ADA and Atlanta’s budget crisis

To the editor:

Atlanta Development Authority Chief Financial Officer Tom DiGiovanni’s June 12 response to my letter about the ADA’s role in Atlanta’s budget woes fails to answer my points.

This revenue-starved city is in crisis. Furloughs, inadequate police and fire, denial of care to cops disabled on duty, and an imminent millage increase: Is this how the “ADA promotes the economic interest of the city”?

Atlanta’s property tax revenue has not grown by a single dollar during six years of rapid construction that boosted the city’s total property digest by $8 billion, or 50 percent.

Standard & Poor’s has downgraded our bonds, noting that Atlanta could not balance its budget even in these good times.

Many of us are paying much more property tax than in 2002, so why has the city’s overall income stayed flat? ADA’s tax giveaways have contributed to the crisis, and they need to stop.

This is not just about tax allocation districts (TADs), as my previous letter made clear. ADA also doles out tax abatements to non-TAD projects that then pay much lower property tax than ordinary residents. I asked how much tax ADA had given away through “phantom” development bonds and why this figure is not public. As CFO, DiGiovanni must know, but he chose to ignore the question. Will he tell us or not?

DiGiovanni trots out the spin that TADs raise sales tax takes. But they have not, as I pointed out in my letter. Atlanta’s sales tax revenue barely budged from 2002 to 2008, far less than inflation and a 25 percent population increase should have produced. As always, the spin also glosses over a key problem with TADs: The city has to provide services to new residents who move into Atlantic Station and the rest but for 25 years is left with no revenue to pay for those extra cops and firefighters.

TADs redirect development that would have met the demand for condo and retail space somewhere else in the city. The more condos built in Atlantic Station, the fewer built in taxpaying Midtown and Buckhead that would help fund city operations.

Even though the dismal consequences of tax-funded development subsidy are now clear, ADA is angling for the city, county and school board to give up future revenues in four more TADs. And ADA’s ability to do phantom bond deals remains untouched and unaccounted for.

The predictable result for residents is not “a better place to live, work and play,” but tax increases and service cuts as far as the eye can see.

Julian Bene

The bad side of TADs

To the editor:

The letter from Tom DiGiovanni, the chief financial officer of the Atlanta Development Authority, fails to include the most important element affecting the taxpayers in any tax allocation district (TAD). As the development progresses, the increased property taxes do not accrue to Atlanta, Fulton County or the school board, but instead go to paying the interest (and principal) on the 25-year bonds financing the project. During these 25 years, it is the taxpayers of Atlanta who are subsidizing the cost of city, county and school services within each TAD.

John S. Sherman, president
Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation

Stood up; will you be held up?

To the editor:

In early April the Heartland Institute announced it would hold the Third International Conference on Climate Change four blocks from the U.S. Capitol on June 2. The purpose was to inform members of Congress and staffs of the latest science on carbon dioxide’s influence on climate and economic effects of curtailing fossil fuel use under the Waxman-Markey bill.

As a retired Georgia Tech engineering professor with 50 years’ experience in energy policy, I thought it necessary to contact Rep. John Lewis’ office and brief his energy staffer, Jesse Uman, about the conference. After numerous unanswered phone calls, I was able to make an appointment for 4 p.m. June 1. I traveled to Washington at my expense and was stood up for my meeting.

The Waxman-Markey bill (H.B. 2454) is an attempt to control climate by reducing fossil fuel use by 2050 to per capita levels of the Civil War. The cost will be in the trillions of dollars. I hope Rep. Lewis is well informed before he makes his vote on that bill in a few weeks. If the bill passes, you will be held up.

James H. Rust

Trees matter to us

To the editor:

Thank you so much for your story on The Tree Next Door (“Tree Next Door plots advocacy,” June 12-25). It was well-written, accurate and inspiring.

I’m so glad the neighborhood has the Buckhead Reporter to turn to, since the Atlanta Journal-Constitution seems to think we only care about potholes.

Mercy Wright