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Small crowd at budget meeting says 'Tax us'

The overwhelming majority of about 50 people at Peachtree City’s town hall meeting on the budget indicated they don’t support cuts in city services, city staffing levels or employee benefits.

After Mayor Don Haddix asked for a show of hands on those matters, he asked for the same on how many people would support a property tax increase. About 30 people raised their hands, and among that number were a few city employees.

About six members of the audience indicated they favored a cut in services and also a cut in employee benefits, though only three were willing to support cutting employees’ pay.

Several residents argued that the city should cut services in some form in a bid to avoid a tax increase.

Mark Ballard, a recreation commission member, noted that the recreation department has taken its funding cuts and that parent associations in various sports have stepped up to fill the void with extra grass cutting and other maintenance improvements the city can’t handle due to budgetary constraints.

Ballard referenced the city’s slogan: “Plan to Stay,” in his remarks.

“I don’t think many people would plan to stay if they don’t have some quality of life,” Ballard said.

Several other residents said they would like to see the city increase the frequency of lawn mowing off secondary streets from the current three times a year. One resident said it should be upped to six times a year.

Several speakers, including those who commented via the Internet, suggested that cuts could be made in public safety, specifically the police department.

The city has the second-lowest ratio of officers per thousand residents among cities its size, yet the crime rate of “more serious” classified crimes has increased 92 percent since 2004. In the same time frame, the number of traffic citations has decreased from about 9,500 to just over 6,200 because officers must spend more time investigating the more serious crimes, City Manager Bernie McMullen said in his opening remarks.

Beyond McMullen’s presentation, the remainder of the meeting was dedicated to citizen comments on the budget.

Resident Robert Brown suggested that the reason the city is in a fiscal quandary despite a significant increase in revenue each year due to increases in property values.

“Our level of service and level of expenditures have gotten out of whack with the city population,” Brown said, urging the city to cut costs further before adopting a property tax increase.

The city is facing an $18 million shortfall over the next five years, in part because it will have to begin funding an estimated $1.5 million in 2013 when SPLOST funds are exhausted for street and cart path maintenance.

Also, the city is anticipating an annual $1 million hit in 2013 when the local option sales tax distribution formula is renegotiated. That decrease would be tied to the city’s more stable population compared to other areas in Fayette County that are continuing to grow, McMullen noted.

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I yam what I yam

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<cite><strong>Don Haddix
Peachtree City Mayor</strong></cite>

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