To keep PTC the way it’s been, residents must support higher taxes

Tue, 03/10/2009 - 3:55pm
By: Letters to the ...

We are Peachtree City ... aren’t we? I recently watched the movie, “We Are Marshall.” For those who have seen the movie, you know during the most trying time in the school’s history the entire student body came together in front of the school board, in a united front to fight for their school, chanting, “We are MARSHALL.” The chant is still used to this day.

I am reminded also of a quote from the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, when he stated, “The last thing I would ever want to be is like everybody else.”

The burning question I have for our city and its citizens is do we want to be like everybody else? Will we unite as one and remain everything Peachtree City was designed to be, or will we become just another ordinary town not much different than any other suburban town located throughout our country? Will we remain as one of the top places to live in the nation or be another “has-been”?

Like it or not we are on the road to mediocrity and ordinary. And much of it is our own fault. Yes, we are to blame.

Many, if not all, of us chose Peachtree City to call home because it is a planned community with miles and miles of golf cart paths, beautifully landscaped buffers, wonderful recreation, great public schools, etc. There was (and is) really no other place like Peachtree City. Period.

Well, things are changing. The reasons we chose to move here are now threatened. Why? The costs of continuing to provide these amenities and services have outpaced the revenue sources of our local governments.

Many want to blame our city government and other local governments. Such blame is only true to the fact that our mayors and city council members have made the decision not to raise taxes for over five years except for one small one-quarter-mill increase. However, they simply did what the citizens asked.

Politicians, for the most part, will do what the majority of citizens want them to do. That may not be what is truly best for the long-term benefit of a city and its citizens. Leaders often have to make unpopular decisions. Many times politicians feel forced to give citizens what is asked for and not what is needed.

Can you imagine raising your children under such parameters? It is time for us to face the unpleasant reality that we will either pay for what we have, what we enjoy, and what we demand, or be content to let our great quality community go by the wayside.

There are three major factors that make a city desirable for a place to live, work, and raise a family. Those are great schools, public safety, and quality recreation. Lose any of these three components and a city will be well on its way to ruin. These three components must be kept at the highest level possible in order for any city to remain desirable. People will pay to live in such a community. If you don’t believe me, look at home values where any of the three components do not exist.

Presently, our school board, superintendent, staff and teachers – together with parents – are working through these tough economic times to keep our schools the best in the state. Fortunately, the SPLOST passed in November and the increased revenues which the school system will start to see in July will help save many programs we, as parents and students, have come to expect in our schools. While the problems facing our schools is an important topic, I leave that discussion for another day.

The other two components of a great city, safety and recreation, are provided by our city government. The burden for paying for public safety and recreation falls squarely on the city’s shoulders.

In the current time, tax revenues are down and there are fewer dollars to pay for these services. So what do we, the citizens of Peachtree City, want to happen? Do we increase taxes to pay for these services or do we cut services?

We have been conditioned to associate any and every tax increase as a result of mismanagement or wasteful, frivolous spending. That is not always the case. Taxes are not bad when the money is used to reinvest in your community.

However, if any politician talks about raising taxes to cover basic services or increase beneficial services, the citizens will reward him or her with a one-way ticket out of office.

No one likes paying taxes, but all government services cost money. Our way of life in Peachtree City costs money. The beautiful cart paths that we all brag about cost money. Our tremendous recreational programs cost money. Our public safety costs money.

Are we willing to pay for what we call Peachtree City, or are we willing to say goodbye to those qualities which brought us here?

The problem with politics, by nature, is that the positive results from making a tough decision today may not be seen for years to come. That is why nothing ever gets done in government.

We need leaders. We need for our mayor and city council to tell us the cold, hard truth. This is not a time for populist government. Our community is at stake.

We, the citizens, have to offer support for our elected leaders so that they know the vast majority of citizens would rather pay more than to have the quality of our hometown go down the tubes.

