Advice to new council: Default budget position should be ‘No’

Steve Brown's picture

Congratulations to Mr. Haddix, Ms. Learnard, Mr. Imker and Ms. Fleisch, and we wish you well.

Please remember after the warm glow of election victory subsides, you have a derailed train to put back on the tracks. That train needs your immediate attention.

In as much as action needs to be taken, it is extremely important to not overreact, causing long-term damage. Selling city assets to close short-term budget deficits is an example of overreacting.

Many municipalities and corporations are taking the “hold on” stance, meaning they hope to hold on long enough to wait out the recession. Waiting for things to get back to normal in our current economy and postponing important decisions means the hole will be even deeper in the future. We need to choose accelerated innovation over survival mode.

I remember my first year in elected office and being told countless times, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Government left unto itself will bog down in the bureaucratic sludge. I have spent the last four years wincing at the ham-fisted decisions made on budgeting, personnel and priorities.

The City Council recently accepted a $650,280 federal grant for six new firefighters. Unfortunately, those firefighters were not budgeted, and when the five years of partial grant payments are over, we will be saddled with some extensive annual debt. The time to start planning to cover that salary balance is not four and half years from now; do it right away.

It was financing deals like the federal grant that caused me to say there was no overage in the reserve funds. Those funds are already spent down the road, so start amassing funds in the reserves instead of whittling them away. The decisions of the last four years come with an annual price tag.

All kinds of people are going to ask our new council members to spend tax dollars on all kinds of projects. The default answer from council should be “no.” On the contrary, the council should be asking every program associated with the city, “How can you produce more revenue to ease the burden on the city’s general fund?”

Hacking away at city services and recreation programs with a blunt axe is the wrong thing to do. Instead, figure out new ways to get those services to pay for themselves.

As a mayor or council member, what are your top three budgeting priorities and, just as important, what are your top three budgeting priorities within each city department? To answer those questions honestly, you will have to dig, asking questions, challenging old assumptions. Do not take the city manager’s word for it; get up to your ears in research.

Some will accuse you of micro-managing the city, and that is ridiculous. Remember, if you do not know the inner workings and essential parts, then you are not qualified to pick up a scalpel and begin operating. Do not hack away at a budget if you do not know where the cash is flowing. If you want to severely mutilate or kill the patient, start operating out of total ignorance. The buck does not stop with the department director; it stops with the City Council.

Former Councilman Steve Rapson and I used to meet and shred through the budgets every year. We went after the abuse and set strict priorities, later presenting the city’s first AAA bond rating and the best fund balances. I can assure you we made quite a few people angry.

As you dig, identify city spending habits or patterns that can be changed to some degree without compromising the level of service.

Demand accurate revenue projections based on the latest research and trends, aiming to collect 90 percent of that figure. Track those numbers diligently. Make adjustments as needed.

Track each department’s spending monthly and capture savings immediately to the reserve fund. Create a reward system for the most savings annually by a department. Analyze how they saved the funds and see if it can be replicated in other departments.

Avoid creating new expenditures. I was totally floored when the city began hacking away at recreational services and personnel only to put a brand new ice skating rink and fitness center on a referendum. Remember, say “no” and watch your fund balances increase.

Have some written finance goals and stick to them. The mindset should be how to take advantage of the current economy and come out of the recession a stronger city.

Beware of rezoning and development decisions that increase the cost of providing services down the road. The big box development on Ga. Highway 54 West and the additional traffic signal exempted from the city ordinance will cost a significant sum in road modifications and public safety later on, not to mention the impact on our quality of life concerning traffic.

Stay away from the quick fixes. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST) got the city into a lot of trouble. Tens of millions of dollars are wasted in SPLOST proceeds, exemplified by the $51 million West Fayetteville Bypass boondoggle. In fact, all of the Fayette municipalities should be demanding that the bogus bypass be halted and the funds used to ease the financial burden of the local governments.

It is very difficult for the taxpayers to watch the county government and the Board of Education literally waste over $100 million out of our pockets and feel any kind of empathy for local governments experiencing a downturn in revenue. Put an end to the waste and regain the public trust.

