ATL Budget: Show Us the Money @ CCI
An Overview of the Atlanta budget
Intro by Rohit
- They’ve invested almost $1M to date in social entrepreneurs
Hosted by Melanie
- February: planning
- March: Kickoff event to let you know it’s happened
- April: developing
- May: public hearings
- Last year they let you tweet questions
- Live stream it
- Howard Shook on city council is head of finance he was there last year and
- June: adoption
New mayor this year!
Who makes decisions?
Can take a Civics 101 class! (Idea for philosophy circle?)
Budget has 3 buckets
- Fiduciary: long term funds we’ve promised people
- Some interesting movements around the country where people are looking to divest from oil and prisons.
- Are there more interesting ways to invest that money?
- Lots of budget activists around that
- Lock box, more like fee for service stuff. Includes stuff like the airport. Airlines pay fees, most of it is lock boxed up and needs to go right back to the airport for that
- Internal services
- Governmental: impacts most citizens
- This is where the magic happens
- Police department
- Press department
- Special revenue
- Hotel motel tax, car tax
- Similar to proprietary funds but explicit taxes
- Debt services
- Any time the city takes in debt (issues bonds)
- Tiny amount of money
- Capital projects
- Building a new physical asset
- New infrastructure
- Most of decisions about these projects have been decided before the money has been allocated in the budget. Usually the public process for updates has already been decided.
Some proprietary funds:
- Some of the sewers in Atlanta are from the 1800s
- 32% if 6.25B proprietary funds are wastewater. Airport funds are 64.3%
- Governmental funds (~2B)
- 32% general funds
- 23.7% capital funds
- 40% if property taxes go to city. Other portion go to the Atlanta Public Schools
General fund revenue:
- 16% comes from local option sales ta
General fund budget:
- Authorized to have 2000 police, which takes up 29% of budget
- 15% non-departmental
- There’s no department head to ask about this
- Who is accountable for this?
- 13% fire
5 year plan
- A group of folks at City Hall work on this
- To help the city forecast
- City is supposed to have a balanced budget
Policies, Leadership, and Externalities play out between the 5y plan and the annual plan
Do you recommend any books on public money negotiation or lobbying? Who do you have to make a deal with?
Is the trash can in your house in the city budget?
- If you live in CoA,
- 7% of budget, ~46M$
- Public works is responsible for making sure this happens
- If you want different trash cans
- San Francisco weighs your trash
- You could go to Department of Public Works
If you’re in a park?
- That trash can is operated by the parks department
- 5.5% of the budget for Parks
Except in Piedmont Park that’s from the conservancy
- Some trash cans in midtown are sponsee by Midtown Alliance
- Midtown Alliance gets 0%
- Atlanta has several CID, community improvement districts
- The state has enabling legislation for CIDs
Little 5 Points was trying to create a CID, wanted to add a parking deck to remove some onus on the neighborhood
- Think through who owns the equipment or item or program you’re trying to effect change in
- Currently can have 2000 police officers
- CoA may also want to give a bonus to anyone who has military training. What happens if 1k people with military exp apply? What if 0?
- Salary can range from $34k - $55k
- City doesn’t pay all payrolls taxes, but does pay Medicare Medicaid, insurance
- Police officer medical insurance is really expensive
- Have extra insurance on that, life insurance
Uniforms, tactical gear, weapon, car, bicycle, k9
Adding people to payroll is not just adding the salary
- Rental car from airport: you pay an extra tax, which goes to basketball (Phillips arena)
State legislature has to approve a new tax like that
- Not a lot of public input on the use of this money. Should we keep it? Should it go to something specific?
Two budgeting experts, moderated by Kyle Kessler
Cynthia S Searcy (Andrew Young School for Public Policy
Chuck Meadows (former mayor Shirley franklin’s chief of budget and fiscal policy
- Worked for citizens budgeting committee in New York City and NYS
- Has no authority over the city, but played a monitoring role
- City is required to produce quarterly reports about the budget
- PhD at Syracuse
- Has been at GSU for 10y
Chuck, What falls into the projected numbers? How do you deal with budget of
- Property tax digest rises and falls
- Heavily dependent on the economy
- Take an average of what the revenue streams have performed at over the last several years and discount it by 3-4%. Force yourself to budget on a smaller amount
Partnership takes place with other municipalities
- Arthur Ferdinand (Fulton Tax commission) and mayor fight against each routinely. “Someone should run against him.. that office wields a lot of power
- Significant amount of discretionary power where someone in Fulton county decides how much a property is worth
- Every city is beholden to this valuation project
Is there a big difference between residential and commercial
- Assessment rate can be different across parcels
- But for the most part the county is making a valuation based on real estate activity near your property
Surface parking lots not being taxed at the value of their land but at the value of how much they bring in
- (Someone in the audience) look at what places sell for
- I did that for $1.5B, they had been valued at 46% of what they had sold at
- Did the same thing for 4 residential areas: 86% in Morningside, 76% in Buckhead
- “I think commercial is getting away with something
- Julian is on the board of invest Atlanta
- “Tax vase is not reflecting the kind of growth we’ve seen in jobs
- “Commercial has not been valued properly… huge amount of commercial is under abatement… also there are tax allocation districts…
- “Sales tax hasn’t kept up with inflation during mayor Reed’s administration
- Sales tax is up 10%, but hotel tax is up 60%
- “There’s a lot of questions you should be asking your city council people to follow
Cynthia: where do you go to change?
- What’s your issue, what do you want to change?
- First of all investigate who’s responsible for providing it
- General fund is only affecting the 600M in the general fund
- Advocacy groups are great because they’ve got the ear
What types of information should we dig deeper on?
