- Continue the downtown beautification efforts.
- Refund our dilapidated housing efforts. (We previously identified 106 structures that are dilapidated, blighted, and past the point of repair and are unlivable. Due to previous efforts, 42 of these structures have been torn down – most without any tax dollars. We need to continue this push, but a budget item must be funded for the few cases where the CITY has to tear down the structure (subsequently putting a lien on the property to recoup those dollars)).
- Prepare a balanced budget that does NOT raise our citizen’s millage rate. (We have managed to keep our millage rate at the same rate for over 20 years).
- Continue to improve and market our Hawkinsville Harness Training Facility.
- In conjunction with DDA, I would like to see the city purchase a vacant downtown building, fix it up, and rent it to a new business (even at a reduced rate), with the understanding that after one year, the business would either purchase or begin paying market rent. If purchased, we would use those funds to do another, and then another, and then…..
- Continue to work to improve the River Market and the River Walk.
- Continue to work with our partners at the Arts Council to better promote and utilize our Historic Opera House.
- BRING IN INDUSTRY in our industrial park.
- BRING IN ANOTHER GROCERY STORE.
- Continue to help grow our existing businesses.
- Continue to help lead with GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) in helping forge state and federal legislation as it deals with cities. (and stopping the influx of unfunded mandates).
- Improve our airport.
- Resurface more streets within our city.
- Modernize our software system to allow for direct drafts and debit cards.
- Increased usage of Social Media by both myself and the city as a whole.
- Begin working on our next SPLOST planning to include more recreation on this side of the river. (new post coming soon on this)
- Begin working on our next SPLOST planning to include the new City Hall.
- Continue to look for grant opportunities to help us with our aging infrastructure.
- Continue to work with the county on doing a better job of tax equity between the City and County and the continued consolidation of services.
- Expand and maintain our city cemetery.
- Expand our Natural Gas Capacity.
This is not a complete list NOR is it in priority order.
What do YOU think we should add to this list? I would love to hear YOUR concerns….
Well, it is changing again (and this is still in the House Version, we don’t have a clue what the Senate might do). BUT! I must say, the current version in the House is good for Hawkinsville. The School’s ESPLOST will now be unaffected! No losses for the school system in the current version. The only stipulation is that taxes that are received from Motor Fuels, MUST be spent in the area of Transportation, but the definition is pretty broad. The City and County’s SPLOST (and Future SPLOSTS) are unaffected, with only the same stipulation – Motor Fuel taxes must be spent on Transportation. The City and County’s LOST taxes will see an INCREASE in revenue. Although Motor Fuels are being removed, the rest of the sales tax base will be taxed at 1.25% rather than 1%, so it will be a NET gain to the combined CITY/COUNTY of almost $80,000.
Hotel/Motel Taxes are also being slightly adjusted upward in the current version. I don’t really understand why.
And as mentioned in an earlier post, the current version of this bill will also FORCE a larger state allocation of LMIG (road resurfacing money). Although we have to match (30%) of the LMIG allocation, this WILL allow us to resurface additional miles in the years to come.
So…. Although the fat lady has not even gotten up to sing yet, the current version IS good for Hawkinsville.
(I am NOT making any such overall statements about whether this bill is good for GEORGIANS or not. Any way you slice it, it IS a tax increase on gasoline purchases in Georgia).
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change ” – Heraclitus
― That quote fits really well into the legislative process. HB 170 – the House version of the transportation bill, as introduced was very UNFRIENDLY to local governments. (Read my earlier post for full details). But city’s around the state complained to their respective representatives. Many cities and counties were passing resolutions asking their representatives to vote NO to House Bill 170. People were screaming, cussing, and complaining. But our representatives LISTENED to us, and the current version of this bill shows that.
As it stands now….
The House has made significant efforts to address the concerns expressed by local elected officials about the original bill’s impact on local revenues. HB 170 no longer includes language that would give a county governing sole authority to impose, or not impose, a 6¢ per gallon local excise tax. With the local excise tax option removed, so too is the local distribution formula based on DOT’s Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant (LMIG) program.
HB 170 as it passed the House Transportation Committee would do the following:
- beginning July 1, 2015, LOST, HOST and Atlanta’s MOST would no longer be collected on the sale of motor fuel;
- beginning July 1, 2015, the tax rate for LOST, HOST and MOST would be adjusted to 1.25% from the current 1% rate;
- current and future SPLOSTs and ESPLOSTs would continue to be imposed at a rate of 1%;
- current and future SPLOSTs and ESPLOSTs would continue to be collected on motor fuel except that diesel would no longer be taxed beginningJuly 1, 2015;
- for future SPLOSTs and EPLOSTS, any revenue collected from the sale of motor fuel would be required to be spent on transportation needs, which for cities and counties is defined broadly to include transit, rail and airports, and for schools includes the purchase of fuel and buses.
