Mayor touts savings, Dienhart wants ‘reform,’ Logsdon cites ‘return to civility,’ Jolly opposes SPLOST
Councilwoman Learnard: "SPLOST a good business decision"; Mrs. Haddix opposes, says PTC must make budget provisions for its own expenses
Four of Peachtree City’s five mayoral aspirants put their ideas up for public consumption in a candidate forum Saturday hosted by several groups at the Fayette County Public Library in Fayetteville.
Political newcomer Ryan Jolly took the stage with former City Councilman George Dienhart, former Mayor Harold Logsdon and incumbent Mayor Don Haddix. A fifth candidate, Vanessa Fleisch, was absent due to a prior commitment.
Dienhart positioned himself as the reform candidate, advocating the hiring of a public safety chief to oversee the fire and police departments and also for the implementation of zero based budgeting to further cut costs. Dienhart was first elected to the council in late 2011, having moved to Peachtree City four years earlier. He resigned his council post in August to run for mayor.
Jolly meanwhile said one of his largest goals is to “bring functionality back to a most dysfunctional government,” noting the biting disagreements and verbal tiffs that have happened at council meetings on more than a few occasions.
Likewise, Logsdon spoke of the need to “return civility to the mayor’s office,” renew an emphasis on ethics and rebuild relationships with the city’s neighbors.
Haddix bragged that he was able to save the city over $1 million a year in increased efficiencies and said the city needs to re-activate its former development authority to seek out small and medium size businesses that can’t be targeted by the county development authority.
One of the more important questions asked was whether the candidates supported the proposed core infrastructure Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that will be decided by voters in November. Haddix and Jolly opposed it, while Dienhart and Logsdon favored it.
Most of the city’s projected $14 million share from the two-year SPLOST would go towards road and cart path maintenance to plug an annual $1.5 million gap left by the exhaustion of funds from the 2004 countywide transportation SPLOST.
Jolly said the sales tax is a short-term fix for a long-term problem, saying the city should have budgeted for road and cart path repair instead of hoping for voter approval.
“We know we’re going to use it. We know it’s going to wear out,” Jolly said.
Haddix opposed the new SPLOST, saying it would cost $200 a year to the average homeowner when the city has already raised taxes and needs to “get its house in order first,” instead of issuing a new tax.
Dienhart said the new SPLOST was “a no brainer” because it would cost more to raise the millage rate or take other actions to raise the money. He added that he wanted to use the new SPLOST “as a bridge to sensible budgeting” so such a measure wouldn’t be needed in the future.
Dienhart did not explain what areas of the budget he would cut to get to the annual $1.5 million in savings necessary to accommodate road and cart path repair, but said the budget deserved a look at each line item.
Logsdon said he supports the new SPLOST in part because it is a consumption tax and also because the previous five-year SPLOST allowed for a number of transportation items to be taken care of.
“People don’t come to Peachtree City to live in a second-class environment and we’re going to have to pay for it,” Logsdon said.
The candidates were also asked how they would “solve” traffic on Ga. Highway 54 West.
Logsdon made a case for extending MacDuff Parkway, adding that it wouldn’t completely solve the problem. He noted that while a study of the area seems a bit much, it’s probably necessary.
Dienhart disagreed, saying any study should be funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation instead of the city so state taxpayers and not city ones, are footing the bill.
Jolly said a friend of his who is a road engineer suggested a bridge over the intersection that would allow the existing traffic light at Ga. highways 54 and 74 to be removed.
Haddix said the true solution lies in road improvements outside of Peachtree City, which he contends is “completely bottlenecked” on Hwy. 54 West.
Explaining his concept for the public safety chief’s position, Dienhart said he wants an out-of-town staffer brought in to help resolve issues at the police and fire department.
“The problem is we’ve been slapped with some lawsuits over the past few years, and the way to fix that is through a public safety chief,” Dienhart said, arguing that the departments need a culture change.
Candidates were also asked individual questions that others couldn’t address. During that portion of the forum:
• Logsdon was asked about his management style. He replied that he believes in giving guidance and direction but avoiding micro-managing.
• Dienhart was asked about how to use his role as a regional leader to have a positive impact. He replied that he already has an “excellent working relationship” with other regional officials and suggested he was the only mayoral candidate at the forum who has done that consistently.
• Jolly said part of having a balanced budget means funding “regular maintenance items like roads and cart paths.” He also added that he wants to get more young people involved in the city.
• Haddix said there were areas in which the city could trim costs. He also touted his role with other governments in the region, saying he was friends with the mayors of Riverdale and Union City, for example. Haddix also said he promoted the city at events hosted by the Georgia Municipal Association.
• Logsdon said he supported efforts on economic development because commercial development brings in far more revenue than industrial revenue while new residential development has a negative revenue attached to it.
• Jolly said he did not support a new traffic light on Ga. Highway 54 West to serve a gas station and restaurant which are part of a larger undeveloped shopping center.
Several questions were also asked about county government, despite the fact that the mayor won’t have any jurisdiction over county affairs to speak of, as those powers are expressly delegated to the five-member Fayette County Board of Commissioners.
