Council capped off the more than nine-hour meeting by voting 12-3 to approve the $539 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Councilmembers Kwanza Hall, Felicia Moore, and Alex Wan voted against the budget.
For the most part, the budget that passed resembles what Mayor Kasim Reed proposed last month, albeit with some key changes.
The approved budget heavily focuses on public safety and will enable the Atlanta Police to maintain a 2,000-officer force, allow Atlanta Fire and Rescue to keep full engine staffing, reopen the West End's historic Fire Station no. 7, and provide cash for the city's 311 call center.
"I am pleased that my Administration's fourth budget continues to not only meet, but exceed the goals I established in 2010 to move the City of Atlanta forward," Mayor Reed said in a statement. "The Fiscal Year 2014 budget contains significant investments in public safety and I am especially proud that the city is in a position to offer its employee partners a reasonable and sustainable pay increase. The City of Atlanta is an employer of choice, and we are building a workforce based on talent and merit. This budget clearly shows that the City of Atlanta is on its way back to fiscal health."
Among the biggest issues on the table yesterday came in the form of pay raises for Atlanta's workers. Closed door conversations took place between Reed and union officials representing police officers, fire fighters, and city employees. Both sides eventually struck a deal, although at least one group involved in those discussions suggested that the mayor simply presented the final deal without truly negotiating the terms.
"It was called a negotiation but there was no negotiation," Stephen Borders, president of the Atlanta Professional Firefighters Association, tells CL. "We were presented the mayor's decision and it was reported we made a deal. We asked to be involved and were denied. Open and transparent is apparently a myth."
Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said the mayor was "pleased" that councilmembers approved his proposal to give employees a raise "in a sustainable manner." "The increase was the result of weeks of dialogue," she said.
Council unanimously approved an estimated $3.2 million in city employee pay raises. That includes a 3 percent increase for classified city staff and corrections officers as well as a 1 percent raise for city employees, including sworn officers, who make under $60,000. Unclassified employees that make more than $60,000 will get no raise. But the city did set a minimum wage of $10 an hour for its employees.
"It's not a perfect fix, but we were at the table," said police union president Ken Allen, who also added that the city employee union supported the salary proposal.
Borders, however, said the offered increases weren't enough for firefighters.
"We don't have all the answers," he told councilmembers during public comment. "We know our fire department, we know our city better than anyone else ... The proposed raises don't fix the issue."
An additional 0.5 percent increase would kick in for those already receiving salary bumps if they hit certain "operational efficiency targets," said Yvonne Cowser Yancy, the city's commissioner of human resources. While she noted that Reed's administration was "clearly aware that employees will be untouched with these actions," she thinks the current salary increase "moves that ball forward" in the right direction.
In addition, Reed's budget now moves forward with Trinity Avenue Farm project, allocates funding for a public art gallery inside the former AJC building on Marietta Street, brings WiFi to major city parks, and launches the city's open data portal. It would also provide Invest Atlanta, the city's economic development agency, with an additional $2.3 million in funding.
The FY 2014 Budget will kick in starting on July 1, 2013.
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