Parks Department achieves accreditation

Atlanta’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, which has been criticized in the past, reached a major milestone in March by passing accreditation guidelines set by the Commission for Accreditation of Parks & Recreation Agencies.

The commission measured Atlanta in 155 categories, such as programming, park acquisition, fiscal management and security.

Mayor Shirley Franklin said the accreditation is important because it shows the department is on the right track. It also could result in more money from philanthropic foundations.

“This has been a long, long road,” said the department’s commissioner, Dianne Harnell Cohen. The department worked toward accreditation for four years.

Eight years ago, the Trust for Public Land ranked Atlanta among the nation’s worst cities for parks. Since 2002, the city has purchased more than 1,000 acres of parkland and green space. The city also increased its tree canopy from 23 percent in 2001 to 27 percent by 2005.

Web site to measure city’s performance

The city of Atlanta has launched a performance management system, the ATLStat public Web site, to provide Mayor Shirley Franklin and her senior management team with real-time information regarding the performance and effectiveness of city services.

The management team typically meets weekly to review the operating performance of city departments. The team uses ATLStat to identify and solve service delivery issues. The mayor says service delivery has improved and significant operating savings have been identified across agencies as a consequence of the in-depth focus on day-to-day performance.

The ATLStat process has three primary goals:

• Information — Provide periodic operating statistics to the mayor and chief operating officer that convey the quality of service delivery.

• Management — Provide a management tool that increases accountability in senior management by setting performance targets and tracking progress toward those targets.

• Transparency — Create a public window into the performance of city services.

The ATLStat site provides operating highlights of recent ATLStat sessions, information on eight key performance measures and links to departmental scorecards. The scorecards are updated periodically, based on the nature of measures.

The link to the ATLStat site is available at www.atlantaga.gov.

Court favors city in suit with online travel firms

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled March 23 in favor of the city of Atlanta in its lawsuit against numerous online travel companies for unpaid hotel occupancy taxes. The court reinstated the case.

In the lawsuit, the city alleges that online travel companies such as Expedia and Hotels.com charge consumers a retail price for hotel rooms but remit hotel occupancy taxes based on the undisclosed wholesale rate that they pay the hotels. The city believes it is entitled to receive the tax on the price paid by consumers.

The Supreme Court held that the city was entitled to proceed with its litigation to secure a ruling on the threshold issue of whether the defendants are required to pay the occupancy tax on the full room rate.

Brand Atlanta loses funding from city

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has pulled the plug on funding of the city’s 3-year-old marketing campaign, Brand Atlanta, citing the effects of the recession on the city’s finances.

After spending $8 million on Brand Atlanta since October 2005, Franklin suspended public funding March 9, which will force the organization to operate without a staff.

Although the mayor said marketing is crucial to the city’s ability to attract tourists, she said Brand Atlanta is going to have to look to the private sector to support its activities.

City learns it can charge more for late water bills

Just when Atlanta residents are being laid off and struggling to pay their bills, Atlanta Watershed Management Commissioner Rob Hunter has announced that, effective May 1, his department is changing its late fee policy, likely increasing costs for those who miss the payment date by even a day.

The Department of Water Management now tacks a 5 percent late fee onto water bills, but Hunter recently discovered that for nearly three years the city code has given his staff the option of charging 5 percent or $5 for late payments.

In the name of complying with the code, the department now will impose a $5 late charge if it is more than 5 percent of the past-due balance.

The city’s Code of Ordinances reads, “A late fee of $5 or 5 percent of the total bill, whichever is greater, will be assessed on all water and sewer bills rendered that are not paid by the established due date on the bill.”

Because the overdue amount has to be more than $100 for the 5 percent calculation to be more than $5, the flat fee is usually higher for late water payments.