By John Schaffner
The ink hadn’t dried on the signatures of Atlanta City Council members who passed the 2010 fiscal year city budget—with a 3 mill property tax increase for Atlanta residents and businesses—when the city’s chief financial officer predicted “the budget, even with the tax increase, is not a slam-dunk.”
More service cuts may be required if the city’s financial problems persist, said CFO Jim Glass. It was a sobering thought many members of council thought might become a reality, but few had been willing to discuss before voting 8-7 for the tax increase and then hours later voting 9-6 in favor of the budget with the tax increase.
Here’s how the budget votes were recorded this election year:
Felicia Moore was the only Buckhead council member who voted to approve both the tax increase and the budget, and she only represents a small sliver of Buckhead’s west side.
Council members Howard Shook, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, and Clair Muller, who is seeking election to be president of council, both voted against both the tax increase and the budget, as did At-Large Council member Mary Norwood, who is campaigning to become mayor in November.
Joining Moore in voting in favor of both the tax increase and budget were C.T. Martin, Natalyn Mosby Archibong, Anne Fauver (who is not seeking re-election), Ceasar Mitchell (who is running against Muller for president of council), Joyce Sheperd, Carla Smith and Ivory Lee Young, Jr.
Joining Shook, Muller and Norwood in voting against the tax hike were Kwanza Hall, Jim Maddox, Cleta Winslow and H. Lamar Willis. However, Willis changed camps and voted for the budget with the tax hike on the later vote, which made that count 9-6.
Only Mary Norwood, of those candidates already running for mayor, actually cast a vote on both the tax hike and budget, and she voted against both stating she could not support a budget with a tax increase when she did not trust the numbers coming out of Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration.
Council President Lisa Borders, said she would not support the property tax increase, but she did not have to officially cast a vote. The council president only casts a vote in the case of a tie.
The two council members seeking to replace Borders as council president voted on opposite sides of the tax increase and budget approval.
Many individuals and even members of organizations, such as the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, had stated they planned to watch carefully which council members voted for the property tax increase and vote accordingly in the Nov. 3 elections.
Asked if he thought his vote for the tax increases would become a major issue in his race against Muller, Mitchell said, “At most it will become a topic of discussion and debate. I think it is a discussion that should be had.”
Mitchell pointed out that the budget passed by council made an investment in the city’s service delivery infrastructure, instituted financial reforms—including dealing with repaying Watershed Management for loans it made to city operations—and it made a commitment to a certain level of services by eliminating the furloughs.
Two major risks facing the city that caused the CFO to raise his sobering thought about further service cuts are: That the digest from Fulton County would come in lower than anticipated and the downturn in the economy continues or grows worse.
Even Councilwoman Moore had predicted before the votes that the 3 mill property tax increase would not solve the city’s problems. At best, she understood it would bring the city almost back to the point where it was prior to the rash of employee layoffs, budget cuts and furloughs in the past year and at least eliminate the furloughs in the police and fire departments.
As for Atlanta property owners was just the first revenue clubbing they took in the final days of June and first day of July. On July 1, everyone’s water/sewer bills increased by 12.5 percent also, part of the four-year plan passed by City Council in 2008 to fund the ongoing rebuilding of the water and sewer system infrastructure.