By John Schaffner
Atlanta property owners face the hot days of summer not knowing how much they will be sweating as they face probable property tax increases from the city, possible tax increases from the county and most definitely increased service fees, such as for water and sewer service from the city.
The Atlanta City Council is approaching the homestretch in adopting the fiscal 2010 budget, which by law must be approved by June 30 and goes into effect July 1. Indications to date are that no changes or only minor changes will be made to Mayor Shirley Franklin’s $541 million budget proposal
The mayor’s budget calls for a 3-mil increase in the property tax millage rate, which amounts to a 7 percent increase in the total property tax bill, or an extra $20 per month in property taxes for the average homeowner in the city of Atlanta.
City Council members, unlike a year ago, apparently have resigned themselves to the fact some tax increase is a necessity to restore city services, bring the public safety forces to full strength and do away with the furloughs for city workers.
Now the word is that Fulton County is facing a $40 million shortfall in tax revenues because of all the successful appeals of reassessments by home and business owners.
County commissioners have indicated they will hold a work session within days to determine how they will balance the books — by raising taxes, cutting expenses or both.
Because Fulton County is late in providing the city of Atlanta with the county tax digest, the final public hearings on the city’s 2010 budget, as well as the adoption of the budget, have been rescheduled.
The final public hearings now are set for 9 a.m. June 18 in the council chambers at City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave. SW, and at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. June 25, also in the council chambers at City Hall.
The City Council is scheduled to meet for a 2010 budget discussion and for amendments June 15.
The final adoption of the 2010 budget now is scheduled for June 29 and 30 (if necessary).
Among the highlights of Franklin’s proposed budget are:
• The elimination of the furlough that was introduced during the current fiscal year as a savings measure. All city employees, including public safety personnel, will return to a 40-hour workweek.
• Savings initiatives of nearly $60 million.
• The authorized general fund work force will be fewer than 4,000 people, a reduction from approximately 5,600 in 2001.
• The 3-mil increase in the property tax rate.
“Despite the fact that the city has seen an $88 million reduction in revenues as a result of this historic recession, we have a responsibility to ensure that basic municipal services are delivered,” the mayor said. “We have reduced spending through the furloughs, layoffs and other measures. However, we must increase our revenues if we are to return our public safety and other core services to full-time operation.”
With this budget, she said, the city will reduce its general fund work force from 5,617 when she was first elected in 2001 to 3,934, a 30 percent reduction. “This is during a period in which the city has grown by 25 percent,” Franklin said.
According to a recent Bain & Co. analysis, Franklin said, the city has moved from second-worst- to second-best-performing city among major U.S. cities in terms of efficiency.
The administration pointed out that the tax rate increase is consistent with millage increases during previous recessions. The tax rate increased during both the 1991 recession (2 mils) and the 2001 recession (3 mils) in response to declining revenues.