By Atlanta City Councilwoman
Last year, Atlanta City Council began working on a five year plan which will help guide decisions and priorities over the next few years. It is an important first step towards multi-year financial planning.
While there has been much discussion about cutting expenses, finding efficiencies and privatization, the truth is that without a solution to reducing annual pension obligations and developing a future plan that is sustainable, it will be extraordinarily difficult to deliver services and make the types of investments in our infrastructure that are required over the next five years.
The combination of enhancements to the pension plan, changes in accounting rules and a devastating recession have provided the perfect storm for a dramatic financial blow to the city.
The annual contribution to the pension plan to the general fund was $60.8 million in 2009 compared to all expenses before debt payments of $431 million in 2009. Recognizing the need for an analysis of pension obligations, City Council formed a select committee to study the pension in 2008 and it made recommendations for changes to the pension plan.
The current administration has also formed a committee to study all options. Any solution will be especially challenging since none of our employees are covered by Social Security.
The prolonged recession and weakened tax digest will continue to have an impact on revenue at least through 2011 which make these challenges more grave. We have our work cut out for us and will do all we can to minimize the impact to citizens.
There is a $750 million backlog in infrastructure needs, which include surfacing roads, aging bridges, sidewalks, signal lights, fire stations, fire engines and fleet vehicles for police. According to a recent study, the city should be investing at least $100 million annually for the next 25 years.
The Atlanta Public Schools system has used a SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) to fund its capital needs over the last 11 years and will have raised over a billion dollars when the SPLOST expires in 2012. I would argue that it is Atlanta’s turn to use a penny to fund its infrastructure needs. Rather than spread the burden on property owners, a sales tax would spread the burden to all who work, live, play and visit our city. Our daytime population is over 1 million while our nighttime population is at about 560,000 residents.
So, you may ask, what about stimulus funds? Unfortunately, the stimulus funds are targeted for very specific mandates from the federal government. They are for “new” technologies that create green jobs or new types of transportation such as a street car. Shovel-ready roads and bridges are not high on the priority list from the feds. It is indeed unfortunate. Georgia ranks 44th in the nation for federal support. That needs to change.
While the news is bleak, the silver lining is that it forces us as a community, region and state to come to the table to find efficiencies, focus on core values and learn to be adaptive in delivery of services.
It is easy to manage during good economic times. During times like these, we all need to do our homework and make the best decisions possible on behalf of beleaguered taxpayers.
Yolanda Adrean represents District 8 on Atlanta City Council and chairs the council’s Finance Committee.