The candidates were also asked about district voting for the county, another moot issue because not only is it out of their jurisdiction but the issue has mostly been settled with a ruling from a federal judge that requires the county to adopt district voting in lieu of the county’s current at-large voting procedure.
The event was co-hosted by several Fayette County groups including the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the local Fayette County Issues Tea Party and the Fayette County Democrat Party.
Forum marked by absenteeism of some council candidates
Several city council hopefuls in Peachtree City joined a counterpart from Tyrone in facing live questions Saturday at a candidate forum sponsored by several groups at the Fayette County Public Library in Fayetteville.
There was a certain lack of fireworks due to absentee candidates, as the only race drawing all competitors was the Post 3 seat in Peachtree City. In that race, incumbent Kim Learnard faces challenger Cathy Haddix, the wife of incumbent Mayor Don Haddix.
While Mrs. Haddix said she opposed the countywide core infrastructure Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Learnard said the option will be up to voters, as she never committed to a position on the sales tax. Learnard did say “a good business case” could be made in favor of the SPLOST.
If Fayette voters shoot down the tax in November, the city will need to find another revenue source for an estimated $1.5 million a year in road and cart path maintenance.
Learnard said the SPLOST would cost the least for taxpayers based on an analysis done by Peachtree City Councilman Eric Imker.
Mrs. Haddix said the city needs to first address its own budgeting issues before taking on more spending through a new sales tax.
Mrs. Haddix argued that the city needs to reinstate its development authority to help get more businesses to come to Peachtree City. She also advocated more citizen involvement “because we have a lot of things that need to be shaken up, so to speak.”
Mrs. Haddix also said Peachtree City has been ranked as the least affordable city among other cities its size in Georgia.
Learnard said she has helped expand economic development in the city and voted for a balanced budget while restoring recreation programs including those for seniors.
At the same time, the city has cut the budget significantly over the past four years to create a sustainable budget, Learnard said, admitting that it lacked road and cart path funding.
“Every department in Peachtree City has been cut to the bone,” Learnard said. “We’ve cut so much that the potted plants in the lobby of City Hall haven’t come back.”
There are seven options that have been devised to solve the road and cart path funding issue, Learnard added.
Learnard said she has showed leadership by remaining positive and working diligently for the city, adding that she is invigorated by meeting with residents on various issues several times a week.
“I like to think of it as I have 35,000 bosses,” Learnard said.
In questions posed to individual council members, Mrs. Haddix said she didn’t think the raises approved for city council members were unreasonable, but later she clarified that she would not pursue a raise while in office.
Responding to another individual question, Learnard said one of the city’s biggest issues is a need to look at its borders to determine how to control growth.
Peachtree City Post 2 candidate Mike King was the only one of three candidates for that seat to appear at the forum, as Shayne Robinson and Austin Chanslor did not participate.
King said he won’t “massage the truth to make things look better” but wants to apply fiscally conservative principles and specifically to resist increasing city debt.
King said he also supports hiring a public safety director to oversee Peachtree City’s police and fire departments, specifically to replace both the police chief and fire chief’s positions.
As for the core infrastructure SPLOST, King argued that roads and cart paths need to be funded from the general fund budget and a SPLOST should be for special projects instead.
“A SPLOST is a crutch,” King said, noting that with a budget north of $29 million the city should be able to fund road and cart path maintenance. “We need to live up to our responsibilities, not abdicate them.”
King also said one of the city’s biggest challenges is bringing amenities to the city so young families come back to Peachtree City, citing how his three children have not come back to live here as adults.
Asked about the largest budget he has handled, King noted that in his work with the Centers for Disease Control, he worked on a pandemic influenza immunization plan that cost more than $300 million.
King also made a pitch for switching city elections to even numbered years which would save $80,000 and increase turnout because it would coincide with presidential elections every four years as well.
The race for Peachtree City Post 4 also resulted in just one candidate appearing, as Stephanie Franz was on hand and challenger Terry Ernst was absent.
Franz, a political newcomer, admitted to being a bit nervous and “green” but said she loves Peachtree City and wants her 4-year-old child to grow up here.
Franz said she wants to get more young people involved in city affairs, saying she felt the recent National Night Out event could have been better attended by families.
Asked specifically if she would approve spending city funds on a college and career academy in Fayette County, Franz said she would, in part because the county needs to attract younger people.
“Bringing a college to town would be a wonderful thing and I would vote yes,” Franz said.
Franz said the city needs to broaden the tax base by bringing in more businesses and finding a way to redevelop neighborhoods that need to be revitalized.
“You can’t have families if you don’t have businesses here to employ them,” Franz said.
Franz said she supports the core infrastructure SPLOST.
Tyrone Post 3 candidate Pota Coston was on hand, while incumbent Ken Matthews did not appear at the forum.
Coston said she wants to revitalize the downtown area, citing a current lack of reasons for residents or visitors to walk or drive their golf cart there.
Coston said the vacant Tyrone Elementary School building could be an opportunity to help the town in that regard. She also wants to see a Livable Centers Initiative plan to help create “a vibrant downtown.”
Coston also noted that the town doesn’t have a budget shortfall, but good business sense is needed in weighing taxation decisions.