Imker’s plan to balance PTC budget: pension changes, staff furloughs, sales tax
‘What makes government employees so special [that] they are immune to what’s going on around us whereas commercial businesses are not?’
Peachtree City Councilman Eric Imker wants to solve a looming $1.2 million budget shortfall for next year — and a potential combined $20 million shortfall over the next five years — by furloughing employees and slashing retirement costs.
Imker contends the city can avoid any property tax increase for the coming fiscal year. Simultaneously, he is asking for a new 1 percent sales tax — a new SPLOST — to be placed on the ballot for the purposes of debt reduction, which would shave some $12.5 million off the city’s projected $20 million shortfall over the next five years.
In a letter to the editor on Page A4, Imker said while he appreciates the hard work of city employees, he thinks furloughs equivalent to a 1 percent pay cut are “clearly not unreasonable in this economic environment” and can be done without drastically affecting services.
Imker acknowledges that discussion of employee morale comes with any pay cuts. But he thinks employees should “consider the morale of the 1,000-plus people living in Peachtree City who are unemployed right now. Or the thousands who have taken a pay cut.”
“We can ask employees to understand the economic environment everyone else is living in and ask they not be immune,” Imker wrote. “We can do something about the revenue side in a major way.”
Imker said the city offers two retirement plans for each employee: a defined benefits package that guarantees a certain monthly payment upon retirement and also a 401(k) investment account. He wants to eliminate the defined benefit plan for all new employees and also force current employees to choose one plan or the other.
While Imker is firmly against a property tax increase, he wants a new special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) for the purpose of paying down the city’s debt. Imker says the city’s debt payments will equal about $12.5 million over the next five years.
But it will take approval of the Fayette County Commission to authorize such a SPLOST referendum. Given that voters roundly dismissed the most recent SPLOST, which had a large debt repayment mechanism for the county’s Justice Center complex, the likelihood of a similar debt reduction SPLOST going before voters might be slim.
Imker contends the commissioners should put such a proposal before voters anyway, without regard for their political ambitions.
Imker’s suggestion of avoiding a property tax increase drew criticism from Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth several weeks ago during the annual City Council retreat. Eiswerth said the idea was tantamount to “balancing the budget on the backs of city employees,” a contention that Imker denies.
While city employees had a significant increase in their medical premiums last year, Imker said he did as well.
“So did everybody else in the work force. Please tell me what makes government employees so special they are immune to what’s going on around us whereas commercial businesses are not,” Imker wrote.