We all know it cost more to buy a home in Peachtree City. When each of us moved here, we were all willing to pay that additional cost because of the quality of life enjoyed in Peachtree City and the belief that our home values would continue to rise because others would want to live here as well.

If Peachtree City becomes just like every other suburban town, why would our home values not go down? That extra cost we all paid to buy a home here would be forever lost, which is far greater than a slight tax increase.

If we choose to keep taxes too low to support the quality we all wanted and paid for when we moved here, then we have chosen to throw away part of our investment. It really is “stepping over a dollar to pick up a quarter.” Aren’t we missing the long-term big picture here?

I am not advocating blindly raising taxes. Peachtree City needs to examine every expense and examine all of its amenities. A city should not only operate just like a business, it must. A business, to be successful, must look at both the big picture and the details, some of which are:

What will generate revenue?

What added value is offered by our investments which create long term financial growth?

What are our expenses?

Which expenses are necessary to merely “keep the doors open”?

Which expenses will result in long-term increased value for the company?

Let’s take a look at taxes from a different perspective. Think out of the box for a moment and look at the city as a company, a business. Under this paradigm every homeowner is an investor in the company (Peachtree City). As a stockholder (homeowner) in the company (Peachtree City), I want to make my stock (home) in the company more valuable.

So the real question I must ask myself is this: what am I willing to invest in the company to make my asset more valuable? Am I willing to invest in continued security and safety? Am I willing to invest in quality education for my children and the other children of our community?

Am I willing to invest in excellent recreational facilities, including the cart paths, so that Peachtree City looks and feels different? Am I willing to invest in a responsive government that can address the community’s concerns? Am I willing to invest in special events like the 4th of July celebrations?

If the answer is yes, then the council must increase taxes. Is doing so “political suicide”? I would like to think not.

I truly believe that rational people do not mind paying for something if that something adds value. I am not advocating a tax increase to support wasteful spending, but this city must look at what will be thrown away if taxes are not increased. Such taxes are an investment in our city, our company.

While I know it is difficult to compare one city’s true tax base against another, Peachtree City has one of the lowest mileage rates in the Atlanta area and somehow has managed to offer one of the best places in the country to live. Much of this is due to the amenities which were required to be built but which were built by the developers. Some of the costs of operating the city were funded by the development impact fees charged by the city.

In many ways we have been getting an unbelievable value as we paid less and got more. Yes, like it or not, we have become spoiled. But, now as growth has slowed and the city ages, there is no one to pay for our quality of life but us.

It is time to join the real world. We can no longer have a “Rooms to Go” mentality ... no payments till 2012. We have to pay for what we want and what we expect.

A one mill increase in our taxes will cost the average homeowner in Peachtree City about $1.88 per week, or about 25 cents per day. Our city leaders can cut some of the budget and keep most of the services in place with such a one mill increase.

I have heard one council member say that a one mill increase will cause some citizens to spiral into bankruptcy. Such a claim is preposterous. Such a small tax increase will not push anyone into bankruptcy unless they are already there. If that is the case, I’ve got news for you: “Elvis has already left the building.”

We can only put off a tax increase for so long. It is time to make an investment in our company, our city. The short-term and long-term payoffs will be worth it.

If we choose the easier path and choose not to reinvest in our own company, which will result in decreased home values and a lower quality of life, then we can no longer blame City Hall. We will have to look no further than the mirror to see who is truly at fault.

We are PEACHTREE CITY. We can meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Let’s join forces and tell our elected officials we are behind them and will support a small tax increase to pay for our quality of life.

When the economy turns around and sales tax revenues return to normal, then we can look at rolling back the millage rates.

I moved here because I saw a town with vision. As a citizen, that vision today requires me to step up and pay for what is important to our city’s future.

Dar Thompson

Peachtree City, Ga.

[Thompson is the owner of World Gym with several locations in Fayette County. He has been a candidate for the Peachtree City Council twice.]

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Submitted by cdl305 on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 10:33pm.

