Mayor outlines PTC challenges in 2016

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Fleisch: Good people in place, but city faces funding shortfalls

Peachtree City Mayor Vanessa Fleisch used the occasion of the Jan. 7 City Council meeting to review the accomplishments of 2015 and to look ahead to 2016. A portion of her comments are provided below.

“2015 was truly an eventful year for Peachtree City, with its share of ups and downs. But as you will hear we have come through the year stronger and ready to move forward into 2016. I hope the strides we have made are apparent to the residents of our fine community,” said Fleisch. “A tremendous amount of work has happened across the city to strengthen it from within, both organizationally in terms of personnel and physically in terms of how we have worked to identify and prioritize long-neglected projects. I believe that we have changed the trajectory of the city over the past couple of years. Due to our fiscal conservatism, we have continued our reputation for being good stewards of our residents’ tax money. The city has maintained its AAA bond rating.”

A number of the mayor’s comments dealt with issues relating to personnel.

“Last year started off tragically with the New Year’s Day shooting involving the chief of police at the time,” Fleisch said. “The gamut of emotions that surrounds a situation like that were vast, however, we as a city have recovered from this indescribable tragedy by pulling together and moving on. It is my belief that the professionalism shown by our city during this time attracted a group of exceedingly qualified candidates for the chief of police position. Chief Janet Moon hit the ground running in August and has been a tremendous asset to the city.”

Fleisch also noted the accomplishments of the Peachtree City Fire Department.

“Last year our department earned the ISO 1 rating which puts them among the most elite fire departments in the county,” said Fleisch. “Only 138 of 47,000 departments across the country currently have this classification. The role of public safety in any community cannot be understated. We are lucky and thankful to have such superior quality departments within one city. Our public safety officers are a special group of folks that instill pride in our community.”

Fleisch said public safety accounts for roughly half the city’s budget and includes half of the city employees.

“To have them both positioned with great momentum moving into this year is truly a great thing for the people that they serve,” she said.

The address continued with the area of personnel.

“Personnel is a key component in any organization and last year we had three key vacancies in the city that needed to be filled,” said Fleisch. “We also filled the planning and development director position. In a planned community the planning director position is very important and after a multiple year search we were able to fill that position.”

Fleisch then turned her comments to City Manager Jon Rorie.

“Many of you know him and I am pleased that he was officially named city manager in November,” she said. “Jon had been serving as interim city manager since June and he is doing an exceptional job.”

Commenting on city finances, Fleisch said, “The financial needs of our city are considerably different than the needs of other cities in the county. We also have our signature multi-use paths to maintain which are in need of maintenance just as any other infrastructure. Our city contributes 40 percent of the tax digest of the county and our citizens comprise almost 40 percent of the rate payers of Fayette County Water.”

Fleisch then used a significant portion of her comments to review the many aspects of the status of Lake Peachtree, including the dam and dredging projects, and the work of the city and Fayette County to address those issues.

“Early in 2015 newly appointed Chairman of the County Commission Chuck Oddo and I began discussing a solution to the issues surrounding Lake Peachtree and as a result the county will contribute $2 million towards the construction of a new spillway. The contract also outlines terms for one more dredging of the lake to which the county will contribute at least $1 million. In the future the city will have control of the construction of the spillway and any future dredging. The contract will continue until 2035,” said Fleisch. “Peachtree City has been working with the county for over a year to ensure that the county encountered no obstacles in completing the dredging. The city has cooperated and expedited any requests made by the county in order to get the dredging completed. While we are all frustrated (due to the volume of inclement weather), the county still needs our patience in order to finish the job.”

Fleisch noted one of the ways the city has been recognized nationally.

“For the first time we were on a list of the 50 hottest zip codes in the country for residential housing. We were number 41 and the only city in Georgia to be on this list,” Fleisch said. “Of all the lists that we were on this year, I am pleased with the top zip code recognition as it is a tangible result of the great work our city employees have done over the past couple of years.”

Fleisch in other comments applauded the efforts of the finance department.

