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Mayor Addresses Budget Questions

Peachtree Corners mayor addresses budget concerns in a letter to residents.

Dear Citizens of Peachtree Corners,

After hearing from many of you following our first public hearing on the City’s proposed budget, I’d like to address two common concerns and the perceptions surrounding them: 

Perception:   We [Mayor and Council] are proposing a budget so high we cannot keep the one (1) millage rate promised during the campaign for cityhood.

Fact: The budget is exactly a 1 mill budget, which is what we stated during the campaign.  This 1 mill equates to a $10 per month increase in property taxes on a $300,000 home.

Perception: The Carl Vinson Institute’s Feasibility Study (CVI report) recommended a first year budget for the City.

Fact:  The report, issued in March 2010, solely:

  • Provided the Legislature with an estimated millage rate at which the City was feasible.  The report did not recommend a specific dollar expense budget for a first-year city facing unknown risks and approximately $1,005,000 in one-time start-up costs.
  • Recommended a 1 mill rate, which the state legislature accepted and wrote into our founding charter to ensure the City had sufficient funding to begin operations.  
  • Included, as guidelines, certain assumptions, which are not included in the budget because they are not reasonable (i.e., issuing long term bonds to build a City Hall).

I encourage you to read the proposed budget and the CVI report, noting its last sentence: “…the persons who would be responsible for the initial budget of the new city should be careful in the use of the data presented in this report and should probably add a margin of safety to our revenue estimates.”

During this important start-up phase, we ask that you focus with us on the budget, itself, and specifically:  revenue assumptions; level of service desired; known start-up costs; and, most importantly, the margin of safety needed for those unknown risks we might face.  The Council is committed to being good financial stewards of budgeted funds.

Please join us for the last public hearing on the budget Tuesday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Robert D. Fowler YMCA.   If you would like me to discuss the budget and the City’s progress at your HOA or civic meeting, please contact me at Mike.Mason@cityofpeachtreecornersga.com.

Thanks for your continued support of our efforts on your behalf.

Respectfully,
 
Mike Mason
Mayor

Bob Martell June 25, 2012 at 10:19 PM
With all due respect Mr Mayor, this is what is commonly known in politi-speak as a ‘strawman’ argument. Please be advised, there is NO perception that the budget is so high that a 1 mil tax rate wont cover it. The perception, nay the reality, is that you along with Tom Rice, Dan Weber, Mary Kay Murphy, Lynnette Howard and others sold the residents of Peachtree Corners on the idea of a city-lite based on the CVI feasibility study. I was in attendance at a townhall mtg at the Winters Chapel Methodist Church where you (and Dan Weber and Wayne Knox) told the ‘crowd’ (if you can call 35 people a crowd) that per the feasibility study it would only cost +/- $800,000 to run the city. You and Dan went on to explain further that since Dunwoody gets over $3 million from franchise fees that based on population Peachtree Corners could expect to collect between $1.5 million and $2 million in franchise fees and therefore run at a surplus negating the need for a property tax. The perception is that you misled the people of Peachtree Corners. And the more you try to explain away this $2.7 million monstrosity, complete with its ludicrous $100, 000 24hr call center, 25% percent 401K contributions for employees and $30,000 relocation expenses, the more that perception becomes solidified.
Ben June 25, 2012 at 10:41 PM
The problem is we read the study, and we VOTED on the study. The citizens of Peachtree Corners need the leaders,(city council members) to vote with what we all were told to believe. We trusted them when the vote for cityhood was brought up. Now the mayor wants to change horses before we even get out of the gate. Three city services, "Lite City", "self determination" any other falsehoods the citizens of Peachtree Corners can expect? Are the citizens of Peachtree Corners going to have a voice? You heard them at the last meeting... NOW ACT ON THEIR WISHES....
Jim Nelems June 25, 2012 at 11:36 PM
We have until December 31, 2013 to get the city set up. There is absolutely no legitimate reason at all to rush things and get it all done in June 2012. Lets take our time, get citizens input and learn as we go along. Who says a qualified person would not take the job without $30K moving expenses? Who says we need a call center, after all we have gotten along 40 years without it. And why give the new manager more in 401K payments than most companies give their long term employees. Surely any employer contribution would not be made until at least one year of service.
Mim Harris June 26, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Mr. Mayor you promised the people of this area a "City Lite" and that is what we expect. We do not need a 24x7-call center, the pay packages are extreme, and we should definitely find local talent and have no reason to pay relocation costs. The mileage rate was said to "go up to 1 mil" and not start at 1 mil. You have a very important job and that is to set the right foundation of fiscal responsibility and restraint. Reduce the budget and reduce the mileage rate.
Jimmy Neese June 26, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Mayor are you listening to these comments you are getting? Sounds like the city lite has already gone out the door with relocation fees and 401ks and 24 hour call center. You said in every meeting I attended that you were going by the CVI study and there would be surplus you thought.. Well it doesn'tlook like any surplus to me. Looks like you are trying to give it away. Then at the last meeting you seemed to blame it on the unknowns. How many more since we have become a city do you not know about. Say someone trips on a sidewalk in the new Peachtree Corners and decides to sue the city like they did the city of Atlanta for 12 million dollars. . Yes your right a real big unknown and you are going to be the one who pushed this mess on us. If we end up in that kind of unknown. God forbid. That ,Mayor and council could change a budget overnight. I really don't think the fesability study got a lot of examining before the leap. And i don't think the budget got very much either. We could see taxes skyrocket if the wrong things happen like many more unknowns. Are you listening? You need to do as you said city lite and keep it that way.
Harry Dorfman June 26, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I propose we fund a local trash dump to support one of the voted on functions and name it after Mason....a fitting tribute. DO the community a favor and resign.
Allan Peel June 26, 2012 at 03:14 PM
There are 6 other city councilmen / councilwoman that are suddenly very quiet and have not been posting comments or opinions to the Patch on the budget situation. Odd how most of them offered their opinions before the election, and now they are silent. In a prior posted comment, I had hoped that they would each review the budget individually and speak up on their thoughts on many of the individual line items. Guess it was too much to hope for. I now hope they will have some comments at the public hearing later this evening. A one way dialog from the public to the council without an opportunity to hear their formal responses, or for formal and public Q&A (which was the rules established at the last public hearing), leaves the audience with a dire sense that our voices are going unheard. To some extent, this is reinforced by the latest round of comments offered by our Mayor in the article above. If we are being heard, is there not a 'revised' budget being prepared? If so, where is it? Or will the council simply vote on the $2.7M budget presented last week?
UHaveGotToBeKidding June 26, 2012 at 03:18 PM
it appears you are correct Allan, they are going to just vote this in. We are not being heard and we are being given more of the same, just at a higher cost! Very sad...
Robert J. Nebel June 26, 2012 at 03:21 PM
This budget ought to be cut by at least 40-50 percent. It is tough to justify that the citizens need to support these staff salaries, benefits, franchise fees, taxes and a call center - in this economic climate. With all of these blog posts and the responses, I have yet to see anyone completely and rationally defending this budget.
Bill Lowe June 26, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Should Brookhaven be concerned about their city vote coming up on July 31st? The city of Brookhaven would have more than 3 services including police and roads/drainage. They are also using the CVI study to sell their city. Of course those doing the selling see nothing but bright lights, big city. Failure of the CVI study is an impossibility. They just really want to have a city. Any insight on this?
Bob June 26, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Robert, I am sure that someone will correct me on this, but I believe that Public Servants (such as the City Manager and City Clerk) do not receive Social Security so the 401k amount that is in the budget for the City Manager is probably about spot on as are the rest of the benefits for the true city employees. As for the office equipment and costs for the new "city hall", I believe that those may be projected a little high but are still within reason. If the items are purchased this year, then they should come off the budget for next year. The only problem that I have with the budget is the Call Center. The Mayor has been promoting this since the city was approved, and the whole time I have wondered why. The only logical explanation that I have been able to devise is that the City Clerk and/or City Manager may not be able to handle all of the phone calls about the illegal signs for the Peachtree Corners Festival and for the proper departments to call at the county to discuss business licenses (that last part is in reference to the fact that I thought the Charter still called for those fees to be collected by the county). Again, some of this information may not be complete or it may be incorrect, but that's how I see the budget. There really is no way to decrease it, at least in the first year, to the desired amount. But there may be a way in the upcoming years, so long as we stay vigilant.
Bob Martell June 26, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Bill, Brookhaven should be concerned for a number of reasons, some of which we here are experiencing now…If Brookhaven votes yes and becomes a city, you will quickly find out that the CVI study doesn’t matter. Y’all are wasting an inordinate amount of time arguing over it down there. It is not a legally binding document. What matters is your charter and the people you elect to your council and mayor positions. They will use the highest tax millage rate allowed and then budget backwards from that number. You will quickly learn that all the things that were promised during the campaign cant possibly delivered for the amount of money you will have. You think your problem is that the CVI isn’t giving you enough police officers, but wait until you have to buy them uniforms, guns and patrol cars and find out you don’t qualify for the quantity discounts that Dekalb gets because y’all have 1/10th the number of officers they do. And then there are the training costs, liability insurance and a police station, and before you know it they will scratch the Parks Dept so they can use the money for police. When some other more essential service ends up costing more than expected, the roads department will get the axe next. And before long, you will be paying more taxes and receiving fewer and/or lesser quality services than you are getting now. Spend your energies fixing Dekalb Co. Otherwise in a few years you’ll be trying to fix Brookhaven and Dekalb will still be screwed up.
Bob June 26, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Bill, I would only question about when was the last time a CVI study failed to produce a positive feasibility study. I would also point to the problems that Dunwoody is still having in paving their roads (they are better than what they were, but they still aren't paved) and the corruption that can still take place when you are governed by your neighbors (see the Dunwoody City Council).
Bob Martell June 26, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Bob, if you look at the line items in the budget, you will note that the city manager’s ‘budget’ includes $9,000 for health insurance, $1,200 for long term disability ins, $700 for dental ins, $1500 for life ins, $6278 for Social Security, $1468 for Medicare, $750 for unemployment and $996 for workers comp. All this is mandated by one law or another and is in addition to the $25,313 for his/ her 401K plan… If there are startup costs in this budget that wont be there next year, then the mayor and council should have been talking about it often and publicly for weeks or longer now. Instead they have hidden inside this cone of silence and let the confusion and anger fester. Now the only way they can regain any semblance of public trust is to slash this budget drastically. Then maybe next year, when they have regained some trust, they can try to add some stuff back in.
Bob June 26, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Bob (It almost sounds like we are having a discussion with ourselves), I agree that it would be nice for Alex, Jeanne, or any of the other proponents of cityhood to come back and discuss the startup costs. I debated with Alex quite a bit about how there would be a need for a tax to pay for the city and he rather strongly disagreed me with everytime about it. Would I like to see the budget more in line with the CVI? You bet. Do I think it can happen? No way. Would I like an apology? Absolutely. Will I get one? Doubtful.
David Leader June 26, 2012 at 05:37 PM
The whole budget leaves a bad feeling in all of our stomachs. I know Mike, he seemed like an honest guy; I really don't know what he was thinking with all of this. It's crazy. At least try to justify these expenses; the call center and the ludicrous benefits make no sense whatsoever.
Eric H June 26, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Yes it appears PC has budgeted backwards based on the revenues available and thus by choice exceeded the cost estimates in the CVI study. And that is the big difference. The Brookhaven Millage Cap of 3.35 that is in the Charter is accepted as the an approximate tax rate, though it could end up being less. The Brookhaven Charter is basically lifted from the GA Model Code Charter for municipalities (and also largely used by other cities). PC's charter according to comments I've read appears to have set a millage cap that allowed for council members to stay within the Charter's limit but go well outside the projections set by the CVI study thus we have the current situation of people saying they were told one thing (700k in expenses) but got another (2.1 million in expenses). Because Brookhaven's 3.35 millage cap leads to projections for the 25 million dollars in expenses and revenues (millage cap is 25% of total revenues) there really isn't room for budgeting beyond what was promised. PC is the first time in recent history that a proposed budget has blown past the projected expenses in the CVI study and i do NOT think its coincidental with the fact that the Charter allowed for this. It also seems odd how a city with such a limited budget even at $2.5 million can justify the cost of a full time city manager and a mayor and 6 council people.
Harry Dorfman June 26, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Why are the consultants recommending a pay structure that may be appropriate for a full-on city. City lite is a position requiring fewer duties. Trash, code and zoning....not too hard of a gig especially when everything is farmed out to contractors. Sounds like an at best $70k job. It would be a good stepping stone position for someone wanting to move up in the future, not an alternative for an experienced full city manager. It is really easy to say: well I guess you DO need $100k, or whatever it is...its only tax dollars
Eric H June 26, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Dunwoody evidences that the CVI study numbers were correct and that the city was viable. Dunwoody while the beneficiary of a lucrative tax base has a greater level of service at a lower tax rate than those of us next door in unincorporated DeKalb. As Bob correctly points out this includes a far greater budget for road paving in Dunwoody than what DeKalb was doing or would be doing today. As to corruption on the City Council I think that's a strong statement. Yes there is silly bickering over who leaked, or if information was leaked, and this led to what appears to be an unnecessary expenditure of $50,000. But the neat thing about a smaller government with council people that have more precise roles is that its easier to hold them accountable. And thus in the last election an incumbent council person was voted out. In the past 20 plus years an incumbent commissioner has never been voted out in DeKalb County (and its probably longer than that). And an incumbent CEO has never been voted out. Seems to me Gwinnett has had similar problems. Remember the grass roots movement to do that write in candidate and how they disqualified him? I wish the citizens of P Corners luck in getting expenses under control however don't let yourselves be used by people with other agendas that are seeking to stop the city of Brookhaven.
Doug Heckman June 26, 2012 at 09:12 PM
I, too, think the numbers look a bit high - but I/we voted for the Mayor and 6 City Councilmen (even if you didn't vote for them, they were duly elected). I trust them to do the right thing. They have lots of information and have the "whole picture" of what it takes to start a city lite. I know they are paid little and I thank thank them for representing us.
Mary June 26, 2012 at 10:59 PM
So Doug, What do you think of $3 per person /$100K budget item (Using PCC pop est of 35,000) for a call center... for three services... with waste disposal being completely contracted out? Readers, historically, how many times a year do you call the county for zoning, and/or code compliance, and or waste disposal services? It's ZERO for me. I know some big organizations that get by with a website and voice mail... like the Gwinnett county school system. No, thank you, this does not represent me. IMO, this call center expense is very indicative that the "budget" is bloated and not in keeping with what voted in, that is, "city lite".
HamBurger June 27, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Mr. Eric, regarding the Brookhaven folks, this is a huge signal that all may not be well in Rep. Mike Jacobs little new city world. Indeed, as Mr. Martell points out, ultimately, the Vinson study means absolutely nothing. What we have here in Rep. Jacobs future city of Brookhaven is a extreme case of unknown workable new city numbers and absolutely no knowledge of just who is planning to run for office. Yet, we have a select group of folks that think this new city idea is just wonderful. Mr. Martell is right; we just need to concentrate on reforming DeKalb County government instead of wasting time on creating a new city. By the way, just where is Rep. Mike Jacobs? Please pass the yellow mustard!
Duluth2 June 27, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Yes, they were duly elected, and I even voted for some of them :-) If they have the "whole picture" behind this budget, then they need to do a better job of communicating the reasons for the budget items that have been questioned and responding to the concerns expressed by the people whom they represent. None of us should blindly trust that our elected representatives will "do the right thing". Nor should we assume our representatives can read our minds.
Bob June 27, 2012 at 10:26 AM
I'm reminded of an old popular phrase, "You can't fight city hall." I suppose it still rings true today.
Tina Russo June 27, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I've been reviewing the budget again today and have some comments. #1. I don't believe that these city employees are exempt from SS as are some Federal employees. If they are, why is there a line item budget for SS/medicare at all. #2. why would we give the city mgr a 25% 401K match and all of the other employees only 17%. I would like to see this 401K plan document. Each employee should be handled the same and the match should be no more than 6%. #3. If we will be paying an accounting manager $85k/year, what is the $50k needed for "Contractual services" to handle AP, AR, Procurement. Heck I could do that job for $20k part-time with no problem. #4. The relocation/temp housing for a new city mgr of $30k should not be necessary. We should be looking for local talent. #5. I haven't really heard anyone mention the "Community Development" budgeted salary of $120k. Plus $75k for Professional svcs - community dev. Tina
Rob Northrup June 28, 2012 at 08:37 AM
If it is so fraught with risk to become a city, perhaps we should cancel the whole city idea...
Rob Northrup June 28, 2012 at 08:38 AM
I don't trust ANY politician to "do the right thing", they need to be constantly watched over or they get delusional with other people's money.
Juan Blanco February 20, 2013 at 09:49 PM
Bob, I know this is old news already, but I do like and very much agree with your thought process. I would like to meet you and have the opportunity to sit down and exchange ideas regarding the new city, it's generous budget, our elected officials, surprising announcement to become landowners, etc... Please contact me via email jblanco@galaxyllc.net. I will forward my cell number privately when I reply to your email. Thanks... Juan Blanco, President Gran River HOA

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