By John Schaffner
The Atlanta City Council on June 25 approved a $559 million 2011 General Fund Budget by vote of 12-1. The budget provides for a reduction in the city’s pension liability for new employees, the hiring of 100 new police officers and the opening of all city recreation centers.
During a called Friday session, council members amended the budget to add a 3.5 percent step salary increase for sworn police and fire personnel starting Jan. 1 and a one-time $450 bonus for city employees earning less than $75,000 per year.
Excluded from the bonus will be employees in the executive office of the mayor, including cabinet members and department commissioners.
Mayor Kasim Reed lauded the council for passing the budget, which is effective July 1 and increases cash reserves, invests more resources in public safety and includes $3.7 million to reopen the city’s recreation centers and transform them into “Centers of Hope.”
“I commend the members of the Atlanta City Council for their steadfast commitment during this budget review and approval process,” said Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell. “Even though we are in tough economic times, through working in partnership with the administration, I believe we were able to take significant strides towards strengthening the city’s service delivery platform.
“Public safety and youth engagement are obviously strong quality of life themes in this budget,” Mitchell said. “I am also encouraged by the internal reforms we supported in the areas of cash reserves, employee compensation and benefits and technology.”
Finance/Executive Committee Chairwoman Yolanda Adrean, of Dist. 8 in Buckhead, said there is a lot to celebrate in the new budget.
“First of all, there’s no tax increase and we have begun pension reform, which, once completed, will relieve our city of a vast financial burden. We are also putting more police officers on the street and investing in new equipment in the departments of police and public works. This city is also adding $27 million to its reserves,” she said.
With an affirmative vote Friday, the council began the arduous task of reducing the city’s pension liability. The change will only apply to employees hired after July 1 of this year, returning some pension benefits to their 2000 level.
The salary multiplier will roll back from 3 percent to 2 percent for firefighters and police officers and from 2.5 percent to 2 percent for the city’s general workers. The vesting period will increase from 10 to 15 years for a city worker’s pension. This change is expected to save $5.4 million for the city in the first year — the equivalent of more than 50 police officers.
In addition, the city has long had a goal of putting at least 2,000 police officers on the beat. The new budget allows for the addition of 100 new officers this year, reaching a total of 1,851 officers on the force.
The budget passed with one dissenting vote. It was cast by Dist. 9 City Councilmember Felicia Moore of Buckhead, who expressed concern that the budget lacked the necessary fiscal discipline during a recession and did not support the city’s commitment to restoring fiscal stability as contemplated in the five-year stabilization plan.
Moore quoted the plan which states: “Improving the city’s financial position is a long-term strategy requiring proactive decisions and actions over multiple years. The opportunity for increasing city services and costs over the next five years is severely limited without corresponding new revenue sources.”
“The new expenditures in this budget do not have corresponding revenue sources,” Moore stated.” This is putting us back on the track of deficit spending. Yes, I think it’s great we can tout to our constituents that we are not raising their taxes today, but time will tell if we can tell them that tomorrow.”
Friday, during six hours of budget deliberations, the council approved by a vote of 13-0 a substitute ordinance increasing existing fire inspection fees, fire plan review fees, and fire permit fees; and by a vote of 12-1 approved an ordinance authorizing an increase in the annual fees for recycling, from $30 to $88 per year.
A copy of the adopted FY ’11 Atlanta City Budget will be posted at: http://www.atlantaga.gov/government/finance/budget_091903.aspx