I have heard it repeatedly that PTC residents have not had a tax increase because millage rates have not increased. I do not know where they live, but it has not been in PTC. Since moving here a little over three years ago, I have had nearly a 20% increase in taxes. The millage rates are irrelevant - its property values. As property values have gone up, taxes have gone up. The problem this year is that no one could have predicted the downturn to this level, home values are down AND collections are down. The infrastructure that was put together, which includes a police and fire department equipped to the envy of the most elite city in the country and a recreation department that sucks up an inordinate amount of resources, can not be supported without a continuous tax base growth. Since values will not likely increase in 2009 and collections will continue to lag, millage rates will now need to increase - leadership would be irresponsible not to do so. You can only cut so much without sacrificing what has become the essence of PTC. It is unlikely, but it should also decrease when the time comes where property values increase and collections return. If government holds true, the city will bloat, the fire department will get two more infrared scanners, the police department will get another 2 Tahoes to tote their dogs, the recreation department will build another facility for use by the few.......

mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 4:18pm.

Dear Dar:

You consider (1) good schools, (2) public safety, and (3) recreational amenities as essential ingredients for the good life in a place like Peachtree City.

Public safety is not readily available without government, but there are good private schools, and one can supply his own recreation (like by going to your gyms).

Taxes are compulsory. They force people to pay when (1) they don’t receive the service they are paying for, or (2) when they don’t readily have the money.

Every toddler that’s unloaded onto our public school system costs an average of over $8,000 a year for a good 12 years, or $100,000 a piece. That makes it important not to waste money on the process.

Reasonably well-to-do parents could buy their kid a computer for half the price the school system is paying, and the computer would belong to them. So, instead of voting for SPLOST, they could use their own money more wisely. The extravagance and waste of our school system has been well documented and I won’t pursue that.

There is one incidental comment I’ll make, however. Those who claim we will leave our kids a ton of (public) debt might keep in mind we’ll leave each of them with at least a $100,000 education if they’re willing to avail themselves of it.

When it comes to recreation, it is entirely possible to have tennis and swimming clubs with members who pay fees. That’s just an example. Those who use your gym pay a fee.

Imposing taxes on people who don’t play tennis or swim, who don’t borrow books from the public library, who don’t go to fireworks displays, etc., hardly seems fair.

People’s ability to pay taxes also varies from person to person and from time to time. Property taxes are especially bad, because some people have experienced reverses of fortune which make what was once affordable much less so. (Think about the state school superintendent.)

So running roughshod over other people by being gung-ho about raising taxes sounds rather insensitive to me. There are limits, and these are difficult times.

Your neighbor Mapleleaf

grassroots's picture
Submitted by grassroots on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 9:55am.

Let's see, my property taxes are higher than ever and I have no kids in school. They just added an Education ESLOST tax on top of an already existing SPLOST tax. Now the state is adding a 1 cent tax and thinking of reinstating the 4 cent tax on food. Let's have a trade off. You get them to remove the school property mil at age 62 instead of 65 and I'll vote for your SLOST. Also, it's a misnomer that you have to have jobs here in Fayette County. Keep it the quality that it is and build the business parks and job centers elsewhere, while we live and maintain the Village atmosphere.

Submitted by wdd5885 on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 9:51am.

I think the angst among the taxpayers is we are being asked to give more money during the most severe recession most of us have experienced. Gov. Perdue is doing his best to get all the money in our pockets and is even thinking of taking the lint. As a result the city, county, and school board is forced to take more.

What makes anyone think if we're not out spending money, we've got any left to pay higher taxes? They want us to save and pay down debt, but how can we? It seems to me if we won't buy stuff, the government will come take its share through higher taxes.