Expect the special interest lobby to scorn you. Intimidation and exclusion is their tried and true method of getting officials to do government their way. That is how the Chamber of Commerce got the West Fayetteville Bypass and tried to get the TDK Extension.

Finally, try to take of advantage of local expertise. Form citizen committees, including people who disagree with you, to review departmental spending and have them offer suggestions to the mayor and council.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]

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Submitted by Spyglass on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 8:59pm.

the last time you ran...give it up...

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 7:52pm.

Would it be possible to get a commitment, in writing, from each council person that they have fully read, understand and will follow the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the city?

Any chance of that happening?

I'm hopping that we can avoid any more of the 'but we followed the plan' garbage that we were subjected to with the last bunch.

Additionally, how about posting the hours completed with the 'Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute' for each council member on a quarterly or semi-annual basis?

I'd like to see all council members achieve the "Certificate of Distinction".

Then no body could argue that a council position isn't a full time job.

Submitted by AtHomeGym on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 8:01pm.

My guess is that by titling your post as you did, you have just about guaranteed that Mayor-elect Haddix will fart you right off. I know I would.

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 10:01pm.

the Comprehensive Land Use Plan?

Mrs. Plunkett stated often that she, with her votes on the CCD property, did exactly that. The only problem being she and the others didn't.

It would be nice for our elected officials to at least know that they violated the plan vs. saying they upheld it.

To wit, they either didn't read it and/or they didn't understand it or they simply chose not to follow it. Pick all that apply.

As for the part about the 'Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute', The 1990 Georgia General Assembly passed legislation requiring city officials elected after July 1, 1991, to attend this program. My suggestion was to have the newly elected council members obtain the highest level of study possible.

That both you and suggarfoot are ignorant of the laws in Georgia is not in the least bit surprising to me.

It’s apparent that ignorance is a badge of honor or simply a way of life for a few on this blog.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 9:05pm.

Ptc lives in his own world, riding his golf car armed and looking for killer poodles! How else could Haddix treat him?

bad_ptc's picture
Submitted by bad_ptc on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 10:28pm.

As I stated before the law in Georgia is clear on this subject.

See O.C.G.A. § 27-3-49 (2009)

§ 27-3-49. Killing of dogs running deer

Additionally, see 06 SB396/AP, The Castle Law in Georgia

I’m not entirely sure what a 7mm mag. would do to a poodle but I imagine it’s something akin to what the bumper of a Mack truck, doing 100 mph, will do to a pigeon.

So suggarfoot if I were you I'd keep my ‘poodle’ on a leash.

While I’m at it sugarfoot, where’s your outrage to this "Man arrested at Walmart for punching pit bull".

You should know better than to drink beer in a public place.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Thu, 12/10/2009 - 6:00am.

"You should know better than to drink beer in a public place."
I don't drink beer, and if I did, it wouldn't be in public.

Speak softly, 'Normal Guy' might hear you and come back for more fun.

"I haven't had this much fun reading the Citizen in quite awhile!"...

Remember he doesn't need to 'pack a weapon' to feel complete.
Nor fear what is lurking behind the crepe myrtles on the golf cart paths!

Nor does he sit and admire his wall of stuffed pet head trophies and notche his pistol grip for every charging poodle he killed, ...

"You know, bad_ptc, my father once told me that the guy who hides behind threats and bluster is the guy who has nothing but his mouth to make up for his lack of personal courage and self worth. "

Mine use to tell me never date men who feel inferior to others. They are always trying to prove something at others expense. Real men don't have to.

Normal Guy's picture
Submitted by Normal Guy on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 3:22am.

As much as I wanted to comment on another of bad_ptc's editorials about his incredible prowness as a man with a loaded weapon, I was waiting for him to equate it to the rest of us being personally lacking morons. In my defense, I'm on Day 8 of my Personal Lacking Moron path of self discovery and have been deeply involved in daily meditation. But since you called my name, SF.... If I apply basic b_ptc logic (Step 4 in the PLM program) , I'm not sure what to do about this Walmart incident... ban all pit bulls? Ban all drunks? Ban all parking lots? Hmmm, what to do.... I still haven't been attacked by any wild packs of pets though and that puzzles me.
I guess I kinda get the loose connection between a law that allows someone to shoot dogs running deer and bad_PTC shooting any pet that moves near him... the deer and b_ptc probably have the same look in their eyes when chased.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 7:19am.

