By John Schaffner
Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean says the city budget adopted this summer met all expectations and added to the city’s reserves.
She told members of the Buckhead Business Association on July 22 that while she is not worried about budgetary problems in fiscal 2011, “I am concerned about 2012, because we have taken on some big initiatives with our mayor.”
Adrean, who represents about half of Buckhead, said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed “was able to achieve all of his objectives” in the new budget—adding 100 new police officers, a 3.5 percent pay increase for police officers and re-opening the city’s recreation centers, which the mayor calls Centers of Hope.
Adrean, who chairs the council’s finance committee, told the group of Buckhead business leaders that on paper, the $559 million budget covers all of these programs and more without an anticipated increase in city revenues during the new fiscal year, which began July 1.
“This was my first budget as a council member and it was quite an adventure,” the first-term District 8 councilwoman said. “We hope we passed a budget that will serve citizens better. We made some terrific investments.”
The new budget also provides that no city fire stations will be closed during the year and that all city employees—not just police and fire employees—will receive raises beginning Jan. 1. “We were able to pull $35 million out of our budget and rearrange things” to make it happen, she said.
“We achieved efficiencies on every level of government and we are not done. We can’t be done,” she said. “We do not want to raise your taxes. That is a commitment from me and a commitment from the mayor.”
So what are Adrean’s concerns? The city will not really know until some time next year the real financial repercussions of the promised raises, of reopening the recreation centers or of hiring of the 100 new police officers and making in the city’s three pension plans, which cover the police, fire and general employees.
However, Adrean said, operational changes instituted in the budgeting process and financial controls at the end of Mayor Shirley Franklin’s term by then Chief Financial Officer James Glass have made a big difference in the ability of the mayor and the council to know what financial shape the city is in at any point during the budget year.
“We now know every month what the cash flow is,” she explained, which is a big change from previous years.
She said the city now has a five-year plan for financial planning and the council is presently working on a strategic plan to guide its own operations.
In response to a question, the councilwoman said negotiations with Fulton County to purchase or lease the city jail were at a stalemate at this time, but she was still hopeful for a positive outcome. In the meantime, however, she said the city has been above to carve $5 million to $10 million out of the operating costs of the jail for the new budget.
She pointed out that it costs the city $125 per day to house a prisoner in the city’s own jail. However, the city has found it can house that prisoner in south Fulton County for $50 per day.
She was asked the status of the sale of City Hall East, which the city has vacated. She said the city hopes to have a sales agreement on the property by fall. “Of course, the current market price is less now than it was when the city initially started to sell the property,” she explained. “But it is important that we sell the property as soon as possible.” She wants the funds from the sale to be used for infrastructure needs.