- Chuck: I do want to paint a dark and pessimistic picture of how little the public can impact the budget. You’re already expected to be okay with where that other 7.2B is going where it’s supposed to be. History has shown that has not happened
- William B Hartsfield said that the next mayor would have to fix the sewers. That wasn’t done until the city was sued while Shirley Franklin was mayor
- Don’t be afraid to support city councilmembers who go against the mayor. Felicia Moore always did that
- City council kinda rubber stamps the budget the mayor puts forward
Q: commercial properties are out of whack with Fulton county, does that contribute with us being outside the zone
- Julian: the rhetoric around that last year was that residential is getting away with it
- Lee Morris said you can’t get right, the residential is much closer
- 2017 got closer, when they raised it from 56%, got closer to 80% if the people had been taxed at 2017
Q: homeowners get upset. If we get commercial in line, could we get help residents age in place?
- Julian: that’s a policy question
- Commercial hires expensive lawyers and they bully the Fulton county commissioners
Q: how much movement is there in the general funds?
- Departments are in the habit of saying: here’s what I had last year, I want x% more
- Better to do 0 based budgeting to figure out how much it costs to do stuff. How much to maintain an acre of park land, how many acres do we have, how much should we allocate
Any recent examples?
- It happens, but it’s not a big change. It’s projects, a rec center or sidewalks. Hard costs
- People held politicians to the 2000 number
Q: is there something similar to that NYC budget commission (I’m president of my NPU), if we had some oversight, I think this turnout here shows that people are interest
- Cynthia: There is no budget watchdog group in Atlanta
- Citizens watchdog group was set up by concerned business officials
- In 70s, state asked for a separate group to
Historically these result from some crisis or scandals. Atlanta has had its share of scandals. Mayor Campbell was charged with bribery and racketeering. Back in 2006
- Cynthia: we’re just now recovered from the expenditures in 2007
94M fund in 2007, weren’t able to build it back since 2011
- Julian: the numbers are right. But why are they right?
- 35k jobs, about 15% of what we think the people
Why haven’t the numbers recovered faster
- Julian: look at all the new buildings, look around,
Rainy day fund, best practices:
- Chuck: I think mayor reed did
- I came in in 2003 right after Mayor Campbell, and left in 2007 right before those numbers started tanking
- Mayor Franklin was forced to lobby for a property tax increase, and there was fiscal discipline that Mayor Reed continued.
- Some cities went bankrupt
- You can improve your resiliency by
Q: importance for the city’s credit rating
Q: how much influence do poor people have? What are the best practices
- Chuck: people do respond to public pressure, but it’s seldom that people do impact
- I think advocating for a citizens budget council, could be very effective
- Here I have seen when there is an organized effort
- Show up with a bunch of people to a city council meeting and wear the same color shirts
- Generally 3 or 4 people show up who may not be expressing their views correctly
- Here in Atlanta,
- Howard Franklin - our elections _
Q: what is the process? Do we need a proposal with reasons why? Or is this hearing already set? Is it the next 5 years? What to do from a context standpoint?
- Cynthia: definitely need a multi pronged approach. How would you pay for it? Is there something else you would reduce?
- Honestly it will probably take several
- I’m on the board of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalitions
- Atlanta Streets Alive costs a lot of money
- Took a number of years to get money from city for these events, which benefits the citizens
A variety of tactics
- Have the documentation, send it to people at the hearings, have it printed
Q: I’ve been to a The last 3 budget hearings, a lot of times they’ve already had budget meetings with the staff. They’ve already got it decided, ask for a budget book. They used to give you a book, now you need to ask for it in advance. They’re supposed to have council district meetings in a much more intimate setting. If this is in the charter m, they’re obligated to do it.
- Chuck: we broke it into quadrants and did have meetings. But they were lightly attended. Staffed by people who had been working 830-6 and then had to go to the meeting
- You roll that into the next year
Q: best practices in terms of transparency, what are things that other cities are doing that we’re not doing? How effective did you think the citizen review budget was?
Q: any proxies for smaller cities the size of Atlanta that have created citizens review board
- Chuck: Georgia budget and policy institute, mostly focus on the state.
- Cynthia: follow the money and you’ll see the priorities
Q: 10k is to pacify. Starts with your neighborhood associations. Should be where your board is involved with your NPU
Q: auditors board
- Chuck: Leslie Ward was the auditor while he was there. We don’t have an independent budget office. CFO over the finance department reports to both the city council and the mayor, that is an interesting thing
Q: big ticket items in non-departmental items
- Chuck: it’s a whole bunch of stuff. The amorphous… airport is its own fund. But there are people at city hall who work on behalf of the airport and they charge the people at the airport. There’s a charge back process that transfers that back to non-departmental. And there are some reserves. If you’re a good budget officer, you know you’re going to be asked to find a way to pay for something the mayor asks. Sometimes you do that in non-departmental, that’s what I hear.
Q: state level, federal, HUD funds changing , how do you handle that?
- Chuck: DOJ (probably not anymore) will fund community policing to get it started and leave it up to cities to fund them. Cities come to depend on them. It throws uncertainty into the budgeting
Q: current auditor describes himself as independent. Mayor Bottoms said she would appoint an independent auditor. What does an independent auditor look like?
- Chuck: Auditors budget is subject to the same process. That doesn’t speak to an independent office. If someone asked for that to be reduced, nothing would insulate that office. Your independence can be threatened. The auditor doesn’t report to anybody, but the auditor is subject to the same budgeting process
Q: one action item?
- Cynthia: I would caution that there are very few windfalls in budgeting. Be cautious… things don’t change much year to year. 70% of your budget is personnel. Think about where the pressure points are, where the levers are.
- Chuck: I wish there was a book. Ask for a budget book. Get involved. Be strategic, tactical, decisive.