PTC sinks proposed property tax hike

Thu, 08/27/2009 - 8:04pm
By: John Munford

On a 3-2 vote, the Peachtree City Council Thursday night avoided a proposed property tax increase.

Instead the city will pull an estimated $451,000 from its cash reserves to balance the $26.53 million budget for the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The move will reduce the city’s cash reserves from 36 to 34 percent of its total operating budget. Although the city’s reserve target range is 20 percent, Finance Director Paul Salvatore noted that the reserves are also used for cash to pay for grant projects in advance of receiving grant funds for example.

Councilmen Don Haddix and Doug Sturbaum said they favored the property tax increase in case the economy doesn’t bounce back. But they were voted down by Mayor Harold Logsdon and council members Steve Boone and Cyndi Plunkett.

The property tax increase would have increased the millage rate by .238 mills, which would cost an additional $23.80 on the property tax bill of a home valued at $250,000.

Several residents urged the council to use cash reserves instead of enacting a property tax increase during an economic recession.

Because the state has frozen property reassessments for three years starting this year, the only property owners who will be paying higher taxes are those who made improvements to their property that were recorded by tax assessors.

In some instances where property values have dropped, those homeowners will pay less in taxes this year than in the past, all depending on how much their property valuation dropped.

The city’s 2009-2010 budget includes no merit or cost of living raises for city staffers who in the past year have had to pay more out of pocket for their insurance. The city’s parsimonious ways have even resulted in police and fire officers having to pay between $30 and $100 a month for the privilege of utilizing a take-home vehicle.

The city also eliminated 24 positions this past year, 19 of which were landscapers who were replaced with a contracted service that mows many areas of town less frequently. The budget cuts were blamed on significantly reduced sales tax revenues due to less spending in Peachtree City.

The new budget does include six firefighters who will cost the city only $50,000 this year thanks to a federal grant. Also included are a new police detective and a new patrol officer.

Haddix said he supported the tax increase this year on the premise that the economy is not going to bounce back immediately. Having the increase this year would allow the city to avoid a larger tax increase in future years, Haddix said.

Sturbaum said he liked the idea of implementing the cost of living increases for city employees though he realized the idea was unpopular. He also suggested that if the new one percent sales tax (SPLOST) passes, the city would be in a position to roll back the millage rate in the future.

Plunkett said she supported the use of cash reserves because if the city was holding onto roughly $9 million in taxpayer money “we have to be able to justify why.”

Mayor Harold Logsdon said he felt the cash reserves were supposed to be used in difficult economic times to balance the budget. He has long been a proponent of using reserves to avoid a property tax increase.

“We have done a lot of cutting and reorganizing this year,” Logsdon said. “I have said a crisis is a terrible thing to waste and we didn’t waste it. We have slashed, cut, reorganized and outsourced.”

Logsdon said the city is also very efficient with about one-third less the number of employees than other Georgia cities of similar size.

Councilman Steve Boone said he felt the economy dictated the need to avoid a property tax increase.

“We’ve got to tighten our belts,” Boone said.

The city is projecting to get $6.35 million in sales taxes this coming budget year, but that figure is about $800,000 off the collection level from the 2007 fiscal year.

Salvatore noted that this will be the third year in a row that the city would be dipping into its cash reserves to balance the budget, which may be looked upon unfavorably by the agencies that judge the city’s bond rating. That rating in turn affects the interest rates available to the city to finance projects.

Boone said he didn’t think in the current economy that the city’s bond rating would be affected.

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maximus's picture
Submitted by maximus on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 8:56am.

“Councilmen Don Haddix and Doug Sturbaum said they favored the property tax increase in case the economy doesn’t bounce back.”

That’s brilliant. If the economy doesn’t bounce back we need to take more money from people while they have less - instead of spending less.

“Sturbaum said he liked the idea of implementing the cost of living increases for city employees though he realized the idea was unpopular.”

