By John Schaffner

The chairman of the Fulton County Commission and the chair of the city of Atlanta’s Finance Committee recently expressed optimism over an agreement for the county to take over operation of the city’s jail.

The proposed lease/purchase agreement could give the city significant savings in the fiscal 2011 budget.

Atlanta Dist. 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, who represents about half of Buckhead, indicated negotiations were under way. She said that reaching an agreement to sell the jail to the county is an important factor in being able to provide funding for Mayor Kasim Reed’s wish list — adding 100 police officers, increasing police pay by 3.5 percent and opening all city recreation centers.

Fulton’s John Eaves said he hoped the county would be able to reach an agreement on taking over the city’s jail by the first of June. He said there presently are three of the four votes needed in favor of the proposal — his and those of Commissioners Nancy Boxill and Tom Lowe.

Eaves said it can be a win-win situation for the city and county. He said the county needs the beds that are available at the city’s jail to house its overflow of inmates from the overpopulated county jail in northwest Atlanta.

He also said the county would need to hire staff and that the city’s current jail staff would be at the top of the list of candidates for those positions. One difference for those employees is that the city covers them with its pension program, but the county did away with its pension program about 10 years ago.

Eaves and Adrean spoke at the May 13 meeting of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN) at Peachtree Presbyterian Church.

Adrean pointed out that the transfer of the jail could bring a savings of $13 million to the city in the first year, mainly in salaries and benefits for the 300 jail employees, but also because the county would take over payments of the debt on the facility.

She said that savings, along with selling City Hall East for approximately $12.5 million and finding a solution to the city’s high pension-program costs are all going to be necessary in order to fulfill the mayor’s wish list and to put any money into infrastructure needs, such as replacing overdue units of the city’s service fleet.

The city is hoping to come up with pension fund reforms that will save $8 million in fiscal 2011. At present, $1 out of every $5 in the city budget goes for pensions and the figure keeps growing. Adrean said pension reforms would not hurt those who have retired or those just starting out working for the city.

“People in the middle of their careers are the ones who will really be hurt. I hate treating people like that,” she said.

“No matter what we do with the pension situation, we will draw lawsuits,” the councilwoman stated.

Adrean said the budget right now for fiscal 2011 is the same as it was for 2010, $541 million in revenues and $541 million in expenses. But, in order to fulfill Reed’s wish list, the city will be $35 million short in funds. She said the budget proposal already represents $8 million in department cuts throughout city government.

The hiring of 100 additional police and funding the police pay increase are estimated to cost about $11 million. Opening the city’s recreation centers, which Reed has renamed “Centers of Hope,” is estimated to cost at least another $3.7 million for basic staffing. But, because many of the centers have been shuttered for years, there also are expected to be expenses for repairs and maintenance.

Adrean said her Finance Committee, which includes Buckhead council members Howard Shook and Felicia Moore, is halfway through its discussions with the city department heads about their budget proposals.

She said one of the big questions is how the city is going to fund its infrastructure needs, including replacing an outdated city fleet. She said the city may end fiscal 2010 with a $10 million surplus, and some council members believe that any proceeds from the sale of City Hall East should either be put toward building the city’s reserve fund or funding those infrastructure needs.

“One thing for sure,” Adrean stated, “the city has no business borrowing any more money.”