The House Transportation Committee version of HB 170 is a good faith attempt to make cities, counties and schools whole and to use current sales tax agreements for the distribution of revenue. While House leaders are looking for ways to reach the goal of making local governments whole in the aggregate, as with any significant change in what can be taxed as well as tax rates, some jurisdictions would see increases in tax revenue while others would experience a decrease.
In our community, the breakdown is as follows. (assuming future sales of motor fuels and other taxable products in our community remain somewhat stable with what 2014 saw).
City of Hawkinsville – Current = $421,455 Under HB170 = $444,800 (Net increase of $23,345)
County – Current =$421,455 Under HB170 = $444,800 (Net Increase of $23,345)
City of Hawkinsville – Current = $421,455 Under HB170 = $411,200 (Net decrease of $23,345)
County – Current =$421,455 Under HB170 = $411,200 (Net decrease of $23,345)
Pulaski County School System – Current = $842,911 Under HB170 = $822,400 (Net decrease of $20,510)
Total Community Impact is a net increase of revenue of a little over $5,600
Another benefit to us locally is that the GDOT is legally mandated to re-distribute at least 10% of its budget allocation for LOCAL improvements (know as LMIG – Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants. Last year the county received some $200,000 while the city received some $45,000 (to be matched 30%). Since the GDOT budget will rise SIGNIFICANTLY due to this HB170, our city and county should be receiving somewhere between a 50% and 100% increase in our LMIG allocations. This should result in many more miles of roads within our city that will be repaved during the 2016 fiscal year!
So, originally, the bill was BAD….. We complained as did others….. Our representatives listened and the current version of the bill is palatable.
Now lets wait and see what the Senate version of the bill looks like.
Hawkinsville City Commission
As of today (Valentine’s Day), HB170, the Transportation Bill is in the full transportation committee of the House. Basically, this bill is changing the current SALES tax on motor fuel (Gas & Diesel) to an excise tax. The advantage is that this will level out the fluctuating taxes raised by a sales tax which is dependent upon the price of gas which changes daily. By changing to an excise tax, which is charged PER GALLON rather than PER DOLLAR, it should level out the income received by the state. The trucking industry also receives larger tax benefits on an excise tax over a sales tax, so the trucking industry will see a huge benefit of this change. And we all want to help out industries in Georgia.
The State of Georgia is attempting to raise an additional $750 million + (annually) for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). However, THEY (our state elected officials) don’t want to “raise taxes.” So they are promoting this bill as a “revenue neutral” bill. Yeah, right! If they are bringing in an additional almost 1 BILLION dollars, it’s got to come from SOMEWHERE!
That somewhere apparently is going to be from your LOCAL governments (County, City, and School System). You see, our local governments currently receive 3 cents of every SALES TAX dollar raised. 1 cent goes to LOST (Local Option Sales Tax). 1 cent goes to SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). And 1 cent goes to ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).
When you remove MOTOR FUELS from these sales taxes, this 3 cents will disappear from the local coffers of your local governments. We will still receive LOST, SPLOST, and ESPLOST taxes, but not on Motor Fuel Sales. In Pulaski County, Motor Fuel sales account for almost 16% of the total sales taxes collected in Pulaski County. Therefore, your school system’s next ESPLOST will be reduced by almost 16% which will amount to a LOSS of income to the Pulaski County School system of approximately $131,410 per year. Constitutionally, the school system CAN receive sales taxes, but CANNOT receive excise taxes. And there are no plans by the state to supplement this loss. There are no plans by the state to help reduce expenses or other requirements. No, this will be a LOSS each and every year. ESPLOST is used for capital purchases (Buses, buildings, technology, etc.). Apparently, the state thinks the school can simply “absorb” this loss of income. No big deal. (yeah, right!).
The loss of the 1 cent on SPLOST will effect both the city and the county. Currently we have a negotiated agreement that we split SPLOST revenues 50/50. So this loss will effect each of us the same amount. SPLOST income currently amounts to about $842,911 per year. By removing Motor Fuels from the calculation, this number will reduce each year to $711,501. A loss of about $131,410 per year. This money is going away. So the county and the city will each face lower SPLOST revenue on the next SPLOST of almost $65,705 EACH! Like the school’s ESPLOST, SPLOST is used for capital expenditures like Road Equipment, Tractors, Recreation Department improvements, Sheriff Department Vehicles, etc. This loss of $131,409 per year amounts to a loss to the city and county of $788,460 on the next 6 year SPLOST! The tractors are STILL going to wear out. The deputies are STILL going to need vehicles. Water Meters are STILL going to go bad. Our option? We can only raise property taxes or fees to take care of the shortfall.
