From Mayor Mason: Why Charter Changes are Necessary
I’d like to put into perspective the proposed changes to our charter. But first, I want to apologize for all the confusion. No one was more disappointed than I was that we even had to make these changes. As everyone knows, I led the “Yes Campaign” and made more promises about what a limited service city would be than anyone.
No one ever told me, or anyone with the “Yes Campaign,” that what we were proposing had an unconstitutional element. We were assured this innovative concept would work. It was vetted by the Office of Legislative Counsel before being passed by the Legislature, and then signed by the Governor before being presented to you in a referendum.
However, when we conducted our charter review at the 5-year mark, as most new cities do, we found out that the legislature had changed the rules. Not a surprise, the City of Tucker, the proposed City of Sharon Springs, and areas as far away as North Carolina and New York have contacted me about the concept. Because of this popularity, legal scholars were asked to examine the concept.
Whether to change the charter isn’t our choice, only how to comply with current State law. The actual changes needed in the language of our charter are the easy part. The hard part is keeping the promises that we made during the “Yes Campaign.” Before we talk about that, let’s review the limited service concept.
The real strength of the limited service concept was:
- Limiting those services provided directly by the city to the minimum,
- Requiring outsourcing to a public-public or public-private partnership for any other required services. For example, the City provides community development directly but outsources police service in a public-public partnership with Gwinnett County.
- The use of a public referendum to approve adding more services directly. The reasoning behind the public referendum was that citizen approval was the ultimate control over size of government and higher taxes. Under the legislature’s new rules, a city’s ability to meet its responsibility to provide services cannot be limited, even by a referendum.
However, there is a way to offer the citizens the ultimate control over the size of government and higher property taxes. We are proposing to adopt a local ordinance that would cap the millage rate at 1 mill AND require a referendum should City Council ever want to raise the millage above the 1 mill cap. In our current charter, only the legislature can increase the millage cap. Now, it will be in your hands.
In summary, three ordinances will be passed: one capping the millage rate, a second setting the salary of the mayor and council members (at the same level) and a third establishing public-private and public-public partnerships as the preferred service delivery model. To be clear, the City Council has no desire to add services, such as a police force, or increase their salaries.
One final thought: Some citizens predicted runaway spending and high taxes upon the formation of the City. Over the years, those fears have not proven correct. Currently, we have low unemployment, both citizens and companies want to move here, our property values have increased, and we have a zero-millage rate. I also ask that you judge us based on what we do in future years and not what some may fear could possibly happen.
Let me also invite you to a town hall meeting Wednesday night, January 10, 7:00 p.m. at the new City Hall (310 Technology Parkway) where all questions will be answered. Again, I apologize for all the confusion and distraction generated by this issue.
Mike Mason, Mayor