Answers from Kim Learnard, candidate for Post 3, Peachtree City

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 5:39pm
By: Kim Learnard

Questions for Peachtree City candidates

1. Based on current zoning, there are roughly 1,400 more homes to be built before running out of virgin residential-zoned space. Do you see any need for the city to expand its borders through annexation for any zoning category? Why or why not? Please explain what type of development — if any — the city needs more of, how it will be paid for and where you think such annexation makes the most sense.

2. Do you support the rezoning of industrial-zoned property to any residential use? Also tell us specifically whether you support or oppose the Callula Hill project that would convert land in the city’s industrial park into an upscale “lake view” subdivision, and if so, tell us why or why not. Also, spell out whether this proposal does or does not represent spot zoning.

3. This has been one of the most painful budget years in the city’s history. Grade the City Council on personnel cutbacks and how it handled the funding shortfall. Explain exactly what you would have done differently.

4. If the city had to cut another $1 million out of the coming year’s budget, what specific actions would you take to balance the budget?

5. Under what conditions — if any — would you support an increase in the city property tax?

6. What is your opinion about Peachtree City selling city streets to a developer so as to enable a much larger shopping center to be built on Ga. Highway 54 West?

7. What will you vote to do to insure that the city’s existing village centers remain economically viable?

8. Will you vote for or against the countywide SPLOST renewal? Why or why not?

9. Describe your general political philosophy, particularly regarding local government.

Answers from Kim Learnard, candidate for Post 3

1. I would need to see clear evidence that any annexation works to the benefit of Peachtree City citizens. Even an annexation that at first glance appears to be a cost benefit due to building permits and impact fees can end up costing a city millions of dollars over time.

The West Village Annexation is an example. The city’s Financial Impact Analysis dated April 27, 2007, estimates revenues and expenses related to annexing the West Village. This study indicates that impact fees will cover 41 percent of the cost of a new fire station; the city will have to pay the rest, just over $1 million. (With interest, it is estimated this debt ultimately costs $3.7 million over 10 years.) The developer installs street lights, but Peachtree City will pay more than $20,000 per year in utility costs. The city also picks up the tab for long-term street maintenance, code enforcement, public safety, and other expenses. Overall, costs exceed property tax revenue from the new homes in the development.

The new development projects our city needs are light industrial, quality manufacturing, and corporate headquarters. These types of development projects bring good-paying jobs to the city; they call for modest sized facilities and infrastructure in appropriate locations.

I am an engineer with 25 years of experience in manufacturing; I provide workforce training in these kinds of businesses and industries. I have a healthy appreciation of the importance of these types of projects in our community, and I’m looking forward to working with our Development Authority as we continue to work to attract these businesses and industries to Peachtree City.

2. To answer the question specifically, I do not support rezoning of industrial-zoned property to residential use, for several reasons that I mentioned in my answer to the first question. In order to understand what is at stake, we must focus on Falcon Field and its value to Peachtree City.

Falcon Field is essential to our industrial base because it helps attract and keep the kind of development that is important to economic growth in our city. The proposed Callula Hill project would place a residential development in close proximity to Falcon Field. This presents a likelihood of noise and nuisance complaints from any future homeowners. I do not support new development or rezoning that could ultimately compromise airport operations.

I define “spot zoning” as rezoning in an isolated geographical area, in a manner that is not in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan. I believe the Callula Hill development would constitute spot zoning.

3. Fiscal Year 2010 began Oct. 1, 2009, and will end Sept. 30, 2010. The problem I have with the FY2010 budget is that it is not sustainable. It will see us through until about next summer, when we will truly have to face the music.

Here are some examples: Current budget includes no cost of living allowance for city staff. This is acceptable for now, as most of us are simply happy to still have jobs; however it will have to be addressed at some point.

Current budget continues the staffing levels and mowing schedules that are, in my opinion, very problematic. Realtors, who are already struggling in this tough economic climate, now have the unenviable task of showcasing a city that is not looking its best.

