Answers from Eric Imker, candidate for Post 1, Peachtree City

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 5:44pm
By: Eric Imker

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 Eric Imker, candidate for Post 1

Many of these questions I have answered throughout my campaign in letters to the editor of The Citizen since February this year. It was an easy job to repackage them into the answers you’ll see below. My answers include specifics, not fluff.

One of my original letters said I’d be telling you exactly how I’ll be voting on issues before City Council. I said I didn’t want anyone to misunderstand my positions so they know exactly what they’ll get if they elect me. I’m frank and sometimes blatantly obvious. You’ll get what you read below when you vote for me. No motive here other than seeing our city is the best place to live, work and play.

1. Any annexation request will be reviewed in accordance with our city ordinances. Specifically, Appendix A, Article VII, Sec 704, Annexation. I am against annexations that would involve the big three zone types of residential, commercial and industrial as they all have inherent flaws as they relate to the land use plan.

Residential annexations will create unneeded competition in this current economic downturn for those trying to sell their homes. Commercial annexations will clearly not help with the already identified empty store syndrome as well as add to the traffic problems. Industrial annexation is not wise at this time as we also have an overabundance of empty facilities that need to be filled.

As I stated in my letter to the editor of 7/21/09, “Candidate Imker answers questions about issues facing Peachtree City,” Question: What do you think should be done to move unsold houses in town and fill the empty shopping centers? Answer: I have no control over the marketplace. However, what we can do is set up the rules so everyone can compete fairly.

Filling empty shopping centers does not begin by rezoning undeveloped land to make it possible for additional competition to come in when there was none before. Existing original shop owners based their location and strategy on the existing zoning. When government changes the existing rules, guess what? You get empty shops.

We need to give businesses confidence that our City Council is not going to stick it to them in the future, either by taxing them or by rezoning to allow for predator competition.

Annexing more land to build additional housing is obviously going to hurt existing unsold homes. We need to demonstrate to future prospective homeowners in Peachtree City that this is one heck of a place to live, work and play. Most realize that as soon as they hit the city limits.

Zone type “OS” — Open Space and Conservation — annexations would be considered once our financials are back under control. Additional space for recreational activities is generally a good thing. Over the years, our city has created one of the most astonishing recreational opportunities in the state. We provide over 1000 programs, classes and special activities each year. Participation is approaching 15,000 this fiscal year. Indeed, additional space for soccer fields, baseball fields and others is clearly desirable, but not until our financials are in order.

2. Sticking to the original zoning is clearly the right thing to do. Rezoning sets precedence and begets future uncontrolled growth. The Callula Hill project is a fiasco waiting to happen. My letters to the editor in March, May (“No on Callula Development“) and June (“Callula Hill Rezoning is the Most Illogical Request in Memory” and “How will Mayor Logsdon vote when Callula Hill comes back?”) cannot be misunderstood. Where were my opponents’ voices? I take personal exception to Mr. Craig saying he was the only candidate to publicly state no to rezoning industrial space to residential. Where was he when this issue surfaced last spring?

3. The budget is the most challenging issue. City Council gets a failing grade on how they came up with this year’s budget. My letters to the editor of The Citizen newspaper included this statement back in June 2008, paraphrasing: If you need someone to come in and review your books, let me know. “Let’s get lean now before the financial crisis is on top of us.” Remember, this was back in June 2008!

In another letter I wrote dated February this year the title was, “PTC Council Candidate Imker Blasts Spending Reserves for Past 2 Years.” You can imagine my frustration of the waste and ineptitude of the decisions made. The “Wait until we have a budget emergency” mentality to finally look hard at the books doesn’t sit well with me. Using management reserves to pay for headcount (that’s ultimately what it does) is just plain stupid. It’s unsustainable, for starters.

In yet another letter dated March this year the title was, “PTC Council Candidate Imker — Budget Tops All Needed Changes.” There were lots of details in that letter. By the way, where are the details from my opponents? Perhaps my title should have read, “PTC Council Candidate Imker – New Council Persons Tops All Needed Changes.”

I pointed out several areas where headcount “openings” were available and recommended they not be filled. They included a secretary to the mayor, a financial position and the assistant city manager position.

Now I’m pointing out where there is a contract manager managing a single contract. How wasteful is that? Of course “other work” has arisen that now fills this person’s time. (Google Parkinson’s Law.) I use to manage many contracts, at the same time (!), and it was still only 10 percent of my job.

These are specific examples of my approach to finding waste. Want more? How about the overpriced repair at Huddleston Pond? It was a nice job but you’d think the new drain is lined with gold at the price paid. I will never spend the public’s money on wasteful expensive quick solutions when with a little work one can find better alternatives. Don’t get me started on the police station.

The right thing to have done was start many years ago by realizing we could have been saving millions if we outsourced the landscaping job. Can you believe that $800,000 is being saved this year by replacing 20-plus folks with a contractor? That’s $40,000 per person! Holy cow! And this was going on year after year after year. I would have gradually transitioned the job to a contractor. Letting 20-plus folks go all at once is just plain callous. These people’s livelihoods were abruptly changed because of poor decisions in the past made by City Council.