Traffic issues was another topic of the address.

“Privately-owned projects that were approved and permitted years ago are now moving forward. The MacDuff Parkway construction will continue well into 2016 and the Overlook Retail development should be completed in 2016,” Fleisch said. “Two years ago the city commissioned a traffic study of highway 54 from Flat Creek to MacDuff Parkway. Projects that were outlined in that study continue to be the basis of conversation with the council and plans for two key intersections MacDuff and Planterra will soon be discussed.”

Noteworthy in the address was the topic of the small amount of available industrial property and the need to retain existing industry.

“The industrial section of our town is nearly full. Recent expansions of current industry, along with some new corporations moving in have left us with very little land for additional industry. Approximately 20 percent of our community is made up of retail or industry while 80 percent is residential,” said Fleisch. “In order to keep residential property taxes low we need to be proactively looking at ways to add more industry to the city. Experts have advised us that the percentages should be closer to 60/40 or 50/ 50 split. Again we are at 80 residential to 20 industrial. We must also listen to and engage the business community to help retain the industries that are currently within the city.”

Fleisch said budget constraints that have helped maintain a AAA bond rating have also left the city years behind in both multi-use path and our road maintenance.

“This city cannot afford to neglect these very significant pieces of our infrastructure,” Fleisch maintained. “These and other topics will be discussed at our retreat this year. Our parks and the area around City Hall are also in need of more maintenance and it is my hope that we will one day be able to connect the parks surrounding City Hall and Drake field in order to make a central meeting place or passive recreational city center.

Turning her comments to 2016, Fleisch noted the success of the Diva Marathon from last year and the anticipation of the event again this year.

“The Diva Marathon had a picture perfect day and the estimated revenue from the event brought in about $1 million of economic impact for our city,” Fleisch said. “The Divas will be back and are scheduled for Sept. 10.”

Fleisch said Sept. 11, will mark the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on our country. The city will commemorate that day with an appearance from singer Lee Greenwood who accepted the city’s invitation to appear at the Fred Amphitheater.

“We are a phenomenal city and this year starts with great promise,” Fleisch said in conclusion.

The full text of the address is below.

MAYOR VANESSA FLEISCH’S STATE OF THE CITY REMARKS

2015 was truly an eventful year for Peachtree City — with its share of ups and downs, but as you will hear we have come through the year stronger and ready to move forward into 2016.

Last year started off tragically with the New Year’s Day shooting involving the Chief of Police at the time. The gamut of emotions that surrounds a situation like that were vast however, we as a City have recovered from this indescribable tragedy by pulling together and moving on.

Our police department’s presence and social media engagement within the community has been incredible.

Last year the Police Department received multiple accolades for their work in our community.

Awards were received from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Gold award with excellence.

It is my belief that the professionalism shown by our city during this time attracted a group of exceedingly qualified candidates for the Chief of Police position. Chief Janet Moon hit the ground running in August and has been a tremendous asset to the city.

The people of Peachtree City should be equally as proud of the accomplishments of our Fire Department.

Last year our department earned the I S O One rating which puts them among the most elite Fire Departments in the COUNTRY. Only, 138 of 47,000 departments across the country currently have this classification.

The role of public safety in any community cannot be understated. We are lucky and thankful to have such superior quality departments within one city.

Our public safety officers are a special group of folks that instill pride in our community.

Public safety accounts for roughly half of our city’s budget and half of our city employees; to have them both positioned with great momentum moving into this year is truly a great thing for the people that they serve.

Personnel is a key component in any organization and last year we had three key vacancies in the city that needed to be filled. As I have said the Chief of Police position was filled, and we also filled the Planning and Development Director position. In a planned community the planning director position is very important and after a multiple year search we were able to fill that position.

Lastly, we hired a new city manager, Jon Rorie. Many of you know him and I am pleased that he was officially named city manager in November.

Jon had been serving as interim city manager since June and he is doing an exceptional job.

Peachtree City is classified as a Class B city by the state of Georgia.

