By John Schaffner

Within days of being told by Atlanta’s Chief Financial Officer Janice Davis that the city’s budget deficit may be slightly less than the $70 million previously projected, Atlanta City Council members were faced with news the city has outstanding, unpaid bills from several vendors, including one for $2.7 million for a company that had not been paid for six months.

Obviously irritated by the ongoing revelations of problems in the handling of the city’s finances, the council voted unanimously March 17 to get tough on city workers holding onto unpaid invoices.

That action came after council approved paying the $2.7 million to Republic Services, which had a multi-year contract to accept some of the city’s trash at a facility in Austell. Council solved that one problem with Republic Services by unanimously agreeing to a contract that pays the business for the months it was not paid and through January 2009.

The non-binding resolution passed by council during its regular meeting asks that Mayor Shirley Franklin order city workers to hand in any unpaid invoices to the city’s Finance Department within 30 days. Council also wants a status report on outstanding invoices from the Finance Department in 45 days.

According to the resolution, workers who do not comply will be subject to “adverse action,” which is defined in the city code as suspension without pay, being demoted or being fired.

Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who wrote the resolution, said, “We are in a budget crisis and we’re never going to get a handle on where we are until we figure out how many (unpaid) invoices are out there.”

City finance officials recently said they have found unpaid invoices from other companies, besides Republic Services, or heard complaints from some vendors who haven’t been paid. The problems were discovered while the city’s books were being re-examined relative to the major budget deficit that had previously been unearthed.

Atlanta faces a projected $65 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

City officials claim these problems should end with the computer software system that was installed in late December.

During a presentation at a two-day retreat that began March 13, Davis told council members she did not anticipate the deficit is going to be $70 million. She said the gap currently is expected to be $65 million when the city closes its books June 30 for the fiscal year.

Davis said the rosier projection is based on slightly higher-than-expected revenues and cost-cutting measures put in place.

Mayor Franklin and her staff have blamed the anticipated shortfall largely on the sluggish economy. However, some costs were miscalculated and several budgeting errors were made.

City officials have said they plan to deal with the budget gap by cutting some costs, hiring only essential employees and using the city’s $65 million reserve fund.

Nearly all city departments have been asked to present proposed budgets for the new fiscal year with 25 percent cuts. Departments not included in those cuts are public safety, and parks, recreation and cultural affairs.