Election season brings election questions, and this year The Citizen posed identical questions via email to the three Peachtree City mayoral candidates and the three candidates for City Council Post 3.
Responses this week by mayoral candidates will be followed next week by those running for the Post 3 seat.
Candidates for the mayor’s seat are incumbent Vanessa Fleisch, former Councilman Eric Imker and business owner Dar Thompson. Candidates’ responses were edited for print to 250 words maximum per answer, but their full responses are in this online version.
Above, Peachtree City mayoral candidates (L-R): Eric Imker, Vanessa Fleisch and Dar Thompson. Photos submitted by the candidates.
1. What specific things do you see that could help solve the traffic problems in Peachtree City? And specifically, what should be done to improve traffic flow?
Vanessa Fleisch — Prior to 2013, the focus of the traffic discussion was on a specific intersection of Ga. Highway 54 West. But in reality, there is a domino effect from Flat Creek to MacDuff. So while on council, I met with GDOT (Ga. Dept. of Transportation) officials from our district and Atlanta as well as the Coweta County traffic department. To my knowledge, it was the first time in a long time that any PTC elected official had reached out to these departments.
In 2014, as mayor, the council voted to approve having a GDOT analysis done of the entire corridor. From that analysis we identified projects that would need to be completed to alleviate the heavy traffic congestion in the city. We will be able to complete these projects with the monies from SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax), and other revenues.
There are intersection improvements scheduled for Planterra/54 and MacDuff/54 ready to begin at the start of 2018. The Atlanta Regional Commission gave the city a grant for a computer loop system that has been installed in all of the traffic signals for more accurate signal timing. A major win for the city to come out of this analysis is a $10 million dollar project awarded to the city by GDOT for the 54/74 intersection where a new displaced left turn will be constructed. The cost to the taxpayers for the analysis was $70,000. The analysis has yielded the aforementioned traffic improvements and a windfall return on our initial investment.
You can find more information on the traffic analysis, GDOT grants, and construction on my website www.reelectvanessa.com.
Eric Imker — The damage has been done by the current and previous councils. Poor planning and allowing out of control development needs to stop. The current council has contributed to the problem appallingly. Without consideration of the already overloaded traffic on Hwy. 54 they added yet another traffic light between Walmart and MacDuff Parkway. This was just plain crazy. Telling the current council it would make matters worse made no difference. Irrational thinking to assist more development won the day. What were they thinking?
We do not need more traffic studies, “sensor fixes” and retiming of lights as has been proposed in the recent past by the current council. We can make it less distressful by controlling a couple traffic lights limiting left turns during rush hour and forcing more right-in/right-out choices along Hwy. 54 side entrances and exits.
The eventual solution is working on an alternative route for traffic to take outside our northern and/or southern border. We’ll need to get our county commissioners on board, Coweta commissioners and GDOT to develop this solution.
Creating an overpass at Hwy. 54 and Hwy. 74 might help but that will not solve the problem. The problem is the five traffic lights jammed in the 2,500 feet between that intersection and MacDuff Parkway. I can see the problem. How come the current council can’t?
Never connect Crosstown Road/TDK Boulevard to Coweta lest we create another Hwy. 54 traffic nightmare with thousands of Coweta vehicles coming our way and clogging up not only Crosstown Road but Hwy. 74 as well in the middle of our city.
Making Hwy. 54 three lanes is not the solution. That would only encourage more traffic we don’t need and it would clog up again within a few short months.
Dar Thompson — First of all I think it is imperative that you bring in traffic experts and have them create a complete traffic study. I find it interesting that the current mayor and candidate think they are traffic experts. Leaders surround themselves with smart people, in this case traffic experts. It is imperative that you ask questions. The traffic study completed in 2014 indicates that the leadership ask only to focus on the Ga. highways 74/54 intersection. The intersection at 74/54 is simply a volume issue. However, I think it should be noted that the traffic engineers made notations that the only mid-term and long-term solution would be to address roads parallel to Hwy. 54 from Rockaway road to the south and all the way to Castlerock (in Tyrone) to the north. Current leadership has done nothing, I mean absolutely nothing to address the traffic problem.