We have to understand the transition for the contractor has been difficult because of the way the whole thing was handled. Delayed contract award with an especially wet spring didn’t help. But if you can save $800,000 and put up with a delayed grass cutting your decision becomes moot. I’m positive next year’s start and performance, since the contractor is now already onboard, will be acceptable.

If there’s waste like this that’s built up over decades, and we now know that it has, we need to carefully look at all areas of government to ensure were not paying more than we have to.

4. “What if” questions are fun to ask and generally beget dream-like fluff answers. The typical fluff answer is to find the waste. But that’s not going to get to the answer you’re really looking for. Here it is: there are several ways to reduce spending. They include reducing or cutting services, reducing headcount, delaying or cutting projects, finding overlooked efficiencies and, oh yes, our favorite, eliminating waste. If there’s a million dollars budgeted for a new bridge, street and/or cart path or building upgrade, then we should consider delaying it.

Delaying or cutting a project requires taking the political heat from whichever special interest group is affected. Oh, the winds you’ll hear but if hard decisions have to be made, then make them. I and most folks realize delayed things means it becomes more expensive. But this “What if” needs a solution. If services have to be cut, then cut them. If people have to be let go, let them go. But of course, you do it in a respectful way by giving them time to transition.

Of course I support Police, Fire and EMS, which all candidates will say, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully. I truly believe those department heads will tell us what they need in time for us to fund their needs. The various commissions and authorities are important because that’s where you’ll find the citizens speaking their minds on details. I find all recreational activities important. Hence my volunteer presence as one of the five recreation commissioners.

Working with and asking the various department directors for their input, listening, counter-proposing and coming to a synergistic solution has always worked for me in the past. This approach would be applied to all department directors.

I really don’t like the fee structure for our own citizens using our own facilities. For example, I believe the “high” price to use the Kedron swimming pool on a weekend day is too much. Imagine spending $20 to take the family there, one time for just a couple hours. This is not going to happen on a regular basis for most people.

The cost of providing the service versus the cost of paying for the service needs to be carefully examined. There are so many services that need to be looked at that it will take a good long time to review them all.

Out of city folks who use our resources should pay more. After all, it was our taxes, our land that enabled the facility in the first place. They can pay to play but we also need to subtlety encourage them to build their own facilities in their own cities as ours are at capacity. If you think otherwise, come to a Recreation Commission meeting and get the facts.

But the bottom line is the city should not be trying to use our services as a revenue generator. User fees should pay for the cost (people and material) and ongoing maintenance of the facilities. Of course the need for small revenue could be justified for future enhancements outside the current service provided. But that’s why we elect our decision-makers.

5. First understand our taxes, normally paid by Nov. 15 each year, includes county and school taxes. I just checked mine and I’m sure it’s similar to other citizens. 66 percent of my taxes go to support the schools. Another 15 percent goes to Fayette County. 15 percent goes to our city and City Council for deciding what to do. Example: If you pay $1,000 in property tax, then only about $150 is coming back to Peachtree City for services, et al. If you’re angry at the large amount of your taxes, direct it appropriately.

My answer herein may best be done reviewing a related question I answered in The Citizen in July. I was asked how do you propose to balance the budget?

Aside from my answer to #4 above, I have the time to dive into every department’s budget first-hand and review the books. I will get help doing this. Waste will be found but will likely be unintentional. Once I, and others, are convinced we have a realistic budget for each department, we’ll do the math.

New hires will not be paid on the backs of other departments or the firing of other department personnel. All future new hires in, say, Police, Fire, EMS, Rec, etc., will be paid by a small tax increase for those needed new hires. I’m not going to hide behind some ignorant blanket statement that I won’t raise taxes. If we need more employees, we pay for it. The citizenry must and will understand.

Hiring more police because we have more crime to deal with means we all must pay. I’m generally the last one to say I advocate more tax but buying short-term budget relief with city reserves is a no-win situation. Hence our current budget problem. City reserves should be used in emergencies which do not include those created by poor leadership.

Services in total need to be carefully reviewed. Let me first say, citizens are amazing when it comes time to volunteering. Just look at the library and all the volunteers there. Thank you very much for your giving back to the community.

How about the Gathering Place or the Bridge? Have you ever seen the volunteers there? Again thank you. How about the athletic fields’ upkeep and similar endeavors? What a fantastic group of volunteer citizens! What about the Boy Scout adults and teens alike? The list goes on and on. The Dog Park, the BMX track, etc. People are out there and we know they are willing to help. Let’s give them even more opportunities.

Now for the hard part. There may be a need to redistribute funds for these services depending on what our citizens desire. Again, I’m not so ignorant to think a few will get a majority of the funding. Nor will I be bullied into any such situation. I have no motive other than the fair distribution of our city services.

I will not support a pay raise for City Council persons. By the way, the salary is currently $12,000 per year but in the current budget each of the four councilpersons voted to accept only $6,000. I will vote to keep it at $6,000 for my entire term.

