Atlanta City Council members Andre Dickens, left, and Felicia Moore discuss the city's debt to the Atlanta Public Schools at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhood's meeting.
Atlanta City Council members Andre Dickens, left, and Felicia Moore discuss the city’s debt to the Atlanta Public Schools at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhood’s meeting.

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN) voted last night to send a letter to Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta Public Schools (APS) urging them to resolve the ongoing dispute over debt owed by the Atlanta BeltLine.

The cash-strapped Beltline owes APS $13.5 million and Reed is currently leading negotiations with the system for repayment. APS has threatened to file suit over the issue.

The multibillion dollar BeltLine project is primarily funded by a Tax Allocation District, or TAD, which uses a portion of property tax revenue that would otherwise be allocated to APS and Fulton County.

In return for reallocation of tax revenues for BeltLine development, the city agreed to make $162 million in fixed payments from the Beltline TAD to the school district in exchange for using a portion of property tax revenue for Beltline development.

Due to sluggish economic growth over the last several years, the Beltline is currently behind on a $6.75 million payment that was due in January 2014, and is set to owe an additional $6.75 million this month. Though the Beltline is operated by the nonprofit Atlanta Beltline Inc., the city manages the Beltline TAD.

Councilmember Andre Dickens told the BCN the original agreement between the city and APS was flawed due to the projected $3 billion expected in economic growth along the BeltLine that tanked once the global recession set in. Dickens, who also sits on the BeltLine board, said the agreement needed to be renegotiated to reflect the change in economic growth.

“APS students would have benefited from that $6.75 million owed last year,” Dickens said candidly. “There has been a standoff in negotiations but now parents have started calling, writing letters and putting pressure on the city to resolve this.”

An ordinance driven by City Council President Ceasar Mitchell directing the city’s chief financial officer to create an account to be funded by sales of city real estate assets and other funds to pay the debt was introduced at the Jan. 5 council meeting. That move has drawn the ire of the mayor, who charged that Mitchell is interfering in negotiations.

Councilmember Felicia Moore, who was also in attendance at the BCN meeting, said she understood parents’ frustration with the ongoing issue and spoke of her own.

“The mayor is negotiating, but we have no idea what is happening in those meetings,” Moore said, and cast doubt on whether the ordinance to pay the debit would get any traction.

“We would need a supermajority of the council – 10 council members – to vote in favor of the ordinance to overcome the mayor’s veto,” Moore said. “Most of the council does what the mayor wants, so I don’t think we’d get it.”

Councilmember Yolanda Adrean said the council was in the dark concerning all the facts about negotiations and even the original agreement made with APS. “We don’t have all the facts and cannot get them. We’ve been requesting information for months.”

BCN Chairman Tom Tidwell said he would draft the letter on behalf of the organization. “It’s this kind of disfunction that gives Atlanta a bad name,” he said.

You can read the text of the letter at Buckhead Reporter.

This article was corrected to clarify that the ordinance introduced by the city council would create an account from the sale of city property and other funds to pay off the APS debt rather than dip into city reserves.

Avatar photo

Collin KelleyEditor

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.