The loss of the 1 cents on LOST will also effect both the city and the county. Currently we have a negotiated agreement that we split LOST revenues 50/50. So this loss will effect each of us the same amount. LOST income ON MOTOR FUELS current amounts to about $393,690 per year. So this is ANOTHER $400K that the state is pulling away from local coffers.
BUT WAIT! NO WORRIES! The state is going to “come to our rescue.” They are going to “allow” the county to vote an additional 6 cents excise tax to be added to motor fuel in addition the the excise tax that the state is accessing. And to hear them talk, “that solves the problem.” But does it?
In Pulaski County, we sold 4,224,231 gallons of gas in fiscal year 2014. So the 6 cents would increase the COUNTY coffers by $253,454 each year. Now last time I used my calculator, $253,454 does not bring back the lose of $140K (in LOST dollars) and $131K (in SPLOST dollars) and $131K (in ESPLOST dollars). Nope, by my calculations when you combine the decreases in LOST, SPLOST, and ESPLOST, our citizens are being short changed by about $403,000 PER YEAR! And that is AFTER our sole commissioner implements the 6 cents excise tax. If he should choose NOT to implement this tax, then the citizens will lose some $650K per year. Thanks Legislators!
But wait! There’s more!
Even if our sole commissioner DOES implement the 6 cents of excise tax (taking the heat of a “tax increase” rather than the state taking that heat!), the STATE is telling us HOW he has to split it with the city. Previously, our LOST and SPLOST splits were NEGOTIATED LOCALLY. Now, they are giving us a formula based on road miles in the city/county and population in each. The result will be on both LOST AND SPLOST rather than splitting 50/50 as we have for years, the STATE is telling us the motor fuel excise tax will be split 73/27. The county will get 73% and the city will be reduced to 27%. OUCH!
SO…. Not only are they reducing our monies, but they are TELLING US how to split the reduced amount they plan on giving us!
Based on 2014 figures, and assuming the county DOES implement the 6 cents, then the COUNTY will still lose $78,000, the school system will lose $131,000, and the city will lose $194,000 PER YEAR! And this is AFTER the 6 cents excise tax which the county may or may not implement. “Revenue Neutral huh?”. The city will bear 48% of the reduction. The school system will bear 33% and the county 19%. To replace this money, the county could be forced to raise their millage by almost a half mill. The school system could be forced to raise their millage by almost half a mill. And the city (who is hit the hardest) could be faced with over a 2 mill increase. (and we haven’t raised the millage since 1987).
THERE’S EVEN MORE! With LOST, the revenues go into the general fund. Your elected leaders can spend this money how they see fit (and answer to their local constituents). With SPLOST and ESPLOST, while the money has to go to capital projects, your local officials decide (by voter referendum) the projects that our citizens need. But with the coming changes, all the money from the motor fuel EXCISE tax MUST be spend on Transportation. We will have no choice. The State again TELLING us how to spend our money!
Hope is not yet lost. The bill is still in committee. The final has not been seen. And then regardless of what the house comes up with, the State Senate will still have their input and revisions. So ultimately it might be better. It might be worse. No one knows at this point.
My fear is that the final version won’t be significantly different that I have presented. I encourage you to contact our local state representatives and tell them NOT to pass this bill in its current state. Do we need more transportation dollars in Georgia? Yes! Do we need to collect those dollars by pulling them from the local economy? No!
The alternatives are many. They can leave our local 3 cents sales tax on gas and go on about their merry way. Or they can convert the 3 cents to an excise tax but LET LOCAL ENTITIES decide how to spend and how to divide the money. They can simply ADD to the state’s portion of the excise tax and fund the transportation needs. But no, that would mean THEY would be seen as raising taxes rather than forcing us LOCALLY to raise taxes.
Representative Buddy Harden is Pulaski County’s legislature in the State House. Senator Ross Tolleson is our Senator. Please contact these gentlemen and tell them to fund the state needs from state coffers. Not by pulling money away from our local governments. Their contact information is below:
504-G Coverdell Legislative Office
Atlanta, Ga. 30334
121-F State Capital
Atlanta, Ga. 30334
Please let me know your thoughts. Reply to this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you!
Hawkinsville City Commission
The familiar phrase from Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts,” is what Sergeant Joe Friday would say when he needed to get to the details he was looking for—and that is what Georgia’s cities are saying with the FACT Act. Georgia’s Department of Revenue (DOR) has worked hard to ensure sales tax compliance but needs legislative permission to offer local governments more detailed sales tax data—and that is just what the FACT Act will do.
FACT stands for Full Accountability in the Collection of Taxes. The proposed legislation would require DOR to collect and prepare sales tax data at the municipal level, as well as for the unincorporated areas of Georgia. Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville), chair of the House Retirement Committee, has agreed to sponsor the legislation in the 2014 legislative session.