As for the mayor’s salary, I’ve actually changed my mind. Having gotten into this race back in February and seeing first hand, close up all the things the mayor has to do daily, I realize this is really more than a part-time job.

The mayor’s salary is currently $18,000 per year but in the current budget City Council voted to pay him only $9,000. I would support a modest increase in the mayor’s pay to perhaps $12,000 or even $15,000 per year. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Rowland saying, in his bid for mayor, “The office of mayor that they defined does not have to be complicated.” I think if he gets elected he’ll soon realize it is not that simple. Good luck to both Mr. Haddix and Mr. Rowland.

6. I’m mad as heck! Guess what the result will be from the Logsdon, Boone and Plunkett vote to sell city land along Hwy. 54 recently to allow another big box store (potentially Kohl’s) across from Walmart? There will be perhaps a dozen more empty store fronts as a result. Did they even consider the consequences when they voted? I respect Councilmen Haddix and Sturbaum for being the only ones to understand the situation and vote No. But they were outvoted by Boone and Plunkett with the deciding vote coming from Mayor Logsdon. Now their votes have begot yet another traffic light on Hwy. 54. Wow, what a mess we have to clean up.

7. The PTC land use plan needs ordinance revisions to remove language placed in by the Logsdon, Boone and Plunkett trio about allowing bigger big box stores in the city. Their move was an obvious invitation, against the majority of the voters’ desires, to have more big box stores in our city limits. I have no clue as to the motive. I’ll let the voters guess for themselves why these three choose that path.

I will vote to rescind that ordinance change. Sticking to the original zoning and land use plan is clearly the right thing to do. Rezoning sets precedence and begets future uncontrolled growth and uncontrolled predator competition.

We need to look at the tax structure within the village shopping areas to consider ways to make it more economically feasible for owners to set up shop. Hey, is that a new idea? Of course not. Why hasn’t this been looked at recently? I guess the current revenue is so intoxicating politicians can’t let go. I will look to the future and not try to figure out ways I can extract that last penny from a store owner.

8. I will answer the question of “Why or why not” by revealing what features of the SPLOST renewal I find favorable and/or unfavorable? My answer will give you an indication of how I’ll be voting.

The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is asking for another 1 percent tax on top of the current tax for six years. It is expected to generate roughly $120 million. (I’m going to use round numbers so don’t go off on me.) That works out to $20 million a year to be spread out over the county and its cities.

Peachtree City has uses for this extra money like improving/maintaining cart paths, buying down our debt on bonds issued over recent years and other important things. The county has useful and important needs too. However, one of these “needs” (“want to have”) is pouring $20 million into the Fayette bypass.

I believe this is an unneeded expense at this time. Eventually, in 10 years or so, yes, we may need a bypass. We can start taxing for the funds eight years from now. Not now! Besides, things change. Five to eight years from now we might realize other options have made themselves available. Let’s not rush into this like we did with the school tax and the purchase of a mostly empty school for years to come.

Don’t let anyone use scare tactics on you. We don’t need this SPLOST — this year. There will be another election next year or earlier if we so decide where we can vote on a different SPLOST that can include language making sure unneeded and undesirable features like the bypass are not funded.

9. I am about as conservative as they come. But just saying that will not win you over. Just know that my entire work history has included one of my basic philosophical ideals ... that is to eliminate my own job. That’s right, you read correctly. You see, I’ve not only been an engineer but a manager of people as well. Managers should be in place to the point where they’ve trained the work force to be able to do the job without managers. Then the managers move on to other areas to do the same. Hence, finding waste is paramount.

Okay, now that I’ve got your interest, I hope you read on. Above the managers are the decision-makers. Of course managers make decisions, but I’m talking about at the highest levels of the company ... or in this case City Council. They need not be highly paid, but unfortunately, most think otherwise. So the decision-makers, council members, need to provide the direction for the city and its resources.

You will read where most the candidates will say they are against big boxes, et al. But how many are going to tell you they have the determination to change the financials of the city to stop using management reserve to pay for new hires? How crazy is that? Who will change the financials to eliminate unneeded headcount such as contract managers who manage only a single contract? This is only a very short list but these are the kinds of things I have experience with and will vote accordingly.

This election is critical for our citizens. Do we want to continue the crazy rezoning, allowing big box stores, more traffics lights, building of homes near the airport where it’s zoned for industrial? Of course not.

Do we want more mismanagement of our tax dollars where suddenly, in an economic downturn, we finally find some of the cuts and changes that should have taken place years ago? We need new leadership.

As I’ve said many times before, the newcomers in this election will win the day.

If you approve of the results over the last couple years and want to continue the current policies, then vote for Plunkett, Boone and Dyer aka Logsdon’s vision.

If you believe we can do better, then change is in order. Vote for those who will return Peachtree City to the original land use plan. We need to return respect and confidence to the council. I will help bring that back to our city.

login to post comments | previous forum topic | next forum topic