Sunday, May 22, 2016

City Council Post 2 Candidates Answer PCBC Questions

The Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee submitted questions to the candidates for city council post 2 - Stephen Peet and Eric Christ.  The unedited responses to each question are
Stephen Peet
listed below exactly as the candidates submitted them.  The election is Tuesday May 24th.  Those that live in Post 2 must go to city hall to vote for the Post 2 candidate.  If you are uncertain what post you live in, check the
map here.  Post 2 is highlighted in yellow.
Eric Christ

1. City officials now admit there is no such thing as a 'city lite' even though they sold that very idea to voters back in 2011. What do you think the city can/ should do to try and live up to the spirit of that idea?

Peet - According to Georgia law every city must provide a full set of services. A ‘city-lite’ must directly provide a minimum of 3 services with all other services provided by some government entity. Peachtree Corners directly provides only 3 services: 1) planning and zoning, 2) code enforcement, and 3) solid waste management. The other services are provided by inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) with other government entities. The service of public works is provided by Johns Creek and the remaining services are provided by Gwinnett County. Peachtree Corners is ‘city-lite’ and directly provides services that allow the residents to have the greatest local control (planning and zoning) while keeping costs low by taking advantage of existing county services.
The detailed background for those interested: Georgia has only one type of city according to Georgia law. The law also allows a county to provide services like a city. Since Gwinnett County was (and is) providing services, such as zoning, planning, solid waste management, police, and fire, this created a conflict with all Gwinnett cities that also provide those services. A three year court case culminated with a decision in February 2012 followed by negotiations between the county and each city. The court decision resolved what could be used as income for the county versus a city. It also created Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) areas which allow cities to contract with the county to provide some of these services, such as police and fire, while receiving a reduction of the property tax millage rate for services provided directly by the city.

Christ - My understanding of the "City Lite" concept at the time of the vote to become a City was that, while every city in Georgia is required to provide the same sixteen services (fire/safety, parks, public works, etc.), the charter would limit Peachtree Corners to directly providing just three of those services (land use planning and zoning; code enforcement; and waste management). The other 13 services are provided indirectly through inter-governmental agreements with other city or county governments. Before the City could start providing any of those other 13 services directly, city residents would need to approve that through a referendum. For example, we currently receive police services from Gwinnett County. Before the City could directly provide police, that would need to be approved via a referendum. As a member of the City Council, I will consider carefully any proposal to provide additional direct services and respect the outcome of any referenda.

2. What is your position on the pedestrian bridge over 141?

Christ - While my opponent has stated that if a vote were held today on the bridge, he would vote yes, I am not ready to vote on a bridge, tunnel, or other connector across 141. Before I consider a vote, we need to have more community input. After knocking on 350 doors across the district, it is clear that there are many residents who feel that they have not yet been heard on this important issue. Also, while not the only reason for a connection, the Town Center development would be a key driver of potential usage of any connection. That development needs to get underway before I would be ready to vote. And finally, before voting, I would need the final cost of the connection on a prioritized list of other transportation projects. When I listened to residents on the west side of the side of the City, they ask when something will be done on the Holcomb Bridge corridor to improve traffic and increase walkability. Other residents ask about improving the intersection of Peachtree Corners Circle and Medlock Bridge, street paving within their neighborhood, or the proposed walking trail system. Building a bridge or tunnel creates an opportunity cost that takes funds away from these other worthwhile projects.

Peet - I believe more communications from the city to the community, and feedback from the community back to the city needs to happen. There seems to be too much misinformation circulating in the community about this issue. I have seen polls for and against the bridge. I need to know not just what the community in general wants but what do Post 2 residents want.  I hear the community asking about more information on a tunnel instead of a bridge.  I’ve heard requests for a referendum vote.  Furthermore, we need to move the discussion of the pedestrian bridge into the context of the plan for walkability and pedestrian connectivity. It is not just a way to cross the street from the Forum to the new town center, it is part of the larger multi-use trail system for all of Peachtree Corners.

3. Do you think that the city has handled the 'roll-out' of the bridge proposal well? If so, how? If not, how?

Peet - I think the city made a good faith attempt to communicate the bridge proposal to the residents through the January UPCCA meeting. However, I think that the size of the response after the UPCCA meeting and the emotion involved was unanticipated. The second meeting in March was another attempt to get information from the community, but there were complaints about the format and the questions. I have heard that the city plans to have additional meetings for community input, but do not see anything planned on the city calendar. At this point, the city should publish the dates for these additional meetings and reviews.

Christ - I don't think the City has done as good a job as it could have of gathering input on on the proposed bridge. Many residents feel that it has been presented as a "done deal." As a member of the City Council, I would advocate for more town halls and opportunities for community input on this major project. Neither the City Council nor the City Staff has a monopoly on good ideas and I would welcome additional feedback from residents.

4. Recent town halls have revealed a strong sentiment among residents that the city is not doing a good job communicating with them. What would you do, or do differently, to address these concerns?

Christ - I applaud the City's recent initiatives to communicate more on Facebook, Next Door Neighbor, and other social media venues. Additional initiatives I would propose as a member of the City Council are:
1. Livestreaming City Council meetings so that all residents can see the council in action.
2. Creating a document repository on the City web site where all studies, surveys, meeting minutes, and other material related to a Council agenda item can be easily accessed by residents.
3. Requiring all applicants for rezoning to hold two community meetings, with at least one in the district where the property is located, before they can submit an application to the Planning Commission for its review. This would provide five opportunities for resident input on any rezoning - two community meetings, a Planning Commission hearing, and two City Council meetings - before a vote is held.

Peet - The city has a number of ways they communicate: through the website, the printed and e-newsletter, press releases, and city council minutes. But we need to utilize these communication channels in a better way. I will promote to folks in Post 2 to take advantage of these.  Alex Wright has a monthly e-mail on Post 3, and I plan to do this in Post 2.  Some of the council members have had town hall meetings, and I’ve attended one recently in Post 2, and in Post 3.  I think we should do more town hall meetings especially in neighborhoods that are interested in having one.  I’ve recently been reading the more than 400 posts on just one topic on Nextdoor, as well as posts on other topics.  I’ve responded to many resident questions thru Nextdoor and will continue to utilize social media as a communication tool.

5. The city has more than $20 million in cash on hand due to accumulation of franchise, permit, business license, and other fees and fines. What do you think is the best use of these dollars?

Peet - The city should have a reserve and/or a minimum level of cash on hand for unexpected expenses, litigation, and emergencies, just like individuals. Once our reserves have been reached the next area of focus should be the studies and projects. When they are prioritized I will work with my fellow council members to allocate funding and ensure their successful and efficient implementation.

Christ - As of March, the City has $23.9 million in cash reserves. Of this total, $9.4 million is in our SPLOST account and is restricted to transportation initiatives. (When the City negotiated the SPLOST sharing agreement with the county, we stipulated that our SPLOST allocation would be spent on transportation.) There is also $1.4 million in our Solid Waste Management Services account. That leaves $13 million in our general reserve account.
The best use of the SPLOST funds is as stipulated - transportation initiatives that improve and maintain our City roads and sidewalks. Projects should be prioritized based their impact on all residents. For the remaining $13 million, I support a conservative budgeting and appropriations process that keeps expenses below revenue, supports our low property tax, and maintains a significant "rainy day" fund.

Post 2 residents vote for one of these candidates on Tuesday May 24th at City Hall.