Sales tax data is a tool for both state and local governments and compliance has always been an important for both levels of government. The addition of detailed sales tax figures would allow local governments to be a better partner with DOR in policing retailers who side-step the law by avoiding payment or collections of sales taxes. Better compliance means that tax-paying business owners have greater certainty that they are on a level playing field with their peers.
Just as a business needs to know and understand where its revenues come from, state and local governments need the best data available in order for elected officials to make decisions on revenue streams, expenditures and balanced budgets. This has become more of a challenge with the implementation of 2012’s HB 386 tax reforms. In HB 386, the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption (GATE) was expanded to include a wider variety of agricultural inputs and broadened the number of types of businesses that qualify for the exemption—making illegal use of GATE certificates easier and more likely. Greater sales tax detail will help give local governments a better view to from which to forecast, while showing fluctuations that may be due to misuse of GATE certificates or other exemptions.
If commerce is the life-blood of a community, sales tax data is a measure of that community’s health. Data derived from sales tax figures at the local level could be used by local government officials, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Community Affairs in accomplishing their missions. With this information available to local officials, public investments can be directed to foster areas of future growth or to shore-up areas of weakened retail commerce.
With sales tax figures currently compiled at the county level, there exists an unnecessary subjectivity in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations. Since neither cities nor counties can actually say how much sales tax is raised in each jurisdiction, assumptions are made on both sides of the negotiations. Actual city and unincorporated areas’ sales tax figures will give much-needed objectivity in LOST negotiations, ultimately making improved LOST negotiations possible.
As a sitting member of the LPC of GMA (Legislative Policy Council of Georgia Municipal Association), I support this measure. Information is relevant.
During the 2012 legislative session, the General Assembly approved sweeping tax reform in H.B. 386. The bill had overwhelming bipartisan support in both Houses, passing with a 54-0 vote in the Senate and 155-9 in the House. Originating from a larger set of recommendations unveiled in January 2011 by the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness, the tax reform package included a number of provisions that impact our community. Among the provisions: a new motor vehicle title fee (TAVT) to replace the ad valorem tax on automobiles; elimination of the sales tax on automobile purchases; elimination of the sales tax imposed on energy used in manufacturing; and broadening of exemptions for the agriculture industry including energy, equipment, and business inputs such as seed, fertilizers, feed, etc. The reduction of sales tax revenues is no surprise as the state fiscal analysis of H.B. 386 prepared prior to passage of the bill projected that elimination of sales tax on automobiles and the included sales tax exemptions would cost local communities $199.6 million from 2013 to 2015; however, the fiscal analysis could not have predicted that these losses would be unevenly distributed across the state, a fact which is evident now that the exemptions have been in place for 19 months.
The approval of H.B. 386 followed years of study and recommendations aimed at comprehensive tax reform. In 2012, Georgia, like most other states, was just beginning to emerge from the “Great Recession” and state leaders were eager to find ways to help Georgia compete for jobs and encourage economic development. The intended purpose of the exemptions included in H.B. 386 was to support some of Georgia’s most critical industries, including agriculture and manufacturing. However, since the provisions of H.B. 386 have been in place, it has become evident that there are unintended consequences of the bill that are having a significant impact on local government revenues since the law
went into effect in 2013.
Sales taxes are a primary source of revenue for Hawkinsville to provide critical services that protect the health and safety of our residents and maintain a vibrant quality of life for all taxpayers. SPLOST and ESPLOST have been approved by voters throughout the state as a means of funding capital projects for local governments and school systems. Since 2001, approximately 95% of SPLOST referenda have been approved by the voters. Every sales tax exemption whittles away at local revenues, even as costs to provide services and demand for services increase. Exemptions that are put in place after
approval of a SPLOST, ESPLOST, or bond referenda erode the revenues available to complete capital projects and to pay off debt.
The Georgia Municipal Association has collected data on sales tax distributions to all of Georgia’s 159 counties and 538 cities during a 19-month period from February 2012 to September 2014. Sales tax distribution data was obtained from the Georgia Department of Revenue website, and includes distributions of LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST, MOST (City of Atlanta), HOST and MARTA sales taxes.
The picture above illustrates the percent change in sales tax distributions immediately PRIOR to the enactment of the exemptions to the period following implementation of the exemptions. Areas shaded in green have experienced increased distribution during these time frames; areas shaded in red have experienced decreased distributions.
As the maps indicate, a comparison of distributions from 2012 to 2013 (and beyond) shows:
– an immediate and disparate impact from region to region;
– as a direct result of the exemptions included in the 2012 tax reform package, areas of the state with a large agricultural industry base show a greater decline in sales tax revenues than areas with greater diversity of industry; and
– rural areas have seen greater reductions than urban and suburban counties in Georgia.
Pulaski County has seen sales tax reductions from -10% to -15% due to these changes in the law. This effects our LOST (Local Option Sales Tax – which we split 50/50 with the County), and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax – used to fund capital projects) and it also effects ESPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax – which goes to our school system, not the city). Hawkinsville is working hard to meet service demands, maintain infrastructure, and provide essential services, while cutting departmental budgets.