 What does that mean? The state classifies cities by the number of people that it serves, and our city is listed with other cities of similar population. Alpharetta and Atlanta are class A cities while Duluth and Dunwoody would be examples of other class B cities like Peachtree City.

Peachtree City is the only class B city in Fayette County and according to Georgia Demographics, it is the 26th largest city in the state with Fayetteville coming in at 59th and Tyrone at 129th.

The financial needs of our city are considerably different than the needs of other cities in the county. Plus we also have our signature multi use paths to maintain which are in need of maintenance just as any other infrastructure.

Our city contributes 40 percent of the tax digest of the county and our citizens comprise almost 40 percent of the rate payers of Fayette County Water.

Years ago, 1966 to be exact, there was an agreement with Fayette County that allowed for Lake Peachtree to be used as a water reservoir in order to start the Fayette County Water system. The ownership of the lake was to remain with the City however, the maintenance which includes dredging was the responsibility of the county. As a result of this agreement with the city, the county was able to secure bonds to fund the building of the water system that we have today.

Including the ongoing dredging, there have been a total of three dredgings since this relationship between the city and the county began.

The first dredging was over 100 thousand cubic yards of silt in the 1980s. A compromise was reached at that time with the county to allow them to pile the silt material into the lake which resulted in Snake Island. The second dredging took place around 2003 with approximately 24 thousand cubic yards taken out. There were a total of six contracts with the county dealing with Lake Peachtree; the first in 1966 and the latest was dated 1985.

The contracts mentioned seven dredging areas that needed to be brought to original levels but there were no measurements associated with any of the stipulations in the contract. In 1966 there were no numerical reference points for the pool level or the original depth of the lake itself to which the county needed to dredge. When the lake was brought down in 2014 and the issues with the spillway came to light, we were bound by the series of contracts dating back to 1966.

When the issues with the spillway were brought to our attention in March of 2014 the council took immediate steps to do whatever was necessary to restore Lake Peachtree as the centerpiece of our community.

The first thing we did was assemble a team of engineers that are recognized as experts within their field. We also engaged an attorney who specializes in water matters. Putting this team together was essential in negotiating with the state over the category one dam reclassification and with the county.

Initial estimates were that a category 1 dam would cost close to 7 million dollars. Thankfully revised estimates put the figure much lower than that.

On December 31, 2014 the State reinstated the category two status and the county recently repaired the spillway. It is my belief that the city was able to get the dam reclassified within only six months due to its taking the lead in working with the state.

However, the state and engineers are quick to point out that any repairs done to the spillway now are merely temporary. They recommend building a new spillway within the next few years.

Early in 2015 newly appointed Chairman of the County Commission Chuck Oddo and I began discussing a solution to the issues surrounding Lake Peachtree and as a result the County will contribute 2 million dollars towards the construction of a new spillway. The contract also outlines terms for one more dredging of the lake to which the county will contribute at least 1 million dollars. In the future the city will have control of the construction of the spillway and any future dredging. The contract will continue until 2035.

Regarding the current dredging, it is important for the county to complete the work that they are contractually obligated to do. The situation has been frustrating to say the least; however, it is important to realize that the rain we have been experiencing has been unprecedented.

The City of Peachtree City has been working with the county for over a year to ensure that the county encountered no obstacles in completing the dredging. The City has cooperated and expedited any requests made by the county in order to get the dredging completed.

While we are all frustrated, the county still needs our patience in order to finish the job.

The situation with the dam and spillway further illustrates the situation we are in across the city and the county with our infrastructure.

Years ago it was obvious that the City wasn’t maintaining itself. We have 471 subdivision entrances that the city is responsible for maintaining. When the landscaping was outsourced, the subdivision entrances suffered from a lack of attention.

This year there has been a concerted effort by our buildings and grounds and public works departments to restore our city back to the standards that we once enjoyed.

It has been a long time coming but the work on the medians along 54, 74 and Peachtree Parkway is now being noticed by those who call our city home.

