By Katie Fallon

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin submitted a $645.3 million budget to the city council on May 4 that includes a number of public safety, technology, parks and public works improvements.

Pending confirmation in the council’s Finance Committee, the budget is expected to be voted upon in early June for final approval.

Included in the budget are several public safety improvements and pay increases for both the city’s police officers and firefighters.

The 2008 budget calls for the creation of 50 new city police officer positions and five new civilian positions. Recommendations are also included to raise police and fire department salaries by two percent, which combines with a cost of living adjustment for all city employees, amounts to a base pay increase of four percent.

The budget includes six other major public safety items, most of which concern the Atlanta Fire Department.

First, 18 new firefighter positions will be added to facilitate a four-personnel-per-truck staffing standard. Similarly, 34 firefighters will be transferred from administrative roles to firefighting positions. The budget also calls for the creation of a nighttime fire safety inspection team and funding for improved maintenance of fire stations.

Funding has also been included for the creation of a new police department crime lab.

Several changes have also been proposed in the area of parks, public works and building permits.

The mayor has proposed increases in park maintenance staff, regular maintenance of city parks, the number of “Trash Troopers,” new building inspectors and funding for traffic signs, street resurfacing and sidewalks. Additional funding has also been proposed for removing hazardous trees in parks and public rights-of-way.

Technology improvements allotted in the budget include fully funding the next phase of a centralized customer service center and digital, handheld, GPS-enabled units to allow for better communication between field crews and managers in public works, code enforcement and building maintenance.

The mayor’s budget, however, did point to major problems with financing the city’s payroll and responsibilities to employee benefits.

“One of the major challenges the city faces is rapidly rising pension and health cost liabilities,” Franklin said. “Latest estimates project a $125 million increase in the general fund budget to continue to support the city payroll.”

Unless there is a significant change in the city’s benefit policy, Franklin said Atlanta will face a 35 percent increase in personnel costs, including supporting benefits, compared with last year.

“Increased health care and benefit liabilities are serious concerns for the city today and tomorrow,” Franklin said. “For every dollar the city spends on personnel-either new hire or salary increases-the budget increases anywhere from $1.50 to $1.87. The long term impact is a grave issue and the first step is to limit current city contributions to health care plans and rapidly escalating costs.”

The mayor also said the city has made an effort to return to being an “employer of choice” among local governments by offering market-based pay, the cost-of-living adjustments, a sick leave bonus and a pay for performance bonus program.

The mayor reported that in the past six years, she and the city council have worked together to make several financial improvements to the city’s budget. The revenue anticipate rate has gone from 99 percent of last year’s revenues to 96 percent. The budget reserves have also increased from a negative balance in 2001 to a proposed 10 percent of the 2008 budget.

The budget, however, did include several “reorganization and staffing alignments” that were designed to help facilitate and fund the proposed changes and improvements.

A Public Safety Managed Services Organization (MSO) will consolidate the public safety, personnel, financial and facilities functions into one. A final reorganization phase for the city’s court system will see 11 courtrooms

reduced to nine in addition to reductions in the Solicitor and Public Defender offices.

The building permitting process will be streamlined by merging fire code inspections with building inspection functions. Several IT outsourcing contracts will be eliminated in

favor of utilizing in-house resources.