Recreation is 18% of PTC's budget expenditures, roughly $5,000,000. Are these services so vital to this community we're willing to endure substantial tax increases? The recommended tax increases are not small. The current millage rate is 5.533. City staff is recommending a 27% increase for 2010, which equates to a rate of 7.017 mills. The recomendation for years 2011-13 is 7.531, 7.811, and 8.299 respectively. If property values stay the same (which they won't), the proposal will result in a 50% tax increase over the next 4 years. We must take into account the state will no longer provide the heritage credit. That will add $8000 to the taxable value. So on a $200,000 home, city taxes will increase by roughly $20/yr. A house valued at $200,000 will see its city taxes go from 442.64 this year, to 683 by year 2013. Add that to the county tax increases (who knows?) and it becomes clear these are not "small" increases.

Tough decisions have to be made. I'm not against a tax increase, but I would like to see a more effecient budget before asking the citizens for more money.

David Downing

Mike King's picture
Submitted by Mike King on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 11:13am.

You both make excellent points and are both correct in the implication of getting much more out of the government that we are currently paying. Politicians by in large begin their terms with good ideas and are eager to "make things right" but soon after reality sets in and they become bogged down in the mundane of the daily issues that take up all of their time. Why this is, at least to me is simple, those who are employed as government bureaucrats will do whatever is necessary to resist change and protect their positions of self importance.

These bureaucrats have no experience in running a business, are answerable to only themselves, and have a montrous amount of laws enacted to protect their positions. Mind you, theirs are not jobs, but positions (my opinion) that the vast majority of them feel entitled to maintain. Try and terminate one of those elites and see for yourself just how entrenched they are. Yes there are exceptions, but they are few and far between.

Here in Peachtree City we pretty much know the standard by which we have chosen to reside, so why not inform our city staff that here is your budget, these are the standards that our citizens expect, work within this framework or someone else will. Then have the guts to enforce what you say and not be held hostage by a rogue police chief or the like because you are scared of the implications that may befall youfor doing what is right.

Submitted by wdd5885 on Wed, 03/11/2009 - 12:34pm.

Yours is a philosophical argument about how government should run. I don't want to engage in that kind of debate. We've talked about it before and you know where I stand.

I'm afraid we as citizens won't get the whole story. The advocates for tax increases are spinning them as "small", I don't consider a 27% increase for 2010 small. And that's just 2010. City staff wants increases through 2013. We as a community have to decide how much we are willing to pay for our current amenities. Can we make do without 5 city funded pools? How about the Tennis Center? Are there other ways to raise revenue without raising taxes? I think it's safe to say these types of debates are not occurring between our elected officials because of their bitter political differences. After looking over the 2009 budget, I can see why some are pushing for more sales tax. It ain't pretty. I think there is fat in the budget, but the current council decided to dip into the reserves. OK by me (for now), isn't that the purpose of reserves? A savings account for emergencies and lean times?

Going forward is the problem. It seems to me the current crop of candidates are advocating raising taxes and keeping the current level of services. I want tax increases ruled out until the budget is as effecient as it can be.

David Downing

Submitted by johenry on Thu, 03/12/2009 - 11:43pm.

Mr. Downing -

I've tried to hold my tongue on these pages because any fool can see the harm Harold Logsdon inflicted on this community. You and I went at it back when Logsdon was campaigning, no lying, for mayor of our good city. If you were a decent guy, you'd call Logsdon out the same way you supported him years ago. Do you know what he spent the reserve money on Mr. Downing? Two house wifes got up in front of a crowd of us at a council meeting and pointed out all the foolishness the mayor and his friends got into. My taxes have gone up every year anyway. I'm now alone and helping a child in college. Let me tell you that paying an extra $4 here and $6 there hurts me bad. I don't have it to spend. The next time you decide to help some idiot get elected, please don't. A bunch of us can't afford your bright ideas.

Submitted by wdd5885 on Fri, 03/13/2009 - 7:48am.

I'm not sure what you took from my post. I'll explain it to you since you seem to dense to understand. I am advocating not raising taxes until the budet is clear of fat. Your crediblity is nil with me until you sign your name or debate me face to face.

David Downing

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