With a detailed, hour-long budget presentation Peachtree City Council Member Eric Imker successfully persuaded council to drop the proposed 1-mill property tax increase for the coming fiscal year and pass, instead, an amended budget with no tax increase.
The budget that had been proposed by City Manager Jim Pennington, Finance Director Paul Salvatore, and other staff included an increase in the Maintenance and Operation millage rate from 6.756 to 7.756, which would have added an extra $100 to the average home owner’s bill anad brought in around $1.7 million in extra revenue. The increase was intended to pay for added services which Pennington and Salvatore both said were budgeted in response to the direction they were given by council going back to workshops in January.
Most notably, the proposed tax increase was supposed to pay to bring the city’s landscaping and mowing activities in-house and to increase road paving and cart maintenance efforts. Also included in the proposed budget was a 3-percent pay raise for city employees, increased litter removal efforts, and added funds for infrastructure maintenance (primarily to bridges).
Salvatore said this year had been “the first in the 14 years I’ve been here” that the perceived “marching orders” coming from council hadn’t been to prevent a tax increase. He said that this year, during budget workshops early in the year, council seemed interested in addressing areas of lagging service.
“The budget was based more on the goals and objectives we believed the council had all along before tonight,” Salvatore said as council discussed eliminating the proposed tax increase. “It’s changing at the eleventh hour to ‘We want zero millage rate increase,’ and those are no longer the goals. We’ll adjust accordingly.”
Pennington agreed that Imker’s modifications to the budget were a departure from those stated goals.
“To put it bluntly, you’re changing your priorities. That’s what it is,” Pennington said.
Council Members Mike King and Kim Learnard were on board with Imker’s proposed changes to the budget, while Terry Ernst resisted parts of his plan, and Mayor Vanessa Fleisch showed some frustration with the sudden shift.
“Other than it lasted 58 minutes, I thought it was a pretty good presentation,” King said of Imker’s pitch, which finished close to 11 p.m. in what ended up being a more than four hour meeting.
Learnard also supported the general thrust of Imker’s proposal, though she and the other council members disagreed with some of the 18 changes he suggested should be made to the budget. The motion to approve became somewhat convoluted as some of those 18 items were left out, but Imker’s general plan was adopted in place of what the council had been set to vote on before the meeting began.
Ernst said he “liked a lot of what Eric had to say,” though he then motioned that the council approve the 1-mill increase as proposed. That motion died for lack of a second.
Imker’s motion to pass a millage rate with no increase passed 3-2, with Learnard and King joining him. Ernst and Fleisch voted against.
Fleisch suggested then that the council table a vote on the budget so that staff would have time to adapt it with the knowledge that it would not include a tax increase. Pennington agreed that it would be wise to do so. That motion was put forth by Ernst, but also died for lack of a second.
The council then approved the Fiscal Year 2015 to reflect many of the changes Imker had proposed in his presentation. Several of his suggested amendments were dropped and some were voted on separately.
Imker said after the vote that the proposed budget would still be amended by staff to accommodate some of the changes, but that this vote would “give staff a baseline to work from.”
Fleisch said the staff might argue “they’ve been working on [the budget] since November or December.”