DAPC upset over funding cut
Council hashes matter out with volunteer group
The 3-2 vote last week to completely eliminate Peachtree City’s $35,000 funding for the Development Authority of Peachtree City was taken by some authority members as an insult to their work as volunteers and their stewardship over a meager $35,000 budget.
But to their credit, the three council members who supported that move: Eric Imker, Vanessa Fleisch and Kim Learnard, met with the DAPC Wednesday night in an effort to hash out whatever issues may have led to the authority’s “de-funding.”
Learnard and Fleisch said they were certain the city’s funding of an economic development coordinator as a full-time staff under the city’s community development department would be very helpful to the DAPC mission.
However, as DAPC member David Conner pointed out, that coordinator will not be dedicated full-time to the authority’s mission.
Moreover, the authority is concerned with having to suspend all its current activities due to the elimination of its $35,000 in funding that was removed from the city’s 2010-2011 budget.
Grey Durham, who has spearheaded the DAPC efforts to assist local businesses in the city’s village retail centers by organizing merchants’ associations, said the work is slow and tedious but is paying dividends. Durham said the work would be impossible without the organizational efforts of part-time authority secretary Nancy Connerat, who is paid $6,000 a year.
Durham said the authority is spending around a thousand dollars as “seed money” in each shopping center which is being pooled with funds contributed from merchants and the shopping center owners to help market the centers.
The Westpark Walk shopping center, for example, is throwing a Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament with some of the proceeds going to the Promise Place charity which helps victims of domestic abuse, Durham said.
The merchants at the Glenloch shopping center used an art contest to beautify the temporarily-vacant “Baby Kroger” store there with art created by elementary school children, Durham added.
But such efforts would not be supported by the authority in the future without funding, Durham said. Durham said he spends roughly 25 hours a month in the merchant assistance program, but he would be unable to do it without the assistance of Connerat.
“When we got our whole budget taken away, it felt like we were thrown under the bus,” Durham said.
It was noted that special projects for which the authority needs funding can be approved by the City Council as a budget amendment, but that simply adds another layer of bureaucracy for what is a small amount of money to begin with, some authority members said.
Although Imker last week challenged assertions that local businesses were hurting as evidenced by store vacancies, authority member Todd Strickland noted that Imker’s data saying 90 percent of the city’s stores were occupied was based on overall square footage and did not take into account the number of empty storefronts that dot the city’s retail landscape.
Based on a storefront count, Braelinn Village shopping center has a 31 percent vacancy rate, Strickland said, noting that empty stores “are not good for property values.”
And as DAPC member Mike Murtaugh pointed out, the empty storefronts have an impact on citizens’ viewpoints when they drive through the shopping centers.
Later in the meeting, DAPC Chairman Mark Hollums, who works in commercial real estate property management, said his worry was that if vacant storefronts persisted, the city might start to see less-than-ideal businesses locate in the city as leasing agents endeavor to fill the empty stores.
“It concerns me at some point somebody has got to pay the property tax bill and sometimes you will see leasing standards slip and you may have tenants come in that you probably would not welcome in Peachtree City or want them,” Hollums said. “Because somebody has to pay the bills.”
The council members were also informed of details of the authority’s other efforts which have included regular 1-on-1 meetings between an authority member and existing major companies to make sure any issues can be addressed.
Fleisch said a workshop is being put together in October that will focus on the county’s economic development process. Historically all large-scale industrial and business leads are handled by the Fayette County Development Authority, and in recent years the DAPC has focused on helping smaller businesses, working with existing industries and also assisting with the city’s comprehensive planning efforts.
At the beginning of the meeting, Imker said he felt the budget that has been presented to the city council by the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau was far more detailed and that if the DAPC’s request showed such information “things might be different.”
Imker also admitted that he had become fed up with hearing suggestions that the economic development coordinator wouldn’t “legally” be able to help the authority in some respects since the coordinator will be a city employee.
“I got fed up with it and I just got literally mad about constantly hearing about what we cannot do,” Imker said. “I am of a mindset to find a way to get things done.”
Though Imker didn’t mention it, it has been Mayor Don Haddix who has been adamant about the legal issues involving a city-employed economic development coordinator. City Attorney Ted Meeker has determined, however, that there is no such legal conflict as suggested by Haddix.
At the end of the meeting, city resident Beth Pullias said this type of workshop should have taken place before the city’s budget decisions were made, but she felt like the groups were back on the right track.
The hope is that such a meeting next time could involve “every single council member ... so everybody can be on the same page.”
Mayor Haddix and Councilman Doug Sturbaum did not attend the meeting because of conflicting events on their schedules, according to DAPC chair Hollums.