We need to take a hard look at what exemptions are WORKING to bring industry to our state and what exemptions are due to lobbying efforts by well-funded special interest groups!
I have had more than the normal phone calls lately over some bad roads in Hawkinsville. Almost all of the conversations start like this…
Citizen: “The city needs to come out and repave the road in front of my house. It’s in bad shape and me and my neighbors pay our taxes and deserve better roads.”
Let me just start out by saying, “They are right!”. However, it is not as easy as just sending out a crew.. For starters, the City of Hawkinsville does not have a paving machine or paving crew. Our guys can certainly fix a pothole or repair a road cut. But we don’t have the resources to actually pave or even resurface a road. In order to do that, we rely on the state Department of Transportation (GDOT). GDOT allocates so much money to us each year to use toward resurfacing. In 2014 that amount was $48,719.74. We are required to do a 30% match, so that means we have $63,336 allocated toward resurfacing in 2014. We then submit a list of roads (in priority order) that we feel need resurfacing. The top 15 list we submitted for 2014 was:
|1||Markel St.||Martin St.||Lakeview Rd.||1753||20|
|2||Hillcrest Ave.||McCormick Ave||end of street (Clark Dr)||1409||20|
|3||Jordan Drive||Sunnybrook Circle||Sunnybrook Circle|
|4||W. McDuffie St.||McCormick Ave.||Brookside||682||22|
|5||Ryan St.||Broad St.||Commerce St.|
|6||S. Union St.||Broad St.||Carruthers St.||3646||20|
|7||Kibbee||Turner St.||Jackson St.||2447||25|
|8||Second Street||Progress Ave.||Houston St.||2535||37|
|9||Liberty St||S. Florida Ave.||Warren St.||2419||30|
|10||Clark Dr.||Hillcrest Dr.||Kamellia Dr.||1223||19|
|11||Fairgrounds Rd.||S. Jackson St.||County Landing Rd.||2100||17|
|12||Wildwood Ave||Mansfield Dr.||Craftway Cir.||2432||20|
|13||Craftway Cir.||Wildwood Ave.||Thompson Way||1314||20|
|14||South Wood St.||Broad Street||Commerce Street|
|15||Pineywood Drive||Knotty Pine St.||end of street|
(This list is compiled from our street department as well as citizen complaints and then prioritized by the City Administration and the City Commissioners).
It costs us an estimated average of $0.56 per square foot to resurface (some more, some less depending on current road conditions and other factors). So once we find out how much money the state is going to allocate for us, then we have to re-prioritize our list to see that we get the most bang for our buck. We have to consider such questions as: Do we pave ONE long road, or several smaller roads, even if the long road is in worse condition? How many citizens actually live on that road? Is it a thoroughfare to other areas? Can we temporarily patch it and get by another year?
For 2014, we ending up having enough funds to do:
|1||Markel St.||Martin St.||Lakeview Rd.||1753||20|
|2||Hillcrest Ave.||McCormick Ave||end of street (Clark Dr)||1409||20|
|3||Jordan Drive||Sunnybrook Circle||Sunnybrook Circle|
|4||W. McDuffie St.||McCormick Ave.||Brookside||682||22|
It is estimated that it will cost the city (and GDOT) $66,000 to complete these projects.
In order to complete any additional roads, they would have to be paid for 100% by our local tax dollars. By waiting on each years GDOT allocation, we get much more for our local dollars (with the state contributing 70% of our cost). While we know there are other roads that need paving, we also have many other infrastructure needs to pay for as well. And on the other infrastructure needs, the state gives us no help. Thus the local taxpayers have to pay 100% of the other costs. So it makes more sense to only pave the roads each year that GDOT will help us with and put our other limited resources toward the other infrastructure needs. If we DON’T do at least the amount that GDOT approves, they will not pay ANY! So we need to at least do enough roads each year in order to get their 70% contribution. Anything OVER our total, we would have to pay 100% for.
I was sitting at McDonald’s the other day with one of the “coffee clubs” that meet there. They took the opportunity to tell me of all the needs in the city of Hawkinsville. For example, they want us to fix all the roads, replace all the old water and sewage lines, and invest heavily in industrial recruitment (among other things). But most importantly, don’t raise taxes. In other words, their request was to correct outstanding problems (aka spending money) while not raising taxes (aka increasing revenue). An impossibility. We operate under a TIGHT, LEAN budget. So in order to do any additional work each year (pave additional roads, replace additional pipes, etc.) would require MORE revenue (aka higher taxes).
