You may not know that there is an important voter referendum in early voting now occurring and on election day, Tuesday, March 21. The referendum is for creating a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). The current SPLOST will soon expire.
It’s a peculiar occasion, no doubt. The Peachtree City government is spending a lot of our tax dollars advertising the SPLOST vote.
How much money?
We have endured consistent property tax increases, including a record haul this year. Peachtree City Mayor Kim Learnard told the constituents, “City Council passed a city budget that included a zero-millage rate increase.” That’s a smoke screen and what the mayor neglected to say was the council voted for a walloping tax increase due to elevated property values and their deliberately not rolling back the millage rate.
On top of the stinging tax increase is the city carrying a reserve fund hovering around 50%, totally unnecessary.
Remember that the mayor ran for office on the campaign promise of making the city “affordable.” The thing with Learnard is that her actions speak louder than her words.
Learnard became quite domineering when she upended the SPLOST Committee’s list of projects to be funded by the new tax (see: https://thecitizen.com/2022/09/19/mayor-pickle-ball-says-battery-way-park-bathrooms-can-wait-while-local-taxes-skyrocket/) and she reordered the priorities to her personal taste.
The mayor and council will also be wasting several million of our tax dollars on a low-budget intersection proposal for Highways 74 and 54 from the Georgia Department of Transportation that will do little to resolve traffic congestion (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/01/23/councils-hwy-54-74-decision-a-traffic-boondoggle-for-peachtree-city/). Only Councilman Clint Holland has spoken out against the GDOT boondoggle.
When the GDOT project fails to resolve congestion issues, Learnard will blame her predecessor, plausible deniability, instead pushing for a real long-term solution.
The saddest part is the more money the city takes from us, the more they restrict citizen participation in local government. Learnard pushed an agenda item in February to eliminate a citizen’s ability to have an issue be placed on a council meeting agenda (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/02/20/you-still-have-a-right-to-get-on-the-city-council-agenda-without-a-53-second-time-limit/). Her behavior is anti-constituent.
The mayor changed the comprehensive plan to allow for more apartment complexes all over the city (see: https://thecitizen.com/2022/09/05/council-majority-presses-for-more-apartments-more-urbanization-for-peachtree-city/), causing sharp increases in traffic congestion. The council secretly disbanded the citizen Recreation Commission and stripped all authority from the citizen Planning Commission (see: (https://thecitizen.com/2021/02/25/demoted-planning-commission-can-no-longer-protect-residents-from-bait-and-switch-apartment-rezonings/).
Is that how you would expect elected officials to behave if they are looking out for your best interest?
For a promises versus actions comparison, I would tell you to go look at Learnard’s campaign website to see if she gave any indication of doing what she has done over the past 15 months, but that website disappeared the day after she was elected.
The good people of Peachtree City will give anyone a chance, but demanding accountability with our tax dollars from your elected officials is crucial.
There will only be a very small number of voters casting a ballot on the SPLOST tomorrow. Of those that do vote, probably 50% have never seen the project list being proposed (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/03/02/opinion-how-and-why-do-tax-increases-end-up-on-a-ballot-and-should-we-object/).
Local citizens are right to question a city council that has massive reserves off of large property tax increase votes, now asking for tens of millions more tax dollars (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/03/01/opinion-pickleball-and-splost-is-this-a-proper-reason-to-vote-for-a-multi-million-dollar-sales-tax/).
Are you comfortable that council members are accountable to the constituents?
Do you believe the priorities of the mayor and council actually match the priorities of you and your neighbors?
Are you willing to pay more in future taxes to operate and maintain the new projects on the SPLOST list?
Have you ever seen the SPLOST project list?
Go make an informed vote on Tuesday.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]