Current budget continues the staffing levels in Leisure Services that has left bare bones personnel levels to set up and take down city events. I personally watched our Leisure Services Director and his top staff work 16-hour days preparing for the Dragonboat Races and the Shakerag Festival, for example. They did it with smiles on their faces (and they didn’t know I was watching!), but most likely this, too, can’t continue indefinitely. If we intend to host city events, we will have to staff accordingly.

In addition to these cuts, we dipped into cash reserves by about $451,000, reducing our reserves from 36 percent to 34 percent of the budget.

In my most recent meeting with our city budget director, we reviewed a budget forecast that assumes SPLOST does not pass; and that keeps the millage rate exactly where it is right now. It calls for using cash reserves in the FY2011 budget of approximately $2.78 million, which will reduce reserves to 21 percent. I do not yet know if I could sleep at night with only 21 percent in reserves. I am much more conservative than that.

Grade is B. What would I have done differently? I would have worked to create a two-year, three-year, and five-year budget PLAN. I would have introduced a more gradual reduction in public works staff instead of one massive reduction followed by “let’s see what happens next.” And I would have led the city in assessing what the citizens want. We should be using a more methodical approach: identify the essentials to the Peachtree City quality of life, then fund them.

4. We have added expenses to the city budget over the last few years, without also adding a revenue stream to pay for them. Consequently, we have dipped into cash reserves just to make the budget balance. One example of this is our public safety budget, which we increased 27 percent over the previous three years (prior to FY2009) with no corresponding millage rate increase. Now that the economy is poor we need to cut costs, but nobody, myself included, wants to cut public safety.

In terms of the number of city employees per capita, Peachtree City runs very lean compared with other cities. In 2009, we had 6.24 full-time city employees per 1,000 residents. Compare this with Newnan, at 8.81 employees, or College Park, at 18.95 employees per 1,000 residents. We have already cut Public Works and Leisure Services staff. (See previous answer.) By my calculations, our mayor works for about eight dollars an hour. It is difficult to imagine further cuts in personnel.

If the city had to cut $1 million out of the coming year’s budget, then road or multi-use path maintenance would be next on the chopping block. We typically spend $1.5 million per year on multi-use path construction and maintenance projects. That being said, it must be up to the citizens of Peachtree City to decide whether that will be the appropriate course of action. (See next answer.)

5. Deciding what is important to a city is not up to the City Council; it is up to the city residents. Peachtree City is to be commended for sending a survey last spring to all 13,600 residents, in an effort to determine what is important to the citizens. The survey results were, in my opinion, shocking. Fifty percent of the respondents indicated that they would be in favor of some millage rate increase along with some cutbacks in services. Even more surprising, another 24 percent of the respondents favored a tax increase in lieu of any service cuts. In summary, 74 percent of Peachtree City residents seem to want to preserve the services and amenities that we have all come to enjoy, even if they have to fund them.

It is only based on citizen input like this, that any increase in property taxes should even be considered.

6. Selling city streets constitutes a major change to the Comprehensive Plan. It flies in the face of the intent of Peachtree City, which is to promote village retail shopping centers that meet the needs of residents in their immediate geographical areas. It sets an unfortunate precedent by opening a door to developers who then march through our Planning Commission and City Council meetings, usurping city resources with an endless patchwork of requests for exceptions to our city rules. As a City Council member, I will support strict adherence to our city ordinances, and consistent administration of our land use plan.

7. This issue is not necessarily about a vote of City Council; rather, it is about public input into a public process. Peachtree City’s city planning staff is a qualified group of professionals who are in the process of revising our Comprehensive Land Use Plan as required under Georgia law. Part of this process involves neighborhood input, and our staff has been actively consulting with and listening to neighborhood groups in order to understand how PTC neighbors use the multi-use paths; what their shopping needs are; and other factors related to the village centers.

The buzz word here is “sustainable.” We need to take citizen input to heart, and promote the types of retail shopping and restaurants that the neighborhoods want, in order to maintain village centers that are sustainable. We also have a responsibility as a city to keep these centers clean, accessible, updated, and architecturally attractive.

Speaking of architecturally attractive, the Peachtree City Development Authority has an innovative program underway. In an exciting joint effort, we are working with a group of architecture graduate students from Georgia Tech to study the village centers and make recommendations for everything from general appearance and transportation patterns, to specific types of retail, medical, office, and other businesses suitable for each village.

