Mayor: PTC budget debate to focus on taxes, service cuts, reserves
The Big Debate, the budget, began June 1 with our first Budget Workshop. I cannot comment on the workshop itself due to the deadline for submitting this column being earlier. I can say while no one on City Council wants to use a penny of reserve, do a property tax increase or cut services, none of these items can be removed as possible necessities to balancing the budget.
This being my third set of budget workshops and having seen two surveys and heard three years of public input via emails, conversations and two election cycles, for me the public sentiment has been consistent and clear.
The majority do not want to use the reserve or have a tax increase, but if the alternative is service cuts, then cut some service, use some reserve and do a small tax increase, in that order. The only problem then is the priority of what services to cut, with only safety and code enforcement being firmly hands off.
As I stated last year I wanted to hear more from the public this year and would add a Town Hall. That will happen on June 10, so please come and share your thinking with council.
Part of our budget dilemma is the federal and state governments take so much money up the ladder and then force us to request to get it back. The problem is they are closing the doors on grants and other means of getting it back on top of loss of property and sales tax revenues.
Unfortunately now the county has joined in on adding to the problem. We were getting $150,000 a year, which was not enough to start, in exchange for Peachtree City resident access rights to our recreational facilities. After three quick consecutive cuts, it has been reduced by $50,000, which we will have to try to recover from non-Peachtree City users.
Why did the county pay for access? Because Peachtree City has 74.86 percent of all the recreation in the county, which is heavily used by county residents. As well, it allowed them to list our facilities when being evaluated for meeting county recreational needs by the state. Without us, their passing grade becomes a failing grade.
We held a workshop on retirement benefits where an outside actuary showed our costs are low compared to other Class B cities. Research on our police manning shows we have the lowest staffing in the metro area and are well below the national average. An outside examination of our employee pay scales showed they are less than the private sector and the job classifications appropriate to the job descriptions. The few that were not were adjusted.
Can we cut operational costs? That we have to determine remembering cuts have already been made in the past, plus there is a cost to postponing maintenance and replacement. We are not just beginning this year nor can all cuts be permanent as some already are.
We have serious challenges to resolve. Unlike the past, kicking the can is not an option to this council. We have short- and long-term issues that must be addressed, like a $250,000 bubble for the Kedron pool in 2012, the second most expensive facility next to the library.
As well, there is a needed expansion of the police headquarters scheduled in 2014 that was known during the repair debates of 2008 but put off to keep the costs down then. That action will now make the cost at least $650,000. Should we do either in this economy?
We have to get our priorities straight and it has to begin this year. We need change but not all change is good. Come to the workshops and the Town Hall on the 10th.
[Don Haddix was elected mayor of Peachtree City in 2009, Previously, he had served two years as a council member. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]