2. What is your vision for both the council and the city?
Dar Thompson — The city has become a reactive government. The city does not investigate, nor does it push a narrative. Understand, that reactive government as well as reactive businesses ultimately fail. We have done nothing but react to all that is around us. We must be pro-active. We are acquiescing and it will get worse, and current leadership is oblivious.
Vanessa Fleisch — Many of the citizens of Peachtree City have seen some of what my vision is for the City Council at our council meetings. Our meetings are about executing the business of the people; putting the focus on public service rather than petty egoistic disputes that hinder our ability to serve the electorate.
As the city gets older, the infrastructure issues will continue to mount. It will be even more important to bring our business tax base up from 34 percent to closer to 50 percent. One of the ways that can be done is through reuse and redevelopment.
Eric Imker — Protecting the safety of our citizens is the council’s number one priority. Both police and fire departments will remain the priority it already is.
Smart land use and budgetary wisdom will prevail.
We must stop rezoning our last best industrial land to more residential like the current council has been doing.
City council needs to be accountable for every dollar spent. We need to stop the wasted millions upon millions of dollars being spent irresponsibly. Council needs to listen to common sense when it comes to budgetary matters. Only this way will the city finally see its true potential. For example:
Giving $700,000 to the developer of MacDuff Parkway as a gift was just plain wrong. There has yet to be any reason given for this gift.
Approving a $1.3 million overrun on the Lake Peachtree Spillway project before it even begins demonstrates a lack of program management experience desperately needed on council. Rejecting bids, respecing the project and getting to the budgeted target would have been an easy exercise in contract development but this council was unable to think it through. Instead, they accepted the cost overrun without question.
Voting for outrageous pay raises is something the current council wants us to forget about. A couple years ago council gave an unfunded, unsustainable near $1 million pay raise without understanding what they were voting on. They simply opened the piggy bank, overrode a fair and reasonable $270,000 pay raise that benefited the lowest paid, hardest to fill positions and then said it would not require using our city’s emergency cash reserves or causing higher taxes. Lies on both accounts. Council thought giving massive pay raises to the already best paid employees within 20 miles of us was more important. Claiming they were underpaid was another lie.
Giving away $1 million every ten years for Lake Peachtree long term maintenance and dredging is unfathomable. But that’s what this council did.
Voting for a $2.5 million Arts Center without understanding the financials is also irresponsible. What would council have cut from the current budget had the county commissioners not rejected it?
Irresponsible budgeting in the future will change with a change on council. This is so desperately needed.
3. What is your vision for continuously improving life in Peachtree City?
Eric Imker — Ensuring Peachtree City remains a place where families, individuals and businesses will “Plan to Stay” is essential.
SPLOST has opened the door for Peachtree City’s renaissance. SPLOST passed in March this year so we now have the largest tax revenue initiative in PTC’s history. It will bring in over $46 million over the next six years. Our normal annual city’s budget is only about $33 millon. SPLOST is huge and a game changer. However, with this, our current city council was unable to lower our taxes. Not a single penny! They said they needed everything you are currently paying in taxes plus the SPLOST tax. Unbelievable. Leveraging SPLOST money with our current city budget is something I have experience doing. Nobody else on council knows how.
Lowering taxes by at least one mill is now possible. Actually lowering taxes will put money back in your pocket. I believe you know how to spend your money better than government; especially our current city council. Lowering taxes will also encourage new businesses to choose Peachtree City and those that are already here to stay.
Strategic long term planning with a lower mill rate is possible. Despite SPLOST, our current council keeps us the highest taxed city around which keeps businesses from considering Peachtree City. There is no longer a need for this old school thinking. We were the last county in Georgia to pass a SPLOST and now we can lower our property taxes.
Lowering our stormwater bills can also be done. So can smart decision making on our sewer bills. For unknown reasons the current council has been unable to do any of this. I can.