So Doug wants to raise property taxes to use, in part, for “cost of living increases” for the local bureaucracy. This is after teachers have taken a 4.5% pay cut, and 3 furlough days, for a total of a 6% pay cut! And what “cost of living increase” are you talking about? While others are taking pay cuts, the bureaucrats should get pay raises.

Don Haddix's picture
Submitted by Don Haddix on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 9:28am.

Between the loss of Merit, doubling insurance contributions, loss of vacation, sick day and other calculations the city workers have taken a just as big a hit, or bigger, not including the COLA.

Further, by not getting the .238 with the probably defeat of the SPLOST you are now facing a potentially massively larger tax increase or a complete loss of service in areas like path and road maintenance and maybe other areas.

That is what we were looking at.

Did you see a promise from Plunkett there would be no future tax increases if SPLOST is lost? No, you most assuredly didn't.

I, in turn, have made it clear this will come before the citizens in Town Hall Meeting and survey formats to find out what you want.

Remember, I insisted on this, over the objections of the majority, this year. And 75% said they backed the small tax increase combined with cuts. As well the majority of contacts backed the COLA return.

Did they back the citizens wishes or reject them as not factual. Rejected.

So, yes, we voted for the increase and gave reasons why. With the vote taken I have also stated how I would proceed next year.

Look at the whole picture here as to what is happening here. I do believe that on issues of massive scale the citizens must be consulted. Others do not.

Don Haddix
PTC Councilman
Post 1

Submitted by Spyglass on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 11:39am.

and voted for it. That's what should have happened.

Don Haddix's picture
Submitted by Don Haddix on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 11:43am.

Another 3-2 issue that didn't get out of Workshop.

They said there would be a recovery in 2008 or early 2009. Sturbaum and I said a loss of 12-14% sales tax. We got laughed at.

Don Haddix
PTC Councilman
Post 1

Mike King's picture
Submitted by Mike King on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:39am.

...In this little "political chess game" you have been outmaneuvered by virtue of knowing that you would do the right thing and vote as you did. On the other hand, the Mayor, Cyndi and Boone get to look good by voting to go into tax reserves and be the beneficiary of increased taxes later on.

My advice would be to pick yourself up and reevaluate your stance on tax increases. Regarding taxes, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Your opponents realize fully that their only priority now is to get elected while making you appear as the local "tax and spend" guy in the process.

I'm in your corner.

Don Haddix's picture
Submitted by Don Haddix on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 11:06am.

Well said. Up to two weeks ago Plunkett openly supported the .244 and the COLA. Then she voted against it. Last year it was whatever tax increase was needed in the future to keep everything status quo.

I have been consistent because I refuse to play those games.

My plan remains the same. The vote has been taken and next year I will be asking the citizens what they want to do. That is critical, especially in light of SPLOST.

So anyone fearing I will just step out and push a tax increase next year on my own is wrong. You can pull back my postings and my Letter to the Editor this last Wednesday where I clearly stated I would seek the will of the citizens.

The majority plan on taxes may very well blow up in their faces. The majority of PTC did say do a small tax increase. Remains to be seen.

That is my answer on taxes to all that ask about next year. I will be asking them what they want to do.

Thanks, buddy.

Don Haddix
PTC Councilman
Post 1

Submitted by Bonkers on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:34am.

I must tell you that your proposition that you will "consult" the people about changes is not believable!

A handful at a meeting is nothing. A few on here is nothing!

The fact that you MUST consider is this:

City income is going to be down for sales tax and other income for sometime to come. Your indication that if times don't get better and the SPLOST doesn't pass taxes will have to raise isn't flying!

Come up with cuts.

maximus's picture
Submitted by maximus on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:15am.

Loss of merit Pay? If you count the loss of merit pay that teachers never got (and I don’t advocate it) I doubt that the city employees lost anywhere near the same amount. Watch the video that you posted on your own website yesterday, Don. Davidowitz points out that the consumer has taken a salary cut of one TRILLION dollars.

