By John Schaffner
The Atlanta City Council at first rejected a key initiative of Mayor Kasim Reed’s proposed legislative wish list Dec. 6, then reversed itself moments later after the mayor personally appeared in council chambers and chided the members.
The issue that brought the mayor to flex his executive muscle was a bill in the legislative package that that would offer property tax exemptions to public safety personnel and teachers who live in the city.
Led by Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook to remove the bill, the council first voted 13-0 to approve the legislative package without the tax exemption. The package will be submitted to the General Assembly in January.
But after the mayor blasted council members for arbitrarily removing the tax break, the council voted 11-2 to restore Reed’s bill. The two Buckhead council members, Shook and Dist. 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean were the sole holdouts.
The proposed tax exemption is an issue that has been important to Reed for years. In 2008, when he was in the state Senate, he proposed the same bill. The Senate passed it, but the House of Representatives did not.
In initially pulling the bill, Shook had called it a “gimmick” that was never discussed and was delivered to the city’s Finance/Executive Committee Dec. 1 as a late substitute.
“If we feel that we are improperly paying people, pay them what they are worth,” Shook said. “Don’t resort to gimmicks.”
Shook said at Dec. 1 meeting, when the substitute was added, the mayor’s staff could not answer questions about how many people would qualify or how big an impact the tax breaks would have on the city’s bottom line.
“I can’t see having two identical houses on the same street, using the same city services, except one pays no property taxes while the other pays and has to take up the slack of his neighbor, based on what one of them does for a living,” Shook said.
It is unclear how many of the 608 police officers and firefighters who live in the city actually own property. No data are available on how many teachers live in the city.
“The only thing we are trying to do with this item is make Atlanta more affordable,” Reed said.
In addition to the property tax exemption bill for public safety personnel and teachers, there are five proposed revenue bills in the city’s legislative wish list. City officials are asking state lawmakers to increase the wholesale alcohol tax, increase the tax on sales of alcohol by the glass, impose a tax on sales of beer and wine by the glass, allow the municipal court to add a 10 percent surcharge to any criminal or traffic fine imposed to fund court programs, and allow local governments to increase the 911 fee on land lines and cell phones to cover the true costs of the service.
Two primary measures among the proposed public safety bills would allow for the regulation of secondary metal recycling to aid law enforcement efforts against theft of copper and other metals, and a measure to allow use of “photo” speed-detection devices in school zones.