Answers from David Craig, candidate for Post 1, Peachtree City

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 5:45pm
By: David Craig

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 David Craig, candidate for Post 1

1. No, I do not see any need for the city to expand beyond its current borders under any circumstance. The only real reason to annex a piece of land is to add its tax revenue to the city and to increase the perceived value for the developer.

Unfortunately, each annexation will require upfront expenses (fire and police coverage) which may not ever be recouped from the additional tax revenue, and the city will add future liability for expenses such as road maintenance, easement upkeep, etc. In the end, I believe the net benefit to current residents of Peachtree City of annexations is not positive and I can not support any project that isn’t helping to improve our property values.

Property owners should be allowed to develop their land according to the current land use plan, so from this perspective, I would not support adding land for additional development. As Peachtree City reaches build-out, we need to switch our focus to working with developers to rejuvenate the villages, both the commercial centers and housing. We also need to focus on our industrial park to fill both currently vacant buildings and continue development of the unused areas.

2. No, I am firmly against the rezoning of industrial-zoned property to residential use and I do not support the Callula Hill project. My main opposition is that we need to provide a place for expansion of our industrial base, and dropping a residential complex on the edge and in close proximity to Falcon Field should not be acceptable. While I can see why the developers like the area (high return on investment) it would be a disservice to current residents, future residents, and to our industrial tenants to allow this development.

Yes, this development would fall into the “spot zoning” category. Rezoning a residential area in the middle of an industrial zone is the very definition of spot zoning. We should not and I will not ever support spot zoning.

While the harder decision regarding the borders between residential and commercial land is less defined, spot zoning would hamper future councils in managing the balance of interests.

3. Yes, this has been a very painful year for the city and there were some tough decisions that were made. Hindsight is always 20/20, so while the council may have felt the decision was correct on contracting out services and letting staff go, the voters will provide the applicable grade at the ballot box.

I personally believe that outsourcing jobs means that the mayor, Council and city management have failed in their duties as stewards of the town’s resources and have failed their staff if they allow them to become uncompetitive in the marketplace. Outsourcing is an easy way out to find quick savings in the short term, but typically doesn’t provide the longer-term cost benefit that people expect. The real question we must ask is, “Why are they so uncompetitive and how can we change”?

First, I believe we need to allow the affected employees to provide potential solutions to close the cost gap with outsourcing their jobs. Second, I believe we should challenge the management team (city manager and Public Works director) to develop their own internal solution to close the cost gap. Third, bring both groups together to finalize a workable long-term solution.

The initial gap may not close in year one but if you give them a reasonable time frame (say, three years) it would then provide long-term benefits to the community. This would not be an easy process, and I know that several scenarios were presented and discussed. However, in order to be successful, both sides have to be open to objectively closing the cost gap and addressing the root causes.

Let’s be clear: it’s always easy to give a raise, or a good job evaluation, but the sign of true leadership is addressing problems during the difficult times and finding solutions that benefit both sides.

4. The most challenging issue facing PTC will be balancing our budget. Due to the current economic state and the reduction in overall revenue for our city, it is more important than ever that the City Council balance the budget. I don’t believe raising the current millage rate helps either bring value to our taxpayers or benefits them in this tough economy. I also believe there is untapped value within our current assets that we have failed to realize.

In order to balance the budget I believe the council needs to do the following:

• Start each budget from scratch and make the associated departments justify each line item (current expenditures and future requests).

• Capital Plan (Public Improvement Plan) – Push to ensure that each item of capital has a cost-positive impact (why are we replacing, why do we need to acquire, why can’t we wait).

• Ensure that the one-, five-, 10-, 20-year plan for each department is aligned to optimize the assets managed and ensures optimal value to the taxpayer.

• Ensure the current revenue structure for our assets are optimizing the return to our taxpayers (The Fred, Tennis Center, Kedron Fieldhouse, Soccer complex, etc.).