I think you may be missing the point – the city doesn’t have the money and needs to cut costs. The salaries, merit pay(?), benefits, COLAs, etc. of city workers is not sacrosanct.

That said, I appreciate your response.

Submitted by Ellie Mae on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 11:50am.

31 city employees have lost their jobs all together! Because there was no money to pay them because of the spending sprees of the council! I bet those employees would have taken cuts over unemployment!

Don Haddix's picture
Submitted by Don Haddix on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:52am.

As well I agree with Horowitz that the reductions in pay are heavily responsible for the falling off of spending and municipal incomes.

We are living in self defeating contradictions nationally. Giving subsidies to ship good jobs overseas and bring foreign jobs here, cutting salaries and benefits and all the rest and then expecting spending to increase to restore lost tax and other incomes.

Self contradictions that many of us have seen blowing up in our national face for many years now.

We need the Feds and State to get out our local pockets. Unfunded mandates on schools, cities and more are killing us. And who ends up suffering the most?

Wish my crystal ball was more accurate.

Don Haddix
PTC Councilman
Post 1

Submitted by PTCGOIL on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 9:50am.

What is Merit? What were/are insurance contributions?

Don Haddix's picture
Submitted by Don Haddix on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 9:58am.

Employees were getting annual reviews on job performance to see it they 'merited' more pay, thus Merit Pay Increases. They ranged 3-5% normally.

Insurance contributions are for health insurance. We doubled the amount the employees had to pay monthly.

Don Haddix
PTC Councilman
Post 1

Submitted by PTCGOIL on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:11am.

getting workers as many bennies as possible, but, we are in unusual times here.
Maybe the fact that they would still get an annual review and be told we feel the quality of your work warrants you retaining your job with the city. Or not.
A paycheck, period, should be their reward for a job done well. At least for the next year or so till the city has income to support a COLA or merit. Both would, in any event, be excessive right now.
And as harsh as it seems, let everyone know there are thousands right now who would gladly accept their package and be thrilled with it.

Don Haddix's picture
Submitted by Don Haddix on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 10:35am.

The irony now is that from all I see the COLA for 2010 would be zero.

The morale factor counts. Even getting nothing the fact it is a morale boost.

It is a hard one to resolve. A many sided discussion, no question on that point for me.

What gets missed in the discussion is city workers are part of our community. Right now they see themselves as solely taking the brunt of the economy and do not understand why just sharing about $27 of annual cost with the taxpayers is unfair.

In my position I see both the citizens and the workers, some being both. I see citizens staunchly opposed and others staunchly for. So a bit of unique responsibility and perspective most don't have to think about.

That means no matter what I do someone is going to like it and someone is going to hate it.

Don Haddix
PTC Councilman
Post 1

cmc865's picture
Submitted by cmc865 on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 1:21pm.

Thank you Mr. Haddix for your support and position you have taken. Most of us employees ( and local residents also) of this city have agreed that times are tough and have done our share of giving as you have indicated with doubling our insurance cost, no COLA, no merits,etc.. We employees have given up a couple of thousand or so and the rest of council wont approve $27.oo a year on the citizens. That feels like a slap in the face. Balance the budget on the backs of the employees, who make the city what it is. Puts things into perspective a little bit. However, thanks for your support of us and good luck in your campaign. Your comments offer some encouragement.

Submitted by Spyglass on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 7:47am.

The so called non spender running for Mayor gets a famous 3-2 voting "bloc" voting against him and his clone for no tax increase. Oh the irony.

Submitted by Bonkers on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 6:56pm.

I think maybe you are correct about cutting police salaries anymore or adding insurance costs, etc,.

The need to live somewhat decently, But all need not be on call----just some each day. Thus less cars.

What is needed is a cutback of jobs!!!!!! The whole salary must go.
Along with all of the support things for that job.

Unemployment is up now to 15% in many places (and some say higher if we reported it accurately--up to 25%) and we simply don't have enough to call on for more fees or taxes!

Some things will have to be done in other ways. At least for a few years.
Many tired of hearing about public safety requiring so many.

