By Louis Mayeux
Talk of government austerity and official promises against tax increases dominated the North Buckhead Civic Association’s 38th annual meeting.
“There’s no will – now – to raise taxes,” said Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, predicting that new Mayor Kasim Reed’s first budget will be austere.
Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook agreed during the March 25 meeting that property tax increases are not in the picture.
“It’s going to be a tough budget,” Shook said. “There’s going to be cuts and there’s going to be more cuts.”
Shook warned that the reductions could further reach into the ranks of personnel that provide essential services, such as street and road maintenance. He said police and firefighters were cut last year.
Shook and Mitchell agreed that the city must control its soaring pension funding obligations to find money to provide essential services.
Mitchell said that with a $140 million annual pension obligation, not fully funded, the city is looking at ways of finding $25 million to $75 million in savings for priorities such as “the ongoing and sustained maintenance of public infrastructure.
“We have a very short fuse on solving the pension issue,” Mitchell said. “We can’t let it escalate year after year.”
Shook said that unions for city workers are now willing to make sacrifices to control the pension costs, seeing that they’ve made public workers “unaffordable.”
One solution Shook offered is a referendum on the city receiving the 1-cent special option sales tax now going to the Atlanta School Board. The tax is scheduled to expire next year.
“No one wants to add another penny,” Shook said. “We’re saying, ‘Keep the penny, but not have it go to the APS, but to the city.’. …You would be the ones to say yes and no.”
Shook said the continuing economic slump would create an opportunity for the city to acquire land for green space, such as the new Little Nancy Creek Park. He said insufficient parkland remains a problem in Buckhead and that declining property values could allow the city to acquire land abandoned by developers.
“We have a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to provide a legacy in Buckhead,” he said. “We hope we can grab some really big pieces coming up in the next year.”
North Buckhead Civic Association President Gordon Certain praised Shook for securing money for sidewalks along Wieuca Road near the Sarah Smith Elementary School academy for third to fifth graders. In response to praise that the sidewalk project represented a “best practices” example for governmental service, Shook grinned and said that he didn’t ever think that phrase would be associated with the project.
“It’s really, really hard to go into a mature community and retrofit sidewalks,” Shook said.
During the project, the city discovered it had to acquire additional right of way from property owners. No resident among the 84 attending the NCBA meeting mentioned that glitch, or the continuing delay in installing traffic signals and other traffic-calming procedures near the school.
Efforts to reduce the chronic speeding along Wieuca Road also drew attention.
Atlanta Police Zone 2 Lt. Mark Cotter cited increased enforcement to maintain Wieuca’s 30-mile-per-hour speed limit. Cotter said that since the first of the year, officers had issued 213 speeding citations in Zone 2, 135 of them on Wieuca.
NBCA traffic committee chair Robert Sarkissian reported on the success of a traffic radar unit, including a digital sign that flashes the speed of passing cars. Certain said that when drivers see they are speeding, their response is to slow down.
After acquiring the first radar unit with funding from the Buckhead Coalition, the NBCA will acquire a second unit this year, and hopes to eventually raise funds to have six units. Certain said the units are an effective means of reducing speeding.