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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mayor's efficiency commission mulls property sales, new taxes, film demolition to save city cash

Underground Atlanta is among the city-owned properties that could be sold to help pay for part of a $250 million infrastructure bond.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Underground Atlanta is among the city-owned properties that could be sold to help pay for part of a $250 million infrastructure bond.
Next March, Atlanta residents will likely decide whether City Hall should take on up to $250 million in debt to chip away at the city's nearly $1 billion infrastructure backlog. Goodbye crumbling bridges and potholes. Hello, bike lanes and new sidewalks.

In preparation, Mayor Kasim Reed recently appointed a "blue-ribbon" panel of elected officials, private-sector execs, and union reps to help identify wasteful spending in the city's budget. The group, co-chaired by Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook and Delta CEO Richard Anderson, has been tasked with finding, either by cuts or new revenue, as much as $20 million to support the bond package.

At its meeting last week, the group presented a list of recommendations that could help free up those funds. At the top of that list is the sale of several city properties including the Atlanta Civic Center, Underground Atlanta, and Cyclorama. By shedding itself of the properties, the group estimates that City Hall could receive as much as $80 million in cash, plus annual savings of up to $5 million.

The panel, dubbed the "efficiency commission," also suggests that Reed's office consider several new taxes, including a joint transportation tax levied in Fulton and DeKalb counties. The one-cent tax, which would require voter approval through a separate referendum, could raise an estimated $120 million on an annual basis. The group says that parking and billboard taxes could respectively generate another $25 million and $3 million each year.

"Residents who live outside of City limits, but commute regularly to Atlanta, should contribute to the cost of the public services they consume," the commission's report says. "A study should be conducted to understand net transfer of tax revenue and public services by non-resident commuters."

The commission's report also points out cost-saving options such as adjustments to the city's fee and fine collections, paper and electronic record keeping, and energy use. Finally, it recommends innovative ideas, such as a partnership with action filmmakers to demolish houses, which could save the city's code enforcement department $100,000 annually, and using inmate labor to clean vacant properties. The latter would reduce private contractor expenses by $250,000 each year.

"Action film productions are drawn to film in Atlanta because of the available tax credits. These films request to demolish properties for filming purposes," the commission's report says. "If we could provide film companies with a list of properties to be demolished, we could reduce our backlog of homes to be demolished."

The efficiency commission is expected to wrap up its findings by the end of next week. At 6 p.m. tonight, a public hearing will be held at City Hall to discuss group's recommendations. We've included the group's latest report after the jump:

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