Submitted by Terriers88 on Sat, 08/29/2009 - 11:31am.

So let me get this straight. You favor cutting police and fire/ems positions? The police are already running non-stop as it is. At some times they have calls backed up and people have to wait. What happens then? Gee, let me think, fewer police.....great place for even more people to come rob, steal, vandalize. So far, violent crime is at a minimum here. I'm sure you see the news from around metro Atlanta. Headlines such as "Brutal Home Invasion Stuns Peaceful Neighborhood", "Man Shot Outside Home", (happened this week in Atlanta), "Police Delayed in Responding to Call", I could go on and on. Is that what you really want to see in Peachtree City? How many times in recent history have we seen headlines about response delays being responsible for a death or a fire causing millions of dollars in damage. Many business never recover from huge fires. That means people lose jobs. Imagine a struggling family losing their home from a fire because firefighters were laid off. Do you remember the headlines and public outrage when the City of Atlanta closed fire stations? Peachtree City Police and Fire pride themselves on rapid responses and timely action to protect its citizens. Cutting police and fire severely degrades that response. Do you want the Citizen Headline to read "Peachtree City to Close Fire Stations"? Brutal truth is if you start cutting jobs, you cut services. You cut services, you degrade the City. Crime goes up and those headlines I just described to you start talking about Peachtree City. Then your property value falls along with everyone else's. So what do you get next? Low income cases moving here and Peachtree City becomes like every other run down place. WAKE UP! Once we go down that path, Peachtree City will NEVER be able to come back. I have lived in places where that has happened. Do you really want this? Do you want to refer to Peachtree City as a place that USED to be a nice place to live? We have already cracked this door open. We need to slam it closed and weld it shut. I live here, I work here and I expect to pay for the quality of life we have here. If you don't want to pay more for these amenities move somewhere where you don't have them and don't have to pay for them. $27 a year is not a lot to ask to ensure the City's financial security and to maintain the quality of life here. Don Haddix, your responses to this and your support for public safety have earned my vote for Mayor. We need leaders to make tough decisions and to stand up for what this City needs.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 08/29/2009 - 12:34pm.

Yes! We have enough for now! Manage better. Maybe attrition will reduce for next year.

Submitted by Terriers88 on Sat, 08/29/2009 - 3:54pm. would cut service. I'd like to hear you say that when it's you or your family affected by reduced service. Manage better??? This city has cut nearly to the bone as it is. Repairs need to be made, vehicles need to be properly maintained, equipment and supplies need to be purchased just for people to do their daily jobs. What you really don't understand is the long term impacts some of the cuts that have already been made will have. The City employees and staff have made cuts. It's time for the taxpayers to do their part too. Like I said before, $27 a year is not a lot to ask.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 08/29/2009 - 5:10pm.

Them 27 dollars more has ran up to about 2-3 thousand dollars a year for most here!
There are other thing besides the city employees!

Of course the unemployed and underemployed about to lose their home can't pay that much longer.

We simply can't keep an economy going with civil servants as the major job corp! The rest is for hospitals and medicine and doctors.

A few from Mexico mow lawns and put on roofs and pick farm products.

Rest are bankers and insurance agents and home sellers.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 08/29/2009 - 5:04pm.

No one said "cut service!"

Just head count. The rest must work harder and do more.

No one sits in the office except at the end of the day maybe and signs what needs signing. Rest by phone or radio from the road.

Run a check on each and every item on the monthly expenditures for supplies and travel and miscellaneous, and everything. Cut back 20-25%.

Must someone mention everything and every way to cut costs?

Is there a law that says work hours are eight per day? Or twelve per day for 3-4 days out of seven?

Put cots in the station like Andy Griffith and Barney did! If everyone wanted to act like Andy and Barney due to that, then so be it.

Yes, manage it.

Submitted by Terriers88 on Sun, 08/30/2009 - 7:56am.