So, I am writing this post to assure you, our citizens, that we are doing our very best to correctly, efficiently, and effectively allocate the limited resources that we have. Do we have bad roads? YES. Can we afford to simply repair/resurface them all now? NO. We simply take our list each year, (again, compiled from our street department and citizen complaints) and prioritize and fund based on the dollar amounts that GDOT allocates to Hawkinsville each year.
If you know of a bad street, let us know. Our crews have spent the last two weeks repairing MANY of the potholes around town, but I am positive there are more. Call City Hall (478-892-3240) or simply email City Hall (email@example.com) or you can even reply to this post. We will look at the road, add it to our list, and then consider it when we re-prioritize each year.
Pot holes and patches? YES, we can do those ourselves, so again, LET US KNOW. Sometimes, the worse the condition, the LESS people report it. I suppose they feel that “surely someone has told the city how bad this pothole is.” But if everyone is thinking someone else is reporting it… well,… sometimes NO ONE reports it. Also, not all roads are city maintained. Some are STATE roads, and some that get reported are actually COUNTY roads. But let us know and we will pass along the information to the appropriate agency or government.
“I’m from the Government and I am here to help you.” If that does not strike you with fear, then you are different from most of us. As a general rule, the government adds layers of bureaucracy and rules and regulations and seldom “helps” us achieve much. Typically we are all better off if we can “help ourselves.”
Our little community of Hawkinsville is celebrating. Madison Conner, a 15 year old runaway, has been found and is safe. While I write this, her parents are on their way to pick up their daughter. And this celebrating has many in our community talking about “What can we do for our young people?” It a discussion that is held often by all segments of our population.
Although I indicated that the government seldom helps, I did want to take a moment to reflect on some ways / ideas / thoughts that are both government and private that involve this concept of “What can we do for our young people?”
GOVERNMENT: The City/County together contribute over $150,000 / year toward our local Recreation program. We have an awesome rec program serving over 300 children in our community. We have great facilities enhanced in recent years through SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and more facilities being planned and built now. I realize that this program does not and can not serve everyone and the location of the facilities is less than optimum, but it is a resource and it DOES serve hundreds of children in a very positive way.
We also have James Colson Park located off of 6th street. You can drive by most any time and see hundreds of children, youth and adults “hanging out” at Colson Park. The city has recently been awarded a grant that will allow us to add some playground equipment at this park.
We are in the process of applying for state grant funds that will allow us to build a skateboard park in Hawkinsville. We plan on adding this park to some donated land right next to the PHP building on Highway 341 North. Our Youth have recently signed petitions with over 700 names in support of this park. If all goes as planned, 2014 might see this facility built with little or no local tax dollars involved.
The City and County both have recently enhanced their river walk areas. Again, while not devoted to “Youth”, these river walk areas will serve all people while catering to FAMILIES.
Our local 4H club is bustling with activity.
The city is a major supporter of our local Arts Council. While some will argue that the concerts provided are more focused on adults and out of the price range of our youth, I have to mention that efforts ARE made through the Arts Council to bring in events that are youth focused. The Arts Council hosts yearly events that are field trips from the schools dealing with the performing arts. The local Talent Show is held yearly showcasing local and mostly young musical artists. Recently, a country singer (Gannon Adams) was brought in and performed for Free at the school system and then offered a relatively inexpensive concert at the Opera House.
The City helps sponsor local festivals such as the Harness Festival and the Harvest Festival. While only a few times a year, they do add to the mix of “What is there to do in Hawkinsville?”
We have a locally run “Family Connections” office in Hawkinsville. This state grant funded office provides many functions to our families in Pulaski County. From a mentoring program to yearly events such as the upcoming “Reality Check” (a budget and planning real life scenario that all area High School students will attend March 27th.) and “Teen Maze” which helps our youth understand that their decisions will have consequences. Last years Teen Maze was a huge success with over 700 teens going through the maze that was run by over 200 community volunteers. Family Connections also helps with Parenting Seminars and other events all with our TEENS in mind.
Our Police Department for years has sponsored an annual Fishing Rodeo.
The Archway Partnership (a public/private funded entity) that has helped with the local “Hoops League”. This is a basketball league for our youth that focuses on so much more than basketball. Life skills are a priority and this has been extremely well received in our community. Archway is also helping us to investigate the option of having a “Boys and Girls Club” started in our community.
Our local school system allows many clubs and groups to meet and promote within the school. There are enough extra-curricular activities to please most of our youth if they would only choose to participate.
I know there is more. The “Government” is actually trying to help this situation. But it of course takes more than government….
PHP (People Helping People) is a private group that is also focusing on our Youth. They have recently purchased a large building out on Highway 341 and have been sponsoring Youth concerts and other youth focused events. This group also purchased the old Hospital and brought us the Haunted Hospital last October. Pool Tables, Foos Ball Tables, Table Tennis and other activities are readily available. An indoor batting cage is even being built there. (and our new skateboard park land is being donated by this group). Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, our community needs to get behind this group and help promote, push, and enhance these efforts.
