While the average Peachtree City homeowner may soon face a $100 increase in city property taxes, the hike is necessary in large part to make up for a lack of funding in road and cart path maintenance, according to City Manager Jim Pennington.
Pennington was referring to the city exhausting its funds from the 2004 countywide transportation sales tax, which paid for road and cart path resurfacing. With those funds gone, the city plans to increase the amount of spending on street resurfacing to $1.48 million and slightly increase cart path resurfacing to $440,000.
“I don’t know that anybody is pleased when you have a tax increase,” Pennington said. “However, there is a realization early on that when you lost all your SPLOST (sales tax) money, something’s got to take the place of it.”
The other option is to look at further cuts to city services such as police, fire, streets and recreation which might put the city “back into a zone you don’t want to be in,” Pennington added.
“That’s what makes a community vibrant,” Pennington said. “If you don’t have the good roads, the quality sidewalks and quality parks, people leave. Particularly when there is competition and alternate places for people to live. Like it or not, that’s a reality, just a fact of life.”
The tax increase, if approved by council later this year, would raise an additional $1.7 million in revenue for the city, with $405,000 set aside for an expected salary increase for city employees as determined by a pay study authorized earlier this year by council.
The salary study is almost certain to recommend increasing the salary of a number of city employees. The study has not been finalized at this point, Pennington said.
“Right now the indications are that we’re OK in some places but we are not OK in some others,” Pennington said.
The city is also looking to hire 16 full-time landscaping employees to move all landscaping services back in house, as a number of residents have been displeased with the lack of quality from the city’s landscaping contractors. That comes with an extra cost of $382,000 (compared to what the city set aside for contracted services this budget year) and accounts for about 22 percent of the projected tax increase.
There was also a significant sentiment on council to work harder on cart path resurfacing, but in reality is limited by the paving season, equipment and manpower, Pennington confirmed.
Some residents have complained of bumps in the cart path system, but part of that is to be expected, Pennington said. The city makes efforts to cut out trees and roots that cause problems, he added.
“Those cart paths are laid out in the middle of the woods, that’s what they were intended for,” Pennington said. “You might get a little bump, that’s what happens in nature, but we try to keep it as smooth as we can.”
Again speaking about the tax increase as necessary to handle road resurfacing, Pennington recalled previously working for a city in Florida that prided itself on low taxes, and while all the cities surrounding them kept their road standards high, his city suffered from significant road problems that took five years to get back to a reasonable level.
“I don’t like raising taxes and I don’t like recommending them, but my gosh, you don’t want to see your city collapse either,” Pennington said. “I am a taxpayer and I don’t like it, but I am willing to maintain the value of my property and they go hand-in-glove with each other.”
Council hasn’t made any final decisions on the budget yet, as council members received their detailed budget documents sometime this week. If council decides to increase property taxes, three separate public hearings will be required prior to the vote to adopt such a budget.