This is where those who don't have all the facts show their true ignorance. We have ALREADY done that. There are several conferences and classes that people are NOT going to this year to cut travel expenses. Supplies are kept as tight as they can be without compromising our ability to do our job. Improvement projects have been delayed or cancelled all together. Also, by putting even more workload on an already overworked staff, people have less time to do everything and things get prioritized, delayed or just not done at all. THAT IS A CUT IN SERVICE. Finally, yes, there are labor laws that have been in place for decades that limit the number of hours people can work before they MUST be paid overtime. Overtime is an area that every department in the city has been trying to keep as low as possible in order TO SAVE MONEY. Do some research and get ALL the facts.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sun, 08/30/2009 - 9:17am.

So, all of the cuts that can be have been done?

I don't remember anyone asking me what to cut? Who decided what to cut? Those in the budget? I thought so.

Am I to believe that every city employee is protected by overtime laws? Every elected official?
Am I to believe that everyone is already "overworked?"
The fact that paper piles up doesn't mean there is too much work, it just means it isn't done for some reason!

It is time for taking names and kicking butt!
Ever heard of that?

Use the Pareto principle for work (80% of problems in 20% of the items--throw out the 80% that aren't a problem).
Maybe there is no one there to make that judgment however, I don't know.

Get someone!

Submitted by Spyglass on Sun, 08/30/2009 - 8:05am.

Some folks can't resist.

Submitted by PTCGOIL on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 9:01pm.

Boy, Steve Boone, that's a revelation. What a remarkable thought. So profound. Did you stay up all night thinking that one up? Or did Logsdon and Plunkett call you and tell you to say it?

As for take home pd cruiser costs, I say leave 'em in the city lot. You drive your own to/from work and you will WISH you were only paying $30.-$100. for the cruiser.

City workers cost of living increase? Last I checked the CPI has gone DOWN 4.5%. I don't get it. No Social Security increase coming up, either. What am I missing here? We have a couple of tough years coming up-seems to me we can continue with these cost savings for a while till we know more next year.

Submitted by Terriers88 on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 6:45pm.

In case you aren't on the same planet here....City Employees have already taken a pay CUT! Not only are we not getting COLA and merit increases, we have also had our benefit costs doubled. Further, with higher prices on gasoline, although not as bad as last summer, and subsequent increases in everything else as a result, we too feel the pinch. I am one of the few city employees who can actually afford to live in Peachtree City. So not only am I an employee, I'm also a tax payer. As far as cost saving, there truly isn't that much more to cut without sacrificing public safety. That would be a catastrophic mistake! As for take home vehicles, that is not a perk. Some of us are on call and required to respond from home. I certainly don't think you would drive your personal car for business purposes without expecting compensation. Furthermore, these are emergency vehicles that have lights and sirens on them allowing us to respond to an emergency quickly. You've seen the traffic here. If it were your family member or your house burning would you accept my answer that I was stuck in traffic. Open your eyes when you drive around. We cut 23 public works employees this year in favor of a cost saving contract featuring a crew of 6-8 people. Guess what, the city looks like crap. Most of the people we laid off truly cared about this city and how it looked. Most didn't even live her but they treated it like their own front lawn. These 6-8 people can't possibly do the job of 23 and they certainly don't care about it nearly as much. One of the great things about working for this city, that you don't often find,is that we all care about this city and making it great. People like you want to cut, cut and cut more. I for one will gladly pay $30, $50, $100 more in taxes per year. I live here for the quality of life. I expect to and am willing to pay for it. If we keep cutting, guess what, this place will stop being the great place it once was and become just like every other run down town. Most places never recover. The tax payers in this county I doubt will pass another SPLOST after last years school SPLOST debacle. At some point, you have got to start paying for things and stop pushing them down the road. Have you gone to your boss and volunteered a pay cut and a decrease in benefits? Doubtful. WAKE UP!

cmc865's picture
Submitted by cmc865 on Fri, 08/28/2009 - 7:50pm.

From another city employee and resident tax payer, AMEN. Preach on!

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