• Challenge city leadership to run their departments like a business, which will require them to be creative, listen to their employees, and streamline operations.

The City Council needs to act like a board of directors when it comes to the budget and not just rely on raising the citizens’ taxes instead of making the hard decisions. This won’t be an easy task but we can’t continue to lean on the taxpayer if we haven’t done everything possible regarding expenses and asset utilization.

Only after all the above can be answered in a positive manner should the council consider a tax increase to balance the budget.

I can’t say for certain that we won’t have to increase taxes in future years, but I do believe there are still internal opportunities for cost savings prior to using that option.

5. I am a firm believer in doing everything possible prior to increasing any tax. Before any tax increase, we need to ensure we have performed the following:

• Eliminated all unnecessary expenses and eliminated process waste in our services.

• Ensure our current assets (Kedron Fieldhouse, Tennis Center, Baseball and Soccer complex, pools, Falcon Field, etc.) are producing a positive impact to the taxpayer (fee structures, rental agreements, non-city user fees).

• Challenged our city managers to develop new solutions to revenue shortfalls (does not include selling off or outsourcing services).

Only after we have ensured that we have made significant process in the above actions should the council consider raising the millage rate. In some years, this may mean that we have to limit expenses in one line item to fund another, but in the end we simply can’t fund everything and be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.

6. I am against selling any city property unless it provides a positive impact to Peachtree City. In this instance, I don’t believe it was in the best interest of PTC for the council to approve the sale of the street to the developer. As a result of this transaction, we have now requested an additional traffic light on a traffic-light-congested road and allowed the developer to request yet another zoning variance to increase the size of the anchor store. This is the type of dilemma we continually find ourselves in because we can’t say no to rezoning requests. We need to just say no!

7. I will not vote to approve any variances that would add more retail space that would compete with the current village shopping areas. We have plenty of available retail space in our city and we need to push developers to invest in our current shopping areas which would attract more business.

In order to ensure the villages remain viable, I will vote on an updated land use plan if it limits the amount of additional retail zoned areas. This follows up on the no-variance theme to push developers back into the villages by updating and improving the current retail complexes.

Store owners are looking for two things, traffic flow and esthetics. If we stop moving the traffic flows to the new shopping areas, retailers will look to come back into our shopping areas as we rejuvenate them. Unfortunately, it may be too late to have a significant impact, but we can work to minimize future impact.

8. I will not be voting for the countywide SPLOST renewal for the following reasons;

• PTC is only allocated $22 million of the expected $136 million in revenue (16 percent).

• A total of $11 million is allocated for general road purposes (no specific projects).

• I believe the majority of the revenue would provide more value in the pockets of the taxpayer.

I do believe that there are good projects that would be funded by the SPLOST at both the city and county level (court house debt retirement, purchase of PTC City Hall, Leach Fire Station, and PTC golf cart path bridges/extensions).

However, I have very little confidence that the county would reduce our total tax burden when the Justice Center debt is retired (actually purchasing the property instead of leasing).

I am against using a SPLOST to fund previous general fund expenses. Unfortunately, the council moved several items out of the general fund to be financed from the SPLOST. The impact will be felt in future years as we will have to potentially raise taxes to bring these back into the general fund.

9. Those who are privileged to be elected need to remember that they have been given a very special task, that of being the caretakers of the citizens’ assets (public property and tax dollars). As such, they must be good stewards of those assets by returning to the citizens the value they expect, a great place to live, work, and increased property values. Of all the elected positions, the local level provides the opportunity to really interact with the voters. Local officials must ensure they are taking citizens concerns to heart and while they can’t please everyone, they must be open, balanced, and fair.

I believe that government does not have to be large or intrusive to be effective. We should require our elected leaders and officials to be as innovative and efficient as the private sector so that there is no need to outsource functions we believe reside with the government. Our everyday lives are complicated enough; government doesn’t have to add to it.

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