Walsh: Council must do a cost-benefit study

Tue, 10/20/2009 - 4:23pm
By: Letters to the ...

Mr. Brown, I’ve read your past editorials in The Citizen, and have been looking forward to your comments on the candidates for the upcoming election. With my first foray into politics, I was hoping you would comment on me, and I thank you for taking the time to get to know me and the other candidates. Because you made your views known in the newspaper, I am also copying The Citizen on this response.

Apparently I won’t get your vote, because in your opinion on the budget, I have “a rose colored glasses view” and would “pilfer from the reserves.” On SPLOST you think I am “just kicking the can down the road.” Please allow me to give you a more detailed view of my positions on these two issues, so that maybe I will be a bit less “frightening“ to you.

I recognize that there have been myriad budget cuts that have taken place through study and recommendations from our various city departments, which are run by dedicated, qualified, and very concerned citizens and employees of the city. The departments have done very well; the council has not.

The council needs to be clearer on what the priorities are for the city. I can’t look at any department and fault them for their efforts, which is why I think you took my comments on the budget to mean I am satisfied with what it looks like for the future.

Believe me, I am not satisfied. But I recognize that the structure of a $26 million budget can’t be changed overnight without tremendous upheaval on either the services side (expenditure) or the revenue side (taxes and fees).

I believe we need to more clearly identify what our priorities are, and what our target level of services should be. As an example, our fire department recently was recognized for achieving an improvement in our city rating from ISO 4 to ISO 3. I would like to know if we should try to achieve ISO 2, and what that cost would be, or if reverting to ISO 4 could benefit our community through cost-saving with minimal risk.

I’m not proposing either move. But we need to know the cost/benefit tradeoff to make informed decisions.

The city council should have a written list of priorities with clearly identified expected costs for each, including costs to increase service, or possible savings by reducing service (with a clear explanation of what each entails).

If our council would present budget and service options to the city in this manner, I think it would be a tremendous move forward. We need to look much closer at the service our tax dollars actually buy. And we need a similar plan for revenue as well.

With information like this and input from PTC citizens, the council can make informed decisions on order of priorities, and the level of service needed to provide and fund our plans.

But you want to know my priorities, so let me give you a few specifics on services I would increase, and some I would decrease.

I would increase funding for our developmental services, currently served by a board of volunteers.

We need to get more aggressive about finding good business residents, both retail and industrial, to fill the vacancies that exist in Peachtree City.

I would increase funding for cart path extensions — we need to connect some neighborhoods to the golf cart path system. It’s a PTC benefit in which all residents should share.

One area that I believe has gotten out of balance is funding for recreation services: it’s 12.8 percent of our budget.

I applaud the city for subsidizing so many activities and opportunities for the residents of PTC, but this has gotten to be too large a financial burden, and I recommend we gradually over several years decrease that percentage to 9-to-10 percent of the city budget, and gradually increase fees to offset this.

But we need to implement a two-tiered fee system, so that disadvantaged families are not priced out of participating. I feel that if an activity is worthy of being subsidized, we can’t structure it so that only those families who can afford it can participate.

And as far as “pilfering the reserve,” it simply has gotten out of line with our city needs. I believe that a reserve in the 25-to-30 percent range is more appropriate than the current 36 percent, and we should get it in line.

That means using some of it, and there are two ways I recommend doing this. One is allowing it to be drawn on over several years, rather than raise millage rates.

A second is to use it to pay down debt, reducing our interest payments. I am open to either approach.

I’ve heard both sides of the SPLOST argument, and still support it, for the main reason that it is a way for nonresident visitors to Fayette County and Peachtree City to pay for the services provided during their time here.

But I am also intrigued by the proposal by Mr. Imker, candidate for Council Post 1, to try for a better SPLOST next year. I want to discuss this more with him to get his detailed thoughts on that direction.

I’ve tried to learn a lot since I declared my candidacy, and I won’t shy away from discussions on any hard issues. Every question, every comment I get sends me digging into things I need to know. Although your comments on me were mostly negative, I truly thank you for them; you’ve made me a better candidate.

Bob Walsh

Peachtree City, Ga.

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