CHURCHES in our area provide LOTS of activities for our Youth. From local gatherings to annual mission trips, our churches are a fundamental (and under utilized) source for GOOD for our youth. Our churches also sponsor “5th Quarters” which are gathering events staged after home football games.
COMMERCIAL ENTITIES: Recently Ga WebServices and ComSouth partnered to bring Willie Raines to our community. Willie puts on “Bullying Seminars” and did a live event at the local High School. Our local Businesses are willing to help for worthwhile causes.
PEOPLE: I often hear of a family that “invites everyone in”. They welcome their children and their friends into their homes, thus providing a safe environment in which to “Hang Out.”
I applaud these recent discussions about “What can we do for our youth?”. This post is simply meant to encourage us to not overlook what we already are striving to do. Let’s build on our positives and correct our negatives. Let’s make the focus on the YOUTH and not our individual difference of opinions. It’s not about MY idea winning or YOUR idea winning. It’s about developing locals and activities that will help reach ALL of our community’s youth and keep them safe and entertained. We’ll never have all the answers. We’ll never reach all the youth. But those are never good reasons not to do the best that we can!
What are YOUR thoughts?
In these tough economic times, the City of Hawkinsville is trying to do all that it can to generate revenue and cut expenses. However, we are attempting to generate revenue WITHOUT raising taxes. Our millage rate has not changed (other than rollback rates) since 1987. One would have to travel over 150 miles to find a municipality with a lower millage rate than Hawkinsville (with the exception of Rhine, Ga.). However, costs keep rising. Everyone is aware of the huge increases that everyone has seen in Health Care Insurance Costs. In fact, all types of insurance continue to increase. Other costs are also rising. Plus there are things that really need to be done (Infrastructure, housing issues, etc.). The city’s infrastructure is really getting old. The pipes carrying water to your house are in need of upgrading. We continue to have issues with stormwater pipes not being big enough when there is a big rain.
So what is your city doing? Well, we have cut cut cut cut cut. In fact, we have probably cut our manpower to levels that are not sustainable. I fussed in a previous post about the grass not being maintained at the city owned cemetery, but if we (the city commission) do not give our departments enough manpower to do their jobs, then really, the blame belongs on us. (However, it is up to the city administration to let us know the results of too much cutting so that we can make informed cuts).
We are utilizing prison labor whenever possible. We have details from both the area men’s and women’s prisons that help us cut grass, clean up, etc. While we do pay for (the men’s detail), the costs are ALOT cheaper than we could do alone.
We have over the last few years raised some service fees (on things like trash pickup, water rates, etc.). We expect each department’s service fees to 100% fund that department at a minimum. In other words, the collections from the water bills should cover our annual costs of delivering that water to your house. The garbage fees should cover the costs of weekly pickup. At best, each department services themselves AND provides income into the general fund to offset property taxes. I am proud to say that – on average – each department DOES pay their own way. In fact, our gas department, adds a substantial figure to the general budget every year, while still keeping its rates competitive with other customer alternatives.
We have consolidated services with the county whenever possible. The city and the county get along well and by consolidating services, we can avoid duplication of efforts. We are simply too small a community to do otherwise. In the last several years, we have consolidated tax collections (the county bills and collects our city taxes along with the county taxes). We have consolidated our recreation departments, 911 services, animal control departments, and code enforcement (building inspector) departments. This saves both the city and county on employees and related costs such as providing space/furniture/utilities, etc. And most recently, we have entered into a inter-governmental agreement with the county whereas the Sheriff now has full law enforcement duties in both the city and county. This reduces administration costs and allows the Sheriff to better manage the manpower issues. (In fact, service levels for the city residents have already INCREASED with two officers on patrol within the city at all times, previously there were times that we could only afford to have ONE officer on duty). While we do pay the county for these services, the cost is substaintially less than we were paying to go it alone – and the service has increased – WIN WIN!
While we have separate city/county fire departments, we share a chief. So those departments are “practically” consolidated and we may move to formalize that consolidation before long.
So these consolidation efforts are one way that we are working to keep our costs contained.
Utilizing SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) is another way that we have been able to maintain our property tax rates. SPLOST allows us to make much needed capital improvements that we quite simply could not afford otherwise. In the upcoming SPLOST (the one just passed), we have 1.5 million dollars allocated for infrastructure upgrades to our water, sewage, and gas lines. Plus roads, recreation dollars, and fire and police equipment.
But the purpose of this post is to tell you about another source of money that we have been very aggresive in obtaining. That is GRANTS. Now on a personal level, I wish the state and federal boys would cut out alot of these grants with a dollar for dollar lowering of our taxes. In theory, I don’t agree with most of these grants. However, if the state/federal agencies are handing out money – I want to be sure that the City of Hawkinsville’s hand is open and reaching for it. We want our share (or more) of these monies. And we have been very successful along these lines – more successful than I think most people realize.
