Calling it a “crisis,” Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather began laying out plans to increase revenue and address the city’s public safety needs during a meeting of the city’s finance committee meeting Friday.
The finance committee consists of council members David Lusby and Connie Tackett, finance director Stacey Clark, chief administrative officer Andrew Hartley and Prather, all of whom participated in a Zoom meeting. Prather noted that he had asked other council members to watch the meeting via the city’s YouTube channel and they could watch but were unable to participate in the meeting.
“Our circumstances are dire,” Prather said. “We have public safety needs that must be met. Our status quo is not sustainable.”
The mayor referred back to a study the city conducted last year comparing Georgetown to 18 peer cities in Kentucky. The study compared city revenue sources and expenses such as those for police, fire, dispatch and public works.
The study revealed Georgetown’s police force is 27 officers short of the FBI recommended standard for a city with Georgetown’s population and 20 officers less than the average of the peer cities. The study also showed Georgetown’s pay and incentives for police officers was $3,455 less than the peer average, even after the council approved a $5,000 annual raise late last year, Prather said.
Police Chief Michael Bosse has requested the starting pay for police officers to be increased to $45,500 with a $4,000 annual incentive for training and longevity or $49,500 annually. The cost would be $330,000 for existing officers. Each new officer hired costs the city $87,000 for training and equipment, said the mayor.
The city’s fire department is short some eight firefighters of the national standard and 22 firefighters short of the peers average. The annual salary is about $4,649 less than peer cities, even after the council approved a $5,000 annual raise last year the mayor said. Each new firefighter hired costs the city $75,701 for training and equipment, he said.
Fire Chief Eric Colson has requested that starting pay firefighters be equalized with the police department and increased to $45,500 with a $4,000 annual incentive bonus for training and longevity or $49,500 annually, which would require a $6,920 increase. The cost of this adjustment would be abut $600,000 annually.
The city also needs at least two additional employees in public works and the hourly wage for those employees should be increased to $15 per hour for employees and $18 per hour for drivers, he said.
“We have some very real operational concerns,” Prather said.
The mayor outlined a five-year plan to address manpower shortage at the police, fire departments, adding five new officers and firefighters each per year for three years. The increase in salaries plus needed work on stormwater issues and other capital improvements such as a city hall renovation and a new fire station would require a revenue increase of as much as $8.6 million by the fourth year, Prather said.
Among the options to increase revenue discussed by the finance committee include:
—Raising the tax on insurance premiums from 5 percent to 8 percent. In order to be able to implement this tax increase for the 2021-22 fiscal year which begins July 1, the council must approve it by March 23 in order to notify the state.
—Transitioning from a net profits tax to a gross receipts tax for businesses.
—Implementing a stormwater fee
—Levying a restaurant tax. Such a tax would have to be earmarked for specific expenses such as tourism marketing, etc.
—Increasing the payroll tax
—Increasing the property tax
—Privatizing garbage collection and levying a franchise fee.
—Implement a development impact fee
—Levy a gas franchise fee
—Implement a special property tax rate for abandoned/urban property
—Increase fees for services such as building inspections, cemetery plots and fire inspections.
Several of those options are not practical or would not generate much revenue, but they all should be considered, Prather said. Any tax increases or new fees must be approved by the full city council and require first and second reading of the ordinances.
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.