Council candidates talk budget cuts

Fri, 11/20/2009 - 4:49pm
By: The Citizen

Council candidates talk budget cuts

Candidates in the runoff elections for the Post 1 and Post 3 city council races got another chance Thursday to share their views with the public.

Those participating were Post 1 candidates Eric Imker and Beth Pullias and Post 3 candidates Kim Learnard and Bob Walsh.

Among the more radical ideas suggested by candidates:

• Walsh said he would like council to look into rescinding its request for a new traffic light on Ga. Highway 54 West. The light had been requested by council to serve a new 175,000 square foot shopping center at the southwest corner of Ga. Highway and Planterra Way; and

• Imker said he thinks landscaping crews can work quicker. He explained that he witnessed a four-man crew spend four days landscaping in the area of city hall; a friend of his who’s a private landscaping contractor said it should have taken two people half a day to finish.

The candidates had several ideas to deal with the impending $2.7 million shortfall in the 2010-2011 budget:

• Imker said the city can find more efficiencies and eliminate service duplication. He also said the city needs to balance its budget without using cash reserves.

• Pullias said she hoped the county commission would redirect money from the $51 million West Fayetteville Bypass to help the city fund transportation projects. She added that the citizens voting against SPLOST by such a large margin was a sign of heir distrust of government and she hopes to restore that trust.

• Walsh said the city will have to prioritize important projects, delaying and canceling some. He also suggested an annual fee be charged on golf cart registrations so path users will have a way to share in the maintenance costs.

• Learnard suggested an across the board 10 percent cut for each city department could be implemented. She also said input would be needed from staff and the public to help decide priorities.

The candidates were asked if they supported the location of new cellphone towers in the city to boost revenue.

Pullias said she had no problem locating towers on office, retail and commercial properties, but they should not be located in neighborhoods or city parks.

Imker said he doesn’t want towers in any parks or any homes either. Imker said he met with TMobile and asked if other cell services need new towers, but he got no reply.

Imker suggested that TMobile’s coverage issues in Peachtree City could be due to inferior equipment.

Learnard said she hasn’t heard any resident suggest to her that their cellular service is awful. She said the city should get public input on the matter before vendors get too invested in preparing plans.

Walsh said the city doesn’t have any detailed information on the size and appearance of towers nor the potential locations proposed by TMobile. The city collects over $150,000 a year in lease fees from towers, and so the city should look into it for increased income but not have any located adjacent to residential areas.

When asked about the possible outsourcing of operations at the Kedron Fieldhouse, most of the candidates indicated that wasn’t an option they would consider. Walsh, however, said some of the maintenance and management could be outsourced to save money.

With recreation making up 12 percent of the city’s budget, the fieldhouse might be one candidate for making further cuts, Walsh said.

This budget cycle, the city trimmed an estimated $300,000 from Kedron’s budget in part by increasing some fees, eliminating some personnel among other changes.

Candidates were also asked about what other budget cuts would have to come to keep public safety budgets untouched.

Imker said the city would have to continue to find efficiencies in the budget. Pullias said she thinks the city already has a good budget, but she thinks there may be a need for an “inevitable small tax increase.”

Pullias said she thought a property tax increase could be eliminated once the economy recovers. The city has been hit hard as citizen spending has decreased, in turn lowering the amount of sales taxes received by the city.

Walsh said he didn’t think any cuts were “off the table” during budget review. Fire and police services are the vast majority of the city’s budget, he noted. Walsh also suggested the city review its budget expenditures compared to the response times achieved by both agencies since response times are a major measuring stick for police and fire services.

“I’d like the city to measure what we get for our money,” Walsh said.

Learnard said Fire Chief Ed Eiswerth and Police Chief Skip Clark will look at what projects they can delay in public safety. She also said the city needed to work out the budget in regard to the landscaping outsourcing, which this year left some city-maintained areas with grass so high it was in violation of the city’s own ordinances.

The candidates were also asked to address concerns about the city’s outsourced landscaping service.

Learnard said the city needed to find ways to improve funding for landscaping and code enforcement. She suggested council should have approved a quarter-mill tax increase for this budget year which would have cost the average city homeowner $26 a year.

“We could stand to improve our mowing schedules and code enforcement maybe on weekends have the phones manned on Saturdays. I think we have options here,” Learnard said.

Walsh said the city should never let its property get into such a sad state, noting that one resident who is a landscaping contractor mowed an area in the Planterra Ridge subdivision because the grass had grown so high.

“We are going to have to put more money into that,” Walsh said.

Walsh also said as long as the city surplus remains as large as it currently is, he won’t support any tax increase.

Imker said he has looked at the current landscaping contract and perhaps the city needs to consider other options instead of continuing with the current contract. He also said he wanted to make sure any citizen complaints are answered in a timely fashion.

Pullias said the landscaping contractors improved drastically as time went on and she felt the city was very responsive to her calls about questionable areas that needed attention. She said she agreed with the outsourcing and that the city is handing the matter “quite well.”

The candidates were also asked about their positions on annexation.

Walsh said any annexation needs to be in keeping with the city’s village concept and land use plan. He does not support annexing extra retail into the city nor high density housing.

Learnard said for a property to be annexed she needs to see “hard and fast evidence that it works to the benefit of Peachtree City.” Learnard said she would listen to proposals and not go into one with a yes or no mindset.

