By John Schaffner
Two Buckhead members of Atlanta City Council and three members elected at-large recently shared their thoughts on the top issues facing Atlanta—from pension reform, to transportation needs, to attaining financial stabililty—as negotiations are underway for the 2012 city budget.
Dist. 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who chairs the city’s Finance Committee, said, “We are already starting to talk about budget proceedings for 2012. “While the private business sector seems to be emerging from this recession, it takes municipalities two years to catch up,” she added.
Dist. 8 Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who represents the far western part of Buckhead, reminded the group she was the lone vote against the 2011 budget that went into effect July 1” and I continue to be concerned about the city’s financial future.”
She said she was able to get a financial stabilization plan passed unanimously by council—the first such plan the city has had. “But we are continuing to spend money we don’t have and never budgeted for. I will not be one to vote for a tax increase,” Moore stated.
The three at-large council members who participated in the Nov. 18 discussion before the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods were Michael Julian Bond (Post 1 at-large), Aaron Watson (Post 2 at-large) and H. Lamar Willis (Post 3 at-large).
Watson said the Finance Committee is “where it is all at. The single biggest issue is pension reform.”
The city’s pension plans currently consume 20 percent of the city’s entire budget.
Watson reported, that the mayor’s blue ribbon commission on pensions “is going to make reports to us the first quarter of next year with recommendations that should be substantial.”
Adrean pointed out that state law forbids the city from rolling back pensions for people that are already vested and that Mayor Kasim Reed planned to work with the Legislature to attempt to change that.
Moore said some changes were already made to the pension program with the passing of the 2011 budget, “but more changes still need to be made.”
Watson said he believes “the council will challenge the major on spending issues. All of us are very concerned about the mayor and executive branch wanting to spend money.”
Adrean, who also sits on the Public Safety and Utilities committees, also declared as one of the top issues facing the city the problems in the Watershed Management Department in terms of meter readings and billings, which have caused a furor with hundreds of Buckhead residents and businesses. She told the group there are 900 water bills in formal dispute and 1,300 bills under review, which represents 1.6 percent of the total water bills.
“The Utilities Committee plans to stay on top of this,” she said.
Adrean said she had asked Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman to have watershed management representatives go out into the neighborhoods and “face the people and take the information on the spot.”
Willis said transportation “is a huge issue for me.” He said House Bill 277, which would collect and dedicate a 1 percent sales tax for use on transportation needs, “is not good for the city as it is now written.
Watson said the mayor is quietly working behind the scenes with his former colleagues to change the bill.
Bond chairs a council subcommittee on the city’s privatized parking enforcement and collection service, which all five council members agreed has become a major issue with both merchants and residents in the city.
Willis said one reason the new parking enforcement program has become a major public issue is “you can’t go from netting $400,000 per year to $5.5 million per year without people complaining about being treated unfairly.”
Bond also said the council still needs to address public safety in the city.
“Uneducated kids end up in the criminal justice system,” he explained.