Years ago I was told by a resident that her boss came down from Atlanta to look at relocating his business to Peachtree City. At the time our landscaping and infrastructure was in disrepair and he DID NOT relocate his business here because, “Peachtree City looked like a City that people USED to care about.”

I was also told at the time by many people that the perception of the city was that it was on its way downhill.

It is my belief that the city was headed for a terrible “perfect storm six years ago.”

The incredibly hard work that has gone into bringing back all of the maintenance to our facilities has truly begun to bear fruit.

Year over year the city’s digest grew by almost eight percent due to an increase in property values.

For the first time we were on a list of the 50 hottest zip codes in the country for residential housing. We were number 41 and the ONLY city in the state of Georgia to be on this list.

Of all the lists that we were on this year I am pleased with the top zip code recognition as it is a tangible result of the great work our city employees have done over the past couple of years.

I hope the strides we have made are apparent to the residents of our fine community. A tremendous amount of work has happened across the city to strengthen it from within; both organizationally in terms of personnel and physically in terms of how we have worked to identify and prioritize long neglected projects. I believe that we have changed the trajectory of the city over the past couple of years.

Due to our fiscal conservatism, we have continued our reputation for being good stewards of our resident’s tax money; the city has maintained its AAA bond rating.

 We here in Peachtree City expect excellence, and each year our finance department has been able to maintain this level of achievement when most Cities have struggled with rising employee and material costs and declining property values which lead to lower revenues.

Like all communities, our materials and fixed costs continue to rise and that will be the case as more of the Affordable Care Act becomes law in the next couple of years.

We have gained efficiencies by installing computer software that was long needed in our human resources and payroll departments. However, the long term impact of the Affordable Care Act is still unknown to a degree but is being proactively assessed by both human resources and finance.

The declining of fees we receive from Comcast and other telecom providers was the impetus for researching a city owned broadband initiative. Information regarding that potential project is still coming in and we are actively assessing it.

Privately owned projects that were approved and permitted years ago are now moving forward. The MacDuff Parkway construction will continue well into 2016 and the Overlook Retail development should be completed in 2016.

Two years ago the City commissioned a traffic study of highway 54 from Flat Creek to MacDuff parkway. Projects that were outlined in that study continue to be the basis of conversation with the council and plans for two key intersections MacDuff and Planterra will soon be discussed.

The industrial section of our town is nearly full. Recent expansions of current industry, along with some new corporations moving in have left us with very little land for additional industry. Approximately 20 percent of our community is made up of retail or industry while 80 percent is residential.

In order to keep residential property taxes low we need to be proactively looking at ways to add more industry to the city. Experts have advised us that the percentages should be closer to 60 /40 or 50/ 50 split. Again we are at 80 residential to 20 industrial.

We must also listen to and engage the business community to help retain the industries that are currently within the city.

Budget constraints that have helped us maintain our AAA bond rating, have also left us years behind in both our multi use path and our road maintenance.

This city cannot afford to neglect these very significant pieces of our infrastructure.

These and other topics will be discussed at our retreat this year.

Our parks and the area around City Hall are also in need of more maintenance and it is my hope that we will one day be able to connect the parks surrounding City Hall and Drake field in order to make a central meeting place or passive recreational city center.

Unfortunately, the weather affected many events this year including The Great Georgia Air Show. It was truly thrilling for all of us here in the city to see the incredible men and women that make up the Blue Angels and to have those jets flying above our city is something most will never forget.

In contrast, The Diva Marathon had a picture perfect day and the estimated revenue from the event brought in about a million dollars for our City.

The Divas will be back and are scheduled for September 10th.

Also, this year September 11, 2016 will mark the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on our country in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

Here in Peachtree City, we will commemorate that day with community events and a concert at our Frederick Brown Amphitheater featuring country singer Lee Greenwood who has accepted our invitation to appear.

We look forward to working with various community groups to make this an event to pay respect to those who have made many sacrifices to our great country in the years since that horrendous attack.

We are a phenomenal city and this year starts with great promise.

I thank you all for the opportunity to serve you.