By John Schaffner

City Council negotiations over the proposed 2008-09 Atlanta city budget will likely result in a reduction of the 0.43 mill increase in property taxes but not eliminate the need for some increase in property taxes.

Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook, who chairs the Finance/Administration Committee, said his proposal is to knock a solid 25 percent out of the previously anticipated 0.43 mill increase, which would leave about a 0.3 mill increase in the property taxes.

“I am not finding a way to completely do away with a property tax increase,” Shook told the Buckhead Reporter. He said he does not foresee being able to reduce the city administration’s earlier announced 0.43 mill increase “more than a quarter.”

Shook said the difficulty in eliminating the property tax increase lies with the fact “75 percent of the city budget is people.”

“Fifty-two percent of the general fund budget is in public safety. It is hard to cut when 50 percent of the expenditures are off the table,” the Buckhead representative said.

Shook said that balancing the budget without a property tax increase “would demand taking a buzz saw to public safety, which the citizens clearly don’t want us to do.”

He explained that the council would attempt to finalize the balanced budget by Friday, June 27. However, the council could recess the Friday meeting and resume Monday, the final day of the month. Even if the balanced budget legislation is passed June 30, the City Council will have done its legal duty by returning a balanced budget to Mayor Shirley Franklin by the last day of June.

Franklin has line-item veto powers with the budget. If she exercises them, that could lengthen the budget adoption process.

In an interview June 24, as the Buckhead Reporter was going to press, Shook said budget meetings and negotiations among council members would continue right up to the deadline.

He expected about a half-dozen amendments to be forthcoming in the final days of negotiations. At this point, he said, “we start eating the elephant.”

Shook said he is surprised there has not been more outrage over the June 19 passage by the council of a 27.5 percent increase in water/sewer rates for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and a total of 70 percent in water/sewer rate increases over the next four years. The council passed the increases on a 13-0 vote.

The average water bill in the city is projected to increase about $21 a month during the new fiscal year.

Shook said that action alone will have a greater impact on residents in the city than the property tax increase that is being considered.

Shook said there also will be increases in a number of other city fees, including some new ones involving the courts, jail beds, developers whose plans require a lot of personnel or resources during the review process, and items such as maps that previously were free.

Those are expected to result in about $16 million in new revenues in the new budget, which is to go into effect July 1.