Imker said he does not favor any new residential or commercial annexations for the city. Further, he said the 2007 annexation of roughly 800 acres on the city’s northwest side was a poor decision.

Pullias said she felt the 2007 annexation was too dense and she felt the city “bartered” on density in order to get the extension of MacDuff Parkway.

That road extension will connect the Wilksmoor Village to Ga. Highway 74 via Old Senoia Road. The road was the main reason a number of residents came out in force to urge council to approve the annexation.

In their closing remarks:

• Imker said the city shouldn’t allocate all its revenues but instead plan to save some funds each year;

• Pullias said the city needs to make sure the budget is efficient but she won’t promise not to raise taxes;

• Learnard said council needs to protect the amenities that residents moved to the city for;

• Walsh said he wants to restore the cost of living raises for city employees and focus on bringing well-paying jobs to Peachtree City.

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della's picture
Submitted by della on Fri, 11/20/2009 - 6:33pm.

There are several points of great concern that need to be mentioned about the candidates' views. I'll pick on all but not in any order.
Pull - Still doesn't get it about SPLOST. Citizens are simply tired of being taxed and watching it being spent in a wasteful manner.
Wal - More fees for cart users is not an election winner. This is very sensitive in PTC and the current rate every five years nearly caused a riot.
Len - 10% across the board cuts in all departments to solve the budget problem is simplistic and shows a clear unpreparedness for managing the budget. With SPLOST gone, aside from delaying things and not paying off bonds you only need about a $1M to save the budget.
Imk - Perhaps your landscaper can do the job you saw quicker but not in half a day with two people. Perhaps two days with three people. Granted - four days with four people seems wasteful.
Pull - Did I read right? You think the current budget is a "Good Budget". I know you're just kidding. A budget based on using city reserves to maintain operations is doomed.
Pull - Sorry to pick on you again but did you say something to the effect you'll tax us next year and then reduce it the year after when we get better? Right! I've heard that one before.
Imk – As for T-Mobile, the better solution is to take various quality phones for each of say 5 service providers around town and actually test them. Then let the citizen know exactly which providers give the best coverage in which areas. Types of phones matter, not just the tower equipment.
Len – You indicated you hadn’t heard any resident suggest that their cellular service is awful. So the rationale is if you don’t see it, it isn’t there? I’m sure this was just a misstep statement.
Wal – Sorry Bob, but metrics are available on response times for police and fire. I have some in hand right now showing police, number of calls, types of calls, etc, etc.
Pull - So you think the landscaping is "quite well". I don't think so.
These are my negative opinions. Perhaps I should right a positive opinion piece next time.

SPQR's picture
Submitted by SPQR on Sat, 11/21/2009 - 8:07am.

Peachtree City geographically is a long narrow strip. It can easily be served by cell towers outside the city limits. Service providers T-Mobile (the Germans) Verizon (the British)and at@t( the Americans) seek the most bang for the buck by locating them centrally.

matt.barnes's picture
Submitted by matt.barnes on Fri, 11/20/2009 - 10:16pm.

Its been a while since I paid that fee but I don't remember it breaking the bank. Why were people so upset by it when PTC first started the fees.

I personally think that charging an annual fee is a good idea. Just so long as the money does in fact go 100% to the paths and given that its a reasonable amount. Even our city council should be capable of managing that a simple fund like that.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 11/21/2009 - 6:36am.

Yeah, I think raising the golf cart fee would be a good idea. Maybe up to $200 per six months. If you can't afford that then sell the cart. However don't cut 85% of the budget---cops and fire.
Nor town hall.

Also, anyone else think of a fee for just living here? Not a new tax---a fee. That could be pretty high---like the country club dues maybe---6-800 dollars per year and 1000 jest to git in.

Then charge neighborhoods $25 every time a cop car or a fire vehicle ran through their sub!
Not only would that get some money in but would protect the subs better---good idea. Billed monthly.

Now that roof replacements cost $50 to come and see if it is there by city, why not paint jobs? $50 also. Then there needs to be a "handyman" fee. Just to look--$20, then a $100 permit to fix all that can be in one day.

A protection fee needs to be collected in cash by plain clothed police in some of our neighborhoods. Go door to door once a week and collect $10. That would get in considerable money and actually increase patrols. That way we wouldn't have to give the cops any raises either.

Religious fees need to be collected. Door to door Bible thumpers and young Brighams need to pay a fee for disturbing the tranquility. I hate readin that stuff also. I don't like to be asked if I am "saved."
Maybe I am, maybe I'm not---from what? Who are these people--Jim Joness'types? I'm afraid of them.

A fee could be charged to put your "number" on the culvert in front of your house. ($10/yr.) Also for squirting water all over everything to see if there is water in the fire plugs. And, I don't like my color of my fire plug! Is there a fee to change colors.

Thee are plenty more suggestions for fees without raising our taxes. This here recession may go on and on and there will be no taxes to collect---but a few dollars fees at a time would help.

Could we get some money from the oil companies--they are rich.
How about the banks who got billions of our money--could we get some of that back from the 30% interest rates, maybe?

Would it help any to close about 3/4 of the banks in town? Wouldn't have to get their trash and fight fires and crooks for them.
Maybe fingernail, toenail, and rubbing places, also.
There is no end to it.

Submitted by Bonkers on Sat, 11/21/2009 - 1:29pm.

City auto tags, in adition to the county and state we now have. Just a fee however---not a tax! What about $100? The county is 2-3 times that much!

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