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Property tax hike looms for PTC

At 6:30 Thursday night, the Peachtree City Council will take a look at potentially raising the city’s property tax rate by 1.25 mills.

Three council members — Eric Imker, Kim Learnard and Vanessa Fleisch — have said they would at least like to look at those figures as the city is trying to make up a projected $18 million shortfall over the next five years. A 1.25 mill increase would potentially wipe out $10 million of the shortfall.

Mayor Don Haddix and Councilman Doug Sturbaum have said the most they would support is a 0.5 mill hike, which would cost an additional $43 a year for residents who own the median priced city home valued at $272,000.

The 1.25 mill increase would cost that same homeowner an additional $108 on this year’s tax bill.

Council is expected to give staff direction at Thursday’s meeting in terms of which millage rate the majority will support. Staff is recommending a $26.7 million budget that includes no new employees and no pay raises of any kind for the second year in a row.

The projected $18 million shortfall is due in large part to the expiration of the county’s transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, whose dollars will be stretched out over the next two years. Without the SPLOST money, the city will be needing a projected $1.5 million a year to handle street and cart path resurfacing and repair.

Another large looming factor in the shortfall is the near-future renegotiation of the county’s regular Local Option Sales Tax, which is distributed to the county and municipalities based on population figures. The city is projecting an associated $1 million a year hit to its sales tax revenues.

City leaders are expecting the latest U.S. Census results will show a larger population growth in the county and in other cities while Peachtree City’s growth slows down. That trend will ultimately result in fewer sales tax dollars for the city.

Further complicating the budget talks, Haddix and Sturbaum have said they would not vote for any city budget that lacked an increase in funding for the Development Authority of Peachtree City. Their proposed increase would bring the DAPC budget up from $35,000 a year to $150,000 as part of a transition from a fully-volunteer board to one that has a staffer to help with the mission of recruiting office, retail and industrial businesses to the city.

Haddix and Sturbaum have argued that the funding is crucial to help attract new jobs and the type of retail operations residents want here.

Yet the other three council members: Learnard, Imker and Fleisch, have said they oppose such an increase for this budget year, though they would consider it next year.

The DAPC is charged with helping fill vacant retail spaces and also attracting employers to the community. It also has worked on opening a dialog with leaders of existing industry.

Haddix maintains that the Fayette County Development Authority doesn’t seek office projects or smaller employers that would help the city.

The past two budget years have been painful for the city as it has dealt with lower sales tax revenue. The city has eliminated 28 full-time positions and last year outsourced landscaping services to save $900,000.

The cuts also reduced the number of mowings per year on city rights of way, and the city also abandoned upkeep of 73 areas that had been mowed in prior years.

Also last year, the city increased employees’ insurance premiums by $600 a year, and those employees with take-home cars, most of whom are in the fire and police departments, now have to pay a fee for the privilege.

This year, the city abolished its building department and is using pay-as-you-go building inspection services from a private company.

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