Ding! That sound you just heard (OK, read, in onomatopoetic form) was the bell for what should be the last round of discussions by the Atlanta City Council's Finance Committee on the subject of the proposed city budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
I've lost track of how many work sessions, hearings and staff inquisition sessions the committee has held to date — but the one that began at 1 p.m. today should be the last, since it must make a recommendation to the full Council before the drop-dead date of June 30, when, by law, the Fiscal Year 2011 budget must be approved.
To bring you up to speed, Mayor Kasim Reed has proposed a $558 million budget that envisions spending $17 million more than last year. His initiatives, which should now be familiar to City Hall-watchers, include:
>> Opening two dozen "Centers of Hope," the mayor's term for super-charged neighborhood rec centers designed to keep at-risk kids off the streets, at a cost of $3.7 million
>> Incremental raises — aka "step increases" — for cops and the addition of 100 new officers, at a cost of $11 million
>> Salaries increases — not raises exactly, because most of them come with enhanced job titles — for selected non-police personnel
Reed had proposed paying for these changes through layoffs and other belt-tightening measures; a sharp increase in many license and permit fees; and two real estate transactions: the sale of City Hall East and the leasing of the city jail to Fulton County. Now that it appears neither of those deals will come through by the end of the month, I'm not certain where the rest of the money is coming from.
Neither is Councilwoman Felicia Moore. At the last finance work session, she blind-sided her fellow committee members with a budget amendment package so sweeping that it effectively represents an entirely different proposal. At any rate, it would toss out nearly all of the mayor's spending initiatives.
In an open letter sent to Council yesterday, Moore wrote:
A few of you have expressed concern that I will be somehow upset or disappointed if you do not support my amendment.
Well, maybe they got that idea because she ran from the Council chamber in tears late last Friday when it became apparent that her colleagues weren't in any hurry to adopt her proposal. (Which brings up an interesting irony: Here's a woman who routinely claims she hasn't had enough time to consider whatever proposal sits before her, regardless of how many days have been spent explaining it. And yet she seemed to expect her fellow Council members to embrace her alternative budget before they scarcely had adequate time to read it. All I know is, if she were a state legislator faced with the flurry of voting on Sine Die, her head would explode.)
Anyway, you can expect a long meeting. For those with a high pain threshold, watch it live here.
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