By John Schaffner
Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore, whose Dist. 9 includes a strip of Buckhead’s western border, has introduced legislation that requires the city’s Office of Budget and Fiscal Policy (OBFP) to annually develop a five-year financial stabilization plan, which would be presented to the City Council for review and approval before the council acted on the new fiscal year’s budget.
The purpose of the financial stabilization plan (FSP), Moore said, is to get “long-term accountability on the budget and to make sure that we understand the financial status of the city in time before we begin to develop the budget.”
The third-term council member, who has been one of the council’s most persistent watchdogs of city spending, said: “There are things that the public sees — the core services that affect them — but that is not all that the city is responsible for.
“This is not a five-year budget as such, but it does focus on some fundamental issues that we have to look at — the pensions, debts, deficit funding, future funding that we are going to have to come up with, having a rainy day fund, actually ending the year instead of with $5 million or $10 million with $100 million — actually having a reserve fund so that you have something to draw on.”
The legislation, which was introduced at the June 15 council meeting, will go before the city’s Finance Committee on July 1 and before the full council for a vote at its next regular meeting, July 6. All council members have signed onto the legislation except Cleta Winslow, who was not at the June 15 meeting. The administration also supports the program.
The initial FSP will have to be submitted to the council by Oct. 15 but will have no effect on the 2009-10 budget the council must adopt by June 30.
The legislation includes a list of priorities in order of preference, Moore said. They came from the city’s chief financial officer.
“It is a long list,” she said. “These are things that probably should be taken care of before we start spending more money. That is all part of the financial stability plan for the city.”
The priorities for the initial plan should include the following priorities in order of preference:
• Elimination of all deficits in the funds supported by the general fund and elimination of the “memorandums of understanding” of borrowing from the cash pool.
• Identification of a funding source by 2013 for police officers added in fiscal 2010 under the federal COPS program.
• Examination and reduction of the amortization period of the unfunded liability for all three pension plans.
• Identification of a funding source to make lease payments to replace the city’s vehicles.
• Reinstatement of cost-of-living increases for employees to retain quality personnel as the economy improves.
• Identification of a funding source to repay any other obligation the city undertakes with the federal or state government.
• Establishment of a general fund balance of $100 million (rainy day fund).
• Establishment of future bond issues to fund long-term infrastructure needs.
This year the internal auditor recommended that the city should be budgeting five years at a time and updating that budget each year. Moore said her legislation does not provide for that but is a step toward planning far enough ahead to eliminate the surprises and crises that have plagued the city’s budgets the past few years.
“You just have to think about how many times this thing has come up, whether from the internal auditor, the current CFO or the past CFO for that matter, or more recently the rating agencies,” Moore said.
“Some of these things are basic, and some are an inability to manage money correctly, spending more than you have,” she said. “Nevertheless, at the end of the day, all of them have to be taken care of. I think we have to be reminded of that on an annual basis.”
She said she does not think it will be set up as a five-year budget, but the legislation leaves the door open for the CFO to structure the details of the program. “That is why I wanted to do it now, to make sure he had an opportunity to put down what we need to look at from a financial point of view and give us sort of a template of what the plan should be like.”
After council adopts the first FSP no later than the third Monday of January, it will be updated annually by the budget office and city administration and submitted to the council by Oct. 15 each year.