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Imker: No progress on PTC budget mess

Now that Peachtree City’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget has been released I need to point out several concerns.

I had previously told you we faced a $20 million ($19.6 million) shortfall over the next five years. This included next year’s FY2011 being $1.2 million short. The proposed budget still shows an $18.1 million problem for the next five years. Not only that, the solution to next year’s budget being proposed uses city reserves of $764,000 and a tax increase for $459,000.

So there you have it. No real progress in facing the city’s budget problem. I cannot stand by and allow this to go unchallenged.

I proposed $2 million in possible cuts and savings over a month ago. Little of it was included. Apparently tough decisions can’t be made.

First, allow me to summarize out how we got into this mess:

1. The 2005 SPLOST. $6 million was used to offset day-to-day operations. Basically, the shell game was used with the money.

2. The 2004 library bond for $4.9 million. Council put it on the ballot, it passed, and then council failed to raise the millage rate to pay for it. We’re now paying nearly $8 million with principle and interest for this bond.

3. Hiring over 30 safety employees without a corresponding millage rate increase. Cost around $2 million.

4. The city generously picked up the $1.6 million airport bond in 2002. Full cost with interest: over $2 million. We, the citizens, are stilling paying $165,000 a year for this until 2015!

5. The city generously picked up the $1 million tab for the tennis center. Full cost with interest: over $1.5 million. We, the citizens, are stilling paying $150,000 a year for this until around 2016.

6. Let’s not forget our favorite: The economy.

All these are very rough numbers, of course. But the message is there.

I disagree that we’re understaffed.

I disagree with more taxes. We can do it without raising them; tough decisions are needed.

I disagree with using city reserves to balance the budget. I’ve pointed out numerous times what the extra over our policy of 20 percent reserves should be used for.

I disagree with comparisons that are only there to show one side. Real-life comparison is best.

I disagree with surveys that are skewed to obtain the answer desired.

The way the two budget questions were asked on the January survey were a joke. I prefer the only survey that counts. It was two months earlier where the taxpayers said “No” to new taxes by an overwhelming margin.

I can ask a survey question that will get you to agree to ultimately give me a million bucks if I word it right.

I disagree that we can’t find an able body looking for work [who] would be absolutely thrilled to get a city job with a vested retirement plan after working only five years, 10 years for fire or police!

I disagree with city employees who feel they should not contribute more to solving the problem. What would they do if they worked in the commercial/business world?

Don’t pull the old morale story on me. What about the morale of those who have taken pay cuts already, those who no longer have a defined benefit retirement plan, those who no longer have their employer contributing to their 401k retirement plan, those who have lost their jobs and can’t find work?

These folks are several orders of magnitude worse off than government employees.

I’ve been asked, “Why don’t we just raise taxes?” The assumption here is that it’s only about $30 a year for a one-quarter mill millage rate increase.

OK, I’ll answer that. You may be able to afford a tax increase. Indeed, I can certainly afford it. In fact, with the affluence in PTC, probably most folks can.

But some folks have to choose between, do I pay $20 to join Fayette Senior Services for the year or do I pay $10 to join the Gathering Place for the year? Many, many folks just can’t afford any tax increase.

I am not prepared to tell them that we’ve been unable to make the hard decisions and you’ll just have to pay.

By the way, a “tax only solution” to solving the budget problem is not a one-quarter mill tax; it’s about 2 mills beginning with next year’s budget.

That’s not just $30 a year; it’s closer to $250 a year, every year, for an average home with a fair market value of about $270,000.

Do you have an extra thousand bucks lying around you don’t need? Again, this was for the “tax only solution.”

How many of you citizens really think that, if you give government more money, that later they’ll lower taxes? You’re dreaming if you think that. I know, because I am on the inside of government now!

But I’m not your typical government politician. I will fight for those who would be run over by those who can’t make tough decisions.

We start budget debates on Tuesday, June 1, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. I personally invite you to attend and watch the spectacle that will unfold. I hope we can have a constructive meeting with open minds and address the budget problems with real solutions.

Eric Imker

City Council Post 1

eimker@peachtree-city.org

Peachtree City, Ga.

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