By John Schaffner
Just about everyone is saying the cuts made to the city budget Dec. 2 “are cutting to the bare bones.” The mayor has said it. The fire chief has said it. City Council members have said it. But no one knows whether the cuts will be enough to last through the rest of the fiscal year.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin announced the city this month will cut 222 jobs, shut down Fire Station 23 at 1545 Howell Mill Road, which serves some of south Buckhead, and close 22 of the city’s 33 recreation centers. But she said no police officers or firefighters will be laid off.
A big chunk of the latest cuts — some $3 million — will hit the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, with almost 150 workers dismissed, the closing of the 22 recreation centers and the delayed opening of nine city pools, along with the elimination of some arts programs, including the Jazz Fest.
But Buckhead fared better than some areas of the city. The largest impacts on Buckhead involve the closing of Fire Station 23, the “brownout” possibilities involving Fire Station 26 (see story, page 12) at Howell Mill and Moores Mill roads, and cutbacks involving the funding of staff and programs at the Chastain Arts Center (see story, page 10). The Peachtree Hills Recreation Center was one of the 11 to survive being shuttered until the new fiscal year starts July 1.
The cuts come as the city administration continues to deal with an anticipated fiscal 2009 budget shortfall of at least $50 million — a figure that could grow in the months to come.
“We are now cutting into what we believe is the bone,” Franklin said. The latest cuts she announced are expected to save nearly $14 million.
The new round of job cuts, the third this year, should occur this month. The city laid off 372 of its 4,400 general fund employees in two cuts earlier in 2008 to deal with a $140 million budget shortfall for last fiscal year.
Franklin also announced the city is slashing most city employees’ workweeks, and thus pay, by 10 percent beginning Dec. 22. Thus they will work 36 hours a week instead of 40 hours.
City Hall and City Hall East will be closed to the public on Fridays as part of the austerity cuts. City Hall and City Hall East will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Many citizens are expressing puzzlement and anger over the cuts, trying to understand the flourish of activities in the past month. This is how the city administration explains the occurrences of the past 30 days:
On Nov. 12, the Franklin administration presented the city’s first-quarter general fund financial results to the City Council. Revenues during that quarter, which ended Sept. 30, were down approximately 12.6 percent. Based on those revenue losses, the city administration projected a $50 million to $60 million shortfall for fiscal 2009, which started July 1 and will end June 30.
The city administration announced three cost-saving measures to reduce expenses and close the shortfall: a hiring freeze; a weekly four-hour furlough for all employees paid from the general fund, beginning with the Dec. 11 pay period; and the proposed the commitment of $12 million in reserve funds to offset the lost revenue. Collectively, the administration estimated those measures would reduce the projected shortfall by $37 million to $42 million.
To close the remaining shortfall, the Franklin administration identified an additional $13.9 million in reductions to be implemented during December. Those announced cuts were $3 million from the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, $2.5 million from the Public Works Department, $1 million from the Planning and Community Development Department (including a reduction of 20 percent of the permitting staff, reflecting the decline in permitting activities), and $7.4 million in various administrative and support department reductions.
Changes in Public Works
The most significant changes in the operations of the Public Works Department will occur within Solid Waste Services.
Household garbage collection will be changed from a five-day pickup schedule to a four-day schedule, Monday to Thursday. Former Friday pickups will be moved either to Monday or Thursday. External customers may be affected by the consolidated weekly trash collection schedule, effective Jan. 5.
Recycling and yard trimmings will be collected biweekly instead of weekly.
Also, the city will cancel the last two neighborhood street cleanings for the fiscal year, leaving two this year instead of four.
The Public Works Online Permitting System (PWOPS) will continue to serve as a 24-hour mechanism for utility/franchise companies to apply and receive permits.
Parks Department changes
The 11 surviving recreation centers, including Peachtree Hills, will remain open Monday to Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. They will be open on Fridays from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. only for the after-school programs. The recreation centers are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
All other city-operated facilities and programs will be closed on Fridays, including indoor swimming pools and tennis centers. Adjustment in the hours of those facilities are expected to be announced. It is anticipated that Camp Best Friends sites will be among the 11 centers remaining in service; the hours will be announced in early spring.
About a dozen of the recreation centers slated for shutdown already are closed for renovations or other reasons. The centers will still be available for special events. Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Dianne Harnell Cohen said recreation officials looked at “geographic equity” in deciding which centers to close. She said no part of Atlanta is left without a recreation center.
The opening of outdoor swimming pools will be deferred until after June 30, except for the pools at Pittman Park, Grant Park and Adams Park, which will open at the end of May.
The city budget cuts will not affect the schedules of the pools operated by partners of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs at Chastain Park, Piedmont Park and Garden Hills.
Municipal Court operations
The Municipal Court remains open Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. but now is closed on Fridays. Defendants can pay using online and telephone payment services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or pay in person Monday through Thursday.