Councilwoman Learnard: PTC is working toward a sustainable budget
Since the first of June, your Peachtree City Council has spent an unprecedented amount of time hammering out a budget for the coming years. After five public workshops and hundreds of additional hours of research and discussion, a sustainable budget is now on the near horizon.
Budget solutions have not come easy. Like most American households, Peachtree City spent decades taking for granted a thriving economy, multiple home sales, new developments, low unemployment, and booming businesses. Also like most American households, habits from the past have come back to haunt us.
What’s the problem? Peachtree City is in debt. Over the next five years, we owe approximately $18 million – on an annual budget of approximately $25 million.
I hope you are shocked by that amount of debt. I am. This debt is a result of past City Council decisions — staff recommendations that would have alleviated the problem have gone unheeded for years.
Debts accumulated over the years include: Airport Bond in 2002; Library Bond in 2004; Development Authority Debt in 2008; and a Public Safety staff increase of 28 over the last four years, all implemented without a tax increase that would have covered these costs.
In addition, SPLOST monies have been used to support road and cart path construction and maintenance for the last five years. SPLOST revenue is now gone, yet we still need $1.5 million each year to pay for these activities. (Special thanks here to Council Member Imker for his exhaustive research.)
What can we do to fix it? First, a city has the responsibility to reduce costs and increase efficiency to the greatest extent possible. Our staff has been reduced from 259 to 225 full-time employees over the last two years.
Peachtree City has an extremely low staff to population ratio in comparison with other cities of our size. Staff members’ required contributions to their healthcare plan have increased by 100 percent. They received no merit or COLA increases in 2010 and will receive none in 2011. Every department has reduced their ranks, slashed their operating budgets, and is still being asked to do more with less.
We have reduced funding for new library materials, delayed capital expenditures, deferred replacements of computers, and postponed needed maintenance on police cars.
In late March we removed the potted plants from the lobby of City Hall. Reductions in maintenance staff have left librarians — people with master’s degrees! — to crawl under bathroom stall doors left locked, and unclog toilets using tools they fashion out of office supplies.
I believe that we have bottomed out. Everything has a cost. Additional cuts to staff will be the tipping point – either we will lose experienced, dedicated staff members; or we will bear the cost of increased absenteeism, accidents, workers’ comp and grievances that come with a demoralized workforce. We have a dedicated, quality staff worth keeping and worth supporting. We need to keep them and I fully support them.
We have a city to run. Public input has leaned heavily on the idea that citizens moved here so they could enjoy certain services and amenities, and they are not willing to give them up.
With an eye toward maintaining our city at current levels, paying down debt, and conservatively estimating future revenue sources, council is now comparing different millage rate budget models that will solve the problem.
From all we have seen so far, I support the millage rate model with the lowest accumulated property tax increase over the next five years.
Please read that again because it is of paramount importance. This council is not working on a one-year solution; we are budgeting for five years, and planning for 10 years and beyond.
We are also documenting budget policies with resolutions that should prevent Peachtree City from finding itself in this kind of debt situation again.
I am grateful for the dozens of citizens who have taken the time to learn and discuss the budget along with council – your input continues to be invaluable.
Our next budget workshop is July 8. As we all bask in the memories of the best July 4th celebration Peachtree City has ever enjoyed, I am confident that when the process is complete we will have a budget under control, a plan for the future, reason to be optimistic, and a renewed Peachtree City spirit. Cheers!
PTC City Council Post 3
Peachtree City, Ga.