By John Schaffner
One of three Atlanta City Council members from Buckhead on the city Finance Committee has sent her colleagues a “comprehensive amendment” to the administration’s proposed 2011 General Fund Budget that one council member called “practically a whole new budget.”
Dist. 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore submitted the comprehensive amendment because she has said “since the first day the budget was proposed that is not balanced.”
“It is contingent on deals that have yet to be finalized,” she said in correspondence with her colleagues.
Moore proposes having the council adopt a balanced budget by the required legal deadline of the end of June without committing to spending for items that rely on funding from the yet-to-be-finalized initiatives. Then she proposes amending the budget throughout the year to adding programs as more money becomes available from items such as the pension reform or sale/lease of the city jail.
“The mayor has proposed to fill the gap in the General Fund Budget with the sale/lease of the jail to Fulton County, pension reform and other yet to be finalized initiatives that, if realized in the timeframe anticipated, could yield up to $25 million,” Moore wrote, “which can be used to increase reserves, enhance service delivery and restore mayoral priorities.”
Moore said most of the new spending in the mayor’s budget proposal is for items such as the reopening of the city’s recreation centers, now named Centers for Hope; hiring 100 new police officers; and a 3.5 percent step increase in pay for uniformed police officers.
“That new spending is primarily covered by savings from release of employees in the Department of Corrections and savings from changing the pension for new hires,” she explained.
“All of the mayor’s new initiatives are important to our city and particularly our youth,” Moore said. “My amendment in no way stops us from considering the future appropriation of funds for these efforts, as they become available.”
Meanwhile, as Moore was sending her comprehensive amendment to her colleagues, Mayor Kasim Reed announced a plan to continue to use the city jail until Oct. 1 and then to lease daily bed space for 200 prisoners from the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail in Union City.
Reed’s office said the move would save the city $2.5 million. The mayor’s budget amendment, submitted to council on June 16, reflects Reed’s frustrations with Fulton County over not being able to come to an agreement with over leasing or purchasing the city’s jail.
Under the deal with South Fulton, the city would have guaranteed space for at least 125 inmates per day at a cost of $50 a night for each bed. It costs the city $100 per night to house each inmate in its own jail.
Responding to the mayor’s latest budget move, Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook said he thinks it is a wise move. “This solves two problems for us. It lets Fulton know we are serious about the offer that has been made for the county to take over the jail and it confirms the mayor’s commitment to get this albatross off of our backs.”
Shook, like Moore, sits on the Finance Committee that is chaired by the third Buckhead representative Dist. 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean.
Shook said he told Moore her amendment “contains so many moving parts” that it would be difficult to get a consensus on everything from the council members. “There are many things I like,” he said.
However, he said the core of Moore’s amendment contains elements he cannot support—such as holding off funding for 100 new police officers, withholding funds for reopening recreation centers and delaying a vote on pension reform.
He said, “These are items that are non-negotiable” to Moore. So, if it came to an up-or-down vote on her amendment, he added, “I would vote against it.”
Adrean said she was ready to act on the pension proposal.
“There is no mystery about it,” she added. “We owe this to our constituents. We don’t need to do this because it will help fund new programs. We need to do this because it is the right thing to do,” Adrean stated.
Adrean said she is offering an alternative plan as well. “It does fund 100 new police officers,” she said. “We all campaigned on improving our public safety, so I will support that.”
However, she said she will not support the 3.5 percent step increase in pay just for police officers. “No one is getting pay raises in these economic times,” she said. She said the time to discuss pay raises is next year after the Pension Panel completes its work. “Then we need to address pay raises for all employees, not just police officers.”
She said the city has many, many unfilled positions as a result of discussions that were started in January as to how to deal with the budget in the tough economy where revenues are down.
“The administration predicts we will have $18 million in unexpended funds at the end of this fiscal year,” she explained. “I think it may be $10 million.”
But she said $27 million has been put aside this year for reserves, “which are for use when the economy tanks”
“Reserves are for those rainy days, but I think they can be used to invest in essentials, such as additional police officers,” she said.
“You know, we will be opening Fire Station 11 (at Atlantic Station) this year without having to close Station 23,” which is right up Howell Mill Road at Chattahoochee Avenue, Adrean said. “And, we are funding the purchase of a new pothole dump truck and a pothole crew. I am real happy about that.”