,300,279, not the $27,018,673.00 Fleisch reported. For 2010 it was $25,698,093, a 5.7 percent ($1,397,814.00) increase over the five-year period of 2005 through 2009.
In the 2011 through 2013 budgets that Vanessa Fleisch, Kim Learnard and Eric Imker voted on, spending rose by 11 percent ($2,910,242.00) to $28,608,335. Those three years were almost double the increase of the prior five-year period.
Also note Peachtree City received the AAA bond rating in 2008, where the size of our reserve was noted as a primary reason.
Quoting from Kim Learnard, “This fiscal year, our cash reserves stand at an incredibly high 39.23 percent of our budget. With this much cash in reserves, we now have the flexibility to consider paying off early one of our G.O. bonds and an equipment lease, in the coming year.”
So, how did we get where we are on your tax bill? Fleisch, Learnard and Imker passed a total of 1.622 mills in tax increases. Debt has been increased via such as the facilities authority bond. The stormwater bill has over doubled at the Feb. 7 council meeting. An increase in the hotel/motel tax was proposed, including many false claims, which I refuted.
For the future, there are another .2 mills of tax increases proposed in both 2014 and 2015. A .401 G.O. Bond proposal is on the table. Another facility bond debt has been proposed. Another stormwater increase is very likely in a few years. The reserve will be spent down to about 20 percent. The SPLOST, which paid for cart paths and roads, is exhausted with no replacement revenue source.
Remember, your property tax bill is millage rate plus G.O. bond. Stormwater is only paid by property owners, so all three, in total, are your true property tax bill.
My home value, from 2009 to today has fallen about $15,000 while my tax bill for Peachtree City increased about $105, excluding stormwater. So don’t believe it when anyone on council tells you there has been no tax increase.
At the Feb. 7 council meeting, your stormwater bill over doubled. Part of what was paid for via your property tax was shifted to stormwater, which added to the increase. There is no corresponding decrease to the millage rate, so this is an effective property tax increase as well.
The discussion on lowering the millage rate to compensate began with my statement that this is double taxation. Councilman Dienhart responded he had talked to the city manager about lowering it. The other three council members remained silent as they have no intention of lowering your tax bill.
I did vote for the first facilities authority bond to reduce debt payments and get some neglected infrastructure repairs. I also pushed, as I have done every year, for a comprehensive strategic plan to prioritize spending and balance revenues and spending. They did not support the idea and have continued to spend with no end in sight, which is irresponsible.
So, what is the bright opportunity here when all you see is tax and spend thinking by the majority? Change the majority.
Two more votes are all that is needed to do what is needed to stop the financial bleeding and get us on the right track to reducing taxes and doing the economic development we need within the city that the Fayette County Development Authority does not do.
The One Peachtree City process provided a lot of good information. The comprehensive strategic plan I have been pushing for and the city manager says is a must was a most wanted result from the process. The Needs Assessment Survey will add more valuable information.
We cannot tolerate more Band-Aid budgets. Nor can we continue to consider debt, stormwater and taxes separately. While stormwater is essential and needed, the ongoing practice of not ever considering the totality of all tax bills and trying to shut down any suggestion to the contrary has to end.
The same argument of we must do this and it isn’t that much in the scheme of things on every issue is a sales pitch, not a reason. This requires a firm line in the sand until there is change.
Don Haddix, mayor
Peachtree City, Ga.