Vanessa Fleisch — What I can do is continue to do what I have done for the past four years. No matter where I go I think of ways to help the city. As a couple of examples: When thinking about the look and feel of Drake Field, I would travel to other city’s parks and take pictures to send back to City Hall. On another trip I saw an IMS truck; IMS is a company that uses lasers to help objectively evaluate the condition of roads. GDOT and cities have used their services, and now they are helping us to evaluate our roads. As we move further into the twenty-first century we need to continuously look for new ways to innovate and maintain the infrastructure and sights that make our city a place where families want to grow.
During my tenure we have welcomed new businesses into the city that have brought families and jobs to our community. We have been so successful at this that the Georgia Economic Development committee has continued to work with us to bring more international business to Peachtree City. During the recession we had many businesses vacate buildings in the industrial park. A lot of those buildings have since been filled. We are working to make our environment more appealing to outside businesses so that we can get closer to our goal of a tax base with 50 percent of the revenue coming from businesses.
We also want to continue fostering our recreational parks, which have seen a massive transformation from where they were four years ago. Our city staff has done an incredible job turning these facilities into fields where traveling sports tournaments want to come and compete. These tournaments are a boost to our economy through our hotel/motel tax, which is then reinvested into the recreational areas.
Continuing education for the mayor and council is also exceedingly important as the world we live in is rapidly changing, and we need to go to classes to see what is applicable here in our great city.
Dar Thompson — Peachtree City has a problem and that is they believe their own hype. Business-minded people look at numbers, the numbers don’t lie. We have slipped backwards year after year and continue to do so. The Mayor flaunts increase in property values while quality of life has diminished. Property values have increased, really. An appraisal on my home (a home I have for sale) came in at 5 percent less that what I paid for it in 2005. What a terrible investment.
4. What is your stand on the city’s future growth?
Dar Thompson — Growth is going to happen, you can’t stop it. However, it is imperative that you control growth and work with quality developers. Quality development, which is what you want, will simply go somewhere else if you make it difficult and complicated. Good quality growth should be viewed as a win/win. City government views it as a win/lose. Quality will go where governments work for them to produce a quality product.
Vanessa Fleisch — It is obvious that Senoia, Tyrone and Fayetteville are growing by leaps and bounds. It will be important for us to encourage redevelopment but also to look at growth that will help our tax base. If we do not even out the tax base, we will need to go to the homeowners for tax increases and that is not, in my opinion, the way to go. Any future annexations need to be evaluated and scrutinized more closely for their long-term benefit to the city. We need to be concerned about protecting and sustaining the city in light of the growth across the county. Over the course of the past four years we have identified the needs of the city and now it is time to look towards executing some of the solutions.
Eric Imker — I choose to say, “See above.”
5. As a voter, what is your political affiliation/persuasion?
Vanessa Fleisch — First, municipal elections are non-partisan and I think that they should stay that way. My party affiliation/persuasion is Republican.
Dar Thompson — Republican, however somewhere on the middle as it relates to social issues.
Eric Imker — I am a conservative, long-term strategic planner. I have the experience and know how to get the job done by making pragmatic decisions that benefit the citizens. I will not tolerate developers who are here to make a quick buck and leave us with a mess to clean up. Your tax money is a treasure and I will spend it for the public good it as if it were my own. This concept seems to have been lost on the current council.
I answer to you the citizens. One measure of proof is that I do not accept campaign contributions. I do not want anyone, anytime, thinking I am voting a certain way because someone contributed to my campaign to help me get elected. Other candidates cannot say this.
I can be politically correct when necessary, i.e., working with other government agencies like GDOT or county commissioners. But when I see blanket mismanagement or a bad decision I will not hesitate to call it out for what it is.
Keeping the citizens informed on how our city is doing will be a trademark of my administration. You will hear both the good and bad. Both sides will be presented and explanations for votes will be provided. This will be a refreshing change for our city.