Friday, June 27, 2008

City Council bucks Mayor Shirley Franklin on tax hike

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2008 at 10:00 PM

The Atlanta City Council officially approved a new budget this afternoon that not only doesn't include the .43 mill tax hike recommended by Mayor Shirley Franklin, but actually includes a modest tax rollback.

It's a scenario that wouldn't have been predicted even two weeks ago when the city was still $40 million short of making up a projected $140 million shortfall in the FY 2009 budget.

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The council unanimously approved the budget which, according to Finance Committee Chairman Howard Shook, has not happened in years. "We definitely suspended the political dynamics to work together," he said.

The $570.8 million budget restores the cuts in the City Solicitors Office and the city's public defender program. It also restores code enforcement officers cut by Franklin.

The budget approved by the council includes almost $14.6 million in cuts, which will be accomplished through an across-the-board 2.5 percent cut in each city department. Council members said that the bulk of that, $13.4 million, can be done by not filling vacant positions.

Franklin reacted angrily, saying that anyone who believes the city can cut an additional $14.6 million without laying off current employees doesn't understand the operations of a city government.

"The budget decision of the council today is among the worse I have seen in my almost 20 year professional career and it will have negative ramifications for the quality of life in this city," she said in a statement.

Franklin has line-item veto power, but the unanimous vote makes the budget all but veto-proof.

"This is a risky choice in a bad economy, and the people of Atlanta will have to bear the burden of the council's decision to not do what is in the best interest of the residents," Franklin said.

The council also reduced its own budget by $1.3 million and expects to generate an additional $2 million through the sale of taxicab decals currently held by the city.

Shook said members are counting on extra revenue from a tax digest that has "sky-rocketed" in the city — almost 20 percent on average — and especially with commercial property. He also said the city has to look at ways to generate more income through police tickets, code enforcement and the municipal court system.

"We're politicians and we listen to our constituents," he said. "They were very clear about being unhappy with a property tax increase."

Shook said he hopes the mayor will not create a "feud" with the council by closing swimming pools or recreation centers.

At a late afternoon press conference, Council President Lisa Borders tried to strike a conciliatory tone with Franklin. "This is a very tough economic time for everyone," she said. "The council wanted to give ultimate flexibility to the mayor on the across-the-board 2.5 percent cuts. We wanted to meet with the mayor. We're open-minded and want to have conversations with the mayor."

Shook echoed that sentiment. "We want to work with her," he said. "I hope she spends the weekend kicking furniture, and then comes back Monday ready to work together."

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