PERRY -- Service fees are inevitable for Perry residents, and it would be best to explain the necessity to the public sooner rather than later, City Manager Lee Gilmour told City Council on Tuesday.
“Yeah, it’s a tax,” Gilmour said. “But the bottom line is you need more money.”
Gilmour, council members and Mayor Jimmy Faircloth returned to the subject of fees several times during a discussion facilitated by Murray Weed, of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, during a daylong retreat at the Ramada Inn.
City officials said fees could provide a more reliable stream of revenue for the city than property taxes, the current main revenue source.
“The difference is property values jump around,” Councilman William Jackson said. “If you had a fee, the fee is more constant.”
Stormwater, fire fees proposed
City officials discussed two specific fees at the retreat -- those for stormwater and fire protection.
A state mandate will require the city to regulate and monitor stormwater runoff by 2013, Faircloth said. He said a fee would be the best way to pay for the necessary equipment.
In a memo to City Council, Gilmour listed two plans to phase in the stormwater utility district costs.
The first plan starts households with a $4.25 per month fee for the first year that will increase to $4.73 per month over five years. This would generate $635,330 the first year and $709,105 the fifth year.
The second plan starts with a $1.90 per month fee and increases to $5.40 over five years, generating $283,000 the first year and $801,800 by the fifth year.
Council members also revisited the idea of a fire protection fee to help fund firefighter salaries for a second fire station they intend to begin building by the end of the year.
In a memo to City Council, Gilmour recommended council shift one of the two crews from the current fire station to the second fire station and add firefighters with the help of a fire protection fee. The proposed amount of the fee was unknown Tuesday.
Residents spoke against a fire protection fee during budget hearings in May. City Council did not implement the fee when it approved the fiscal 2012 budget in June.
However, Faircloth said Tuesday the city must find another revenue source. Council has cut as much from the general fund as possible, he said, and without more revenue would likely need to cut some essential personnel.
“What I don’t want to do is that we come into February again and we have a $400,000 budget shortfall like we did last year,” said Faircloth, noting he anticipates higher expenses this year.
Eventually, he said, the city could operate on fees instead of property taxes.
Council agreed to have Gilmour develop budget scenarios for review at the Aug. 1 work session.
Councilwoman Phyllis Bynum-Grace and Councilman Joe Posey said they weren’t yet sold on the fees, but they understood why fees could become a necessity.
Economic development position considered
Enhancing revenue was just one of six priorities council identified at the retreat. Besides enhancing revenue, improving fire services and establishing a stormwater district, they also discussed generating economic development, re-creating a capital improvement program, and creating a growth plan.
Council also discussed hiring an economic development director to coordinate the efforts of the Downtown Development Authority, the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce and the Houston County Development Authority.
“We need a person whose primary goal is to push us,” Faircloth told the group.
Gilmour and Faircloth said the city would probably fund the position mostly through the hotel/motel tax. Gilmour said, if necessary, money could be shifted through the general fund.
“What makes Perry unique is that the hotel/motel tax is primarily used for economic development,” Gilmour said.
Council members said they are interested in attracting different industries to the city, as well as generating interest in the downtown area.
“For so long we kept Perry this quaint little town, that we kept these industries at bay,” said Bynum-Grace.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.