I attended our kickoff meeting last month and I am thrilled with what is underway. The students bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to this project — this is an actual class the students are taking for credit. We will all look forward to their recommendations in the coming months.

8. Voters will have the opportunity to vote Yes or No to a SPLOST on Nov. 3. Please allow me to cut through the emotions of the topic, and point out some facts about the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST):

In purchasing a sweater at The Avenue, for example, you pay a total of 7 percent in sales tax. It helps to understand the breakdown of that 7 percent: 4 percent goes to the state. The next 1 percent is a local sales tax. The next 1 percent is an e-SPLOST, dedicated to education. (This was voted into existence by voters last year.) Finally, the last 1 percent is the SPLOST we are talking about. It will expire in March of 2010. When it expires, the sales tax on your new sweater will change from 7 percent to 6 percent. The proposed new SPLOST would re-introduce a 1 percent tax. So if everyone votes YES to the SPLOST and it passes, the sweater that currently costs you 7 percent will cost you ... 7 percent.

The current SPLOST has been in place for the last five years. The money is for transportation projects only. The new SPLOST will be for six years, and the money is for transportation projects and debt reduction.

Peachtree City has a specific list of $22 million in projects and debt reduction that will be paid for with SPLOST dollars if SPLOST passes. The list includes several street paving, intersection improvements, and multi-use path, tunnel, and bridge projects. It also includes two debt reduction items that would pay off $2.6 million plus $2.8 million in city debt.

Several arguments against SPLOST have been made by various groups, including a coalition that opposes it because Fayette County’ SPLOST transportation projects list includes the West Bypass, which is, to some, a project that isn’t justifiable. Another group opposes the very idea that “extra” monies should be obtained for projects; this group believes that budget items in cities should, in general, be budgeted by the cities and paid for by city residents. Yet another argument against SPLOST is that while Peachtree City has about 30 percent of Fayette County’s residents, we are only slated to receive about 15 percent of the SPLOST dollars. Indeed, there are inequities.

If SPLOST does not pass, then the $22 million list of Peachtree City projects will be unfunded. This may explain why city policy makers have resolved unanimously in favor of SPLOST. This vote is an opportunity for citizens to decide.

Vote YES on SPLOST, and pay for these items despite flaws in the system; or vote NO on SPLOST, knowing that the specified projects on the list will have to be delayed, reduced in scope, eliminated from the list, paid for with an increase in property taxes, or a combination of all of these.

Important note: If I failed to specifically disclose how I will vote on this or other issues, it is because one’s vote is private, protected, and sacrosanct. My goal is to foster a more widespread understanding of the issues so voters can decide for themselves.

9. Fifty years ago, Peachtree City was founded based on a vision that was years ahead of its time. Imagine the novelty of a city that features an alternative transportation system; a de-centralized downtown shopping concept; and protected greenspaces – how strange that must have seemed in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet it is these unique concepts that made Peachtree City a model community for 50 years.

Now our community is turning a corner and facing our next 50 years. What will make us a model community going forward?

My goal is to help Peachtree City establish our new vision. In that vision, we must renew our focus on protecting greenspaces. As development encroaches, our greenspaces are more precious than ever before.

We must also establish protections for other resources, including judicious use of water; and new building codes that result in reduced energy demand.

I would like to lead Peachtree City as we engage in low carbon city initiatives toward green employment, technologies, and community development.

This is a historic moment for Peachtree City. We have big challenges, but we also have tremendous resources. Let’s establish our vision so we can begin working toward it. I can’t wait to get started.

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NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Tue, 10/27/2009 - 10:51pm.

Those two articles a few months back in The Citizen where she strongly advocated nationalized health care and heap scorn on opponents of such is going to be her downfall, even if it's only a local council seat in PTC, not a state or national office.

I'm not a fan at all of her "well, whatever the citizens want" answers or dodge on issues like SPLOST by claiming her vote is private/sacrosanct/whatever. That's not leadership, that's already being a politician.

Submitted by Doug on Tue, 10/27/2009 - 11:00pm.

I think she's in trouble.

She is better than an attorney though.

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