"the deer and b_ptc probably have the same look in their eyes when chased" you could be a stand up comedian if you wanted.

Normal Guy's picture
Submitted by Normal Guy on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 10:55am.

..don't forget to tip your waiters an waitresses...

Git Real's picture
Submitted by Git Real on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 7:40am.

I highly doubt either of you will ever chase him. The "deer being chased" look will appear in your eyes when this dude turns around, stares you in the eye and commands you to 'bring your game'. I can see the wetness around you ankles now. Eye-wink

Obama.... The Bernie Madoff Of Washington

Normal Guy's picture
Submitted by Normal Guy on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 8:00am.

my game's just fine the way it is...but thanks for your concern.

Mike King's picture
Submitted by Mike King on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 8:34am.

It must be Friday and all seem to have had a pretty good week for it's been awhile since the testerone levels were this high. And here I was thinking this site was designed for intellectual banter. Bonkers must be proud.

Normal Guy's picture
Submitted by Normal Guy on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 8:42am.

.. just saying thanks for the concern (polite banter?)... besides, no one can compete with Bonkers or Bonker's banter! Have a great Friday!

BTW- enjoyed your Thanksgiving post!

Mike King's picture
Submitted by Mike King on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 8:47am.

You do the same! May even convince myself to have a cold adult beverage when I get home. Merry Christmas!

Normal Guy's picture
Submitted by Normal Guy on Fri, 12/11/2009 - 10:50am.

... in a Walmart parking lot after that beverage... you might get Stay Safe, Brother.

Robert W. Morgan's picture
Submitted by Robert W. Morgan on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 6:02am.

What can I say other than when you are right, you are right. The new mayor and council have a few challenges ahead of them, but just saying no to pet projects, special interests, rezonings and annexations (and street sales if for some reason that comes up again).

The next 2 - and possibly 4 years will be a back-to-basics management task for the mayor and council. I think we did a good job of electing some serious and dedicated people and I have no reason to believe they have any individual agendas or harmful pet projects - and if they do, I doubt they can put 3 votes together for something really stupid (like selling streets or rezoning industrial land to residential).

You nailed it Steve, I hope the 5 in charge next year have read it and walk the walk. Imker certainly seem to be on board with his thank you note in today's paper. Haddix will get it as well. He will micromanage without a doubt, but I don't think he will be allowed to cut anything important. The user fees for recreation makes some sense if it is managed properly and fairly. Fair means to avoid the obvious objection of double taxation by collecting more (at least double or triple) from out of city or out of county residents.

Good article, Steve. Still too long. Cal needs to edit you like he does everyone else. If you left out the paragraphs self-praising yourself and Rapson and the one trashing the Chamber of Commerce, it would be the right length and the readers who default to "Oh no, why doesn't Steve Brown just shut up and go away" would take you more seriously.

On the Chamber of Commerce, you are entirely wrong to suggest they pushed any project like TDK extension or anything else. The Chamber is made up of 800 hard-working small business people who support each other and the community. At times in the past the Chamber leadership has used their position improperly to champion one cause or the other - but the 800+ individual members (and voters) don't deserve wholesale and endless trashing just because a few "leaders"hijacked the Chamber name for their pet projects. The 800+ are not political, they are pro local business, that's all. The 800+ also tolerate temporary memberships of those running for political office - same as Kiwanis and Rotary - sound familiar?

Spear Road Guy's picture
Submitted by Spear Road Guy on Wed, 12/09/2009 - 7:15pm.

The Chamber of Commerce isn't political??? Give us a break RW Morgan!

Vote Republican

mudcat's picture
Submitted by mudcat on Tue, 12/15/2009 - 7:00am.

Just a few leaders working their way up the ladder use the power of the Chamber to further their own agenda or ambitions.

I am certain that the majority of the Chamber members do not think it is a political organization - unless you view supporting local businesses as a political goal.

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