By John Schaffner
Dist. 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean declared there is a lot to celebrate in the $559 million Atlanta budget passed 12-1 on June 25.
“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,” said the chair of the city’s Finance/Administration Committee. “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.”
The general fund budget provides for a reduction in the city’s pension liability for new employees and the hiring of 100 new police officers.
During the special called meeting, council members amended the budget to add a 3.5 percent 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 was 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.”
“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,” said Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell.
The council began the arduous task of reducing the city’s pension liability—returning some pension benefits to their 2000 level—but the change will only apply to employees hired after July 1.
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.
The budget passed with one dissenting vote cast by Dist. 9 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.
“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.”
Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook, who had an excused absence from the final budget session, said, “The things that are most important to me are all in there. As with anything that contains thousands of line items, you are not going to get everything you want,” he added.
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