One of our primary sources of grant income has been our successful CBDG grants (Community Block Development Grants). Cities can apply for up to $500,000 every other year. However, because we have taken the massive steps to become an opportunity zone / enterprise zone, we can actually now apply for these grants EVERY YEAR. That’s huge!!! We have recently completed the 6th street project. This project was funded by a $500,000 CBDG grant and replaced water lines and added a sidewalk along sixth street. Then we applied for another $500,000 CBDG grant to replace the water lines in Orchard Hill S/D. We received this grant, and when we bid out the job, the bids came back lower than expected and we subsequently expanded the scope of this project to include Forest Hill S/D. These CBDG can only be used in areas below certain income thresholds. So the SPLOST monies will be allocated to areas that are not CBDG areas.
We received a $500,000 ONE GEORGIA grant that will be used to build the community farmers market on part of the old Pillowtex mill property. We also received a $500,000 CBDG grant for environmental cleanup at the mill site that LandMark Development is developing into a housing complex.
We have also received a $18,500 grant for police department equipment, a $250,000 fire equipment grant, a $10,000 Historic Preservation Grant for replacing/repairing windows at the Opera House, and a $2,500 Home Depot Grant for building wheelchair ramps on houses within our community (of which I think about 8 have been built with donated labor from both the Deacons and Stewards Association and Darryl Brown Construction). And also a grant for landscaping and design work at our city entrances.
We received a 3 year GICH (Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) grant (no money) that allows us to partake of training and resources with other GICH designated communities twice a year. (only3 communities a year get this designation).
And the latest announcement is a HUD grant for $1,000,000. (incorrectly advertised by HUD as a $650,000 grant). We have just received notification that we have won a $1,000,000 grant that will be used to facilitate the development of Phase I of the cotton mill lofts – the housing portion of the development at the old Pillowtex mill.
We were recently named a Preserve America Community, a federal designation that while not having a check attached, will allow us to apply for additional grants due to having that designation.
And if all continues to go our way, we will receive another $500,000 CBDG grant for housing allocated to our McDuffie Street Housing project proposed by our H-GICH (Hawkinsville – Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) committee. AND a $300,000 CHIP (Community Housing Initiative Program) grant for housing issues on the North side of town. We hope (and think that we will) to be awarded BOTH of these grants by the end of August, 2010.
I am sure that I have left some recent grants out. Every department in the city is keenly aware that they need to help us fund their work. Each department actively seeks out grant funding that can be utilized in their department.
Did you have any idea that the City of Hawkinsville had received these grants?
The other way to grow revenue without raising property taxes is through controlled growth. But growth requires JOBS. We hope the pending sale of our spec building to the Korean companies will not only put that property back on the tax digest but will also provide hundreds of jobs. Jobs mean people. People mean houses and businesses to support those people. Houses and businesses mean an increased tax digest – more money – without raising the rates. Again, a WIN WIN for all involved.
Let me know your thoughts! What other areas to we need to be looking at? What are your thoughts on grants? consolidation? cutting expenses? improving infrastructure, etc. etc. Inquiring minds want to know. At best, comment on this post, at worst, shoot me a private email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know your thoughts.
The City of Hawkinsville applied for and received a $500,000 CBDG grant (Community Block Development Grant) from the state of Georgia for the purpose of rebuilding the water lines in Orchard Hill Street Subdivision. Orchard Hill Street subdivision is located adjacent to the Hawkinsville City limits but receives (at a higher cost than city residents) city water services. However, the water lines are very very old and very small. They are inadequate to service the neighborhood. This section is one of the primary problem areas for our city crews being called out for repairs. By replacing the lines, we will not only offer cleaner, safer water with better pressure, but we will also be able to install Fire Hydrants in the neighborhood that will increase the safety of the area AND reduce the homeowners’ fire insurance costs. AND reduce our maintenance costs as well.
And after bidding out the work, we realized that we were going to be able to come in way under budget. Rather than send the money back to the state, we asked for a scope enlargement and added the Forest Hill Circle Subdivision to the project. Forest Hill will also receive new lines and fire hydrants.
Local Resident Lance Woods of Ocmulgee Engineering worked with us on designing and engineering these improvements.
There are many many areas in the city that desperately need infrastructure improvements. But without these grants, it would be next to impossible for us to afford. In order to qualify for these CBDC grants, the area has to meet certain qualifications including medium income limitations. Some of the areas that need improvement, do not meet these medium income criteria. Therefore these areas can only be done with local money. Therefore, we have designated 1.5 million dollars from the upcoming SPLOST election budget to fund street, utility, gas, and other infrastructure improvements. That vote will take place on July 20th and will hopefully allow us to make other major improvements over the 6 year life of the SPLOST. (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax)