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Letter: What Are Priorities of Powder Springs?

Money shouldn't be used for things like an increase in retirement pay for council members while the police department is driving cars with high mileage.

We’ve just begun a new year and a “new” council, with three of the six elected official after the last November. What are they doing and where are they leading the city of Powder Springs?

First order of business after the election: The “old” council . At a cost to the taxpayer of approximately $4,800 per year for 30 years, the mayor and council members will now receive $8 more per month on their retirement pay for each year of service as an elected official.

The majority compared this increase favorably with a maximum one-time bonus of $500 for city employees, the first increase of any kind they received in four years. When the mayor retires, she will receive an extra $480 each month for life based on this latest increase—that is unless the retirement amount is raised again within the next four years.

Next order of business: Establish a money amount for a new tax for all property owners, even churches, based on the rain that falls on the roof and driveway. I have and at least one businessman agrees, stating that this additional revenue for the city is not a utility in that it cannot be turned on and off; it is a tax.

The city’s argument that it is not based on value has been refuted as well because larger, more valuable property, is assessed (taxed) at a higher rate. What happened to the campaign statements about caring for current businesses and attracting new businesses in this recessionary period?

One of the first two projects promised from stormwater revenue is to fix a problem on Sailors Parkway, a project that would previously have been paid from road repair funds.

The city shows total “Storm Water Management” expenses in the last fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 of $83,191. Do the “unfunded mandates” from state and federal sources really total $385,000 that the city says is needed from stormwater revenues? Or are items that the city has historically paid from general funds going to be shifted to “Storm Water Management” to build up a need for that much money?

That answer seems to be “yes,” so what budget categories will be moved and what will then be done with the general fund surplus? See the above paragraph regarding that which would have been paid with road repair funds now proposed to be paid from stormwater funds—what will become of the road repair funds? 

We see the newspaper and TV accounts of unsafe cars in Powder Springs. This is not the first time that Chief Charlie Sewell expressed concern for the safety of our officers and the public about high-mileage cars needing to be replaced.

Former Chief L. Rick Richardson also brought this to the mayor and council’s attention a few years ago. We can find money for elected officials' increased retirement payments but not our police officers’ safety? We can find money to go to Brasstown Valley Resort for an annual retreat for the mayor and council each of the last three years, but we require professional public safety officers to operate inferior equipment?

Several years ago, a great plan was set up to trade-in and purchase garbage trucks in a way that would not allow the city to incur the tremendous increases in maintenance costs that happen when trucks have been used for five years. One truck was purchased then, none since.

All of our garbage trucks are now more than five years old and maintenance costs have significantly increased. Sounds like our police car situation, doesn’t it? Like the old TV commercial said, “Pay me now or pay me (more) later.”

Our elected officials put together a list of needed projects to be paid for if the public approved . How does a cultural arts center become needed during a recessionary period, especially at a cost of $250,000?

The loses money every year. Rental income during 2011 was $8,390; expenses totaled $32,388. (There is additional value to the city in having a “free” place to hold the State of the City address and other city-related meetings.)  

Can we afford to build another venue that will require expenses on a scale greater than the Ford Center? Perhaps in good times, but monuments to be named for public officials is not the legacy of recessionary times.

Has any study been conducted that would indicate a cultural arts center will bring in enough revenue to, at the very least, offset the expenses? Look at the other venues around the area—most are losing money and are subsidized by governments.

If it is such a great idea, why hasn’t private funding been sought? Where is the private fundraising effort that was suggested several years ago?

There was an agenda item on the last City Council meeting about a “First Reading” of a “budget amendment” with no explanation as to what was being amended and for how much. The mayor/council just amended the budget in December to allow for the increased cost to fund the retirement pay increase; what might this be?

It’s all about priorities, and it seems there is a problem. We know there are finite dollars coming in. We know there is a recession and that small cities and governments all over the country are getting by the best they can, with some even failing.

But we also know that hard choices must be made and every nickel must be squeezed to get the most for our tax dollars. And other priorities need to be considered as well; when will redistricting of the wards based on the be undertaken? With the new homes built and occupied since 2000, Ward 1 seems to be over-represented.

It’s not rocket science, but it requires making decisions that are in the best interest of the city and the taxpayers. For instance, a temporary rollback in mayor/council pay to the level before the last pay increase will save $21,000 per year.

Staying in the city for the budget retreat will save at least $2,000 per year instead of going out of town, plus employee’s mileage back and forth will be saved.

Does the mayor really need $4,560 for “cellular phones” as shown in the 2012 budget? Could the get by with less than $250 per month for their telephone service? These are not difficult choices and don’t save enough to pay for three new police cars, but the mayor and council have to start somewhere and every dollar counts. 

With all the past budget amendments being increases, perhaps the next “budget amendment” can be a decrease for the taxpayer’s benefit.

—Ra Barr, Powder Springs

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