Post 2 at-large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson said the city managed to get through the fiscal 2014 budget process without raising taxes, despite revenues decreasing by $100 million over the past four years.
“That’s quite an achievement by the mayor and council,” he said Thursday at the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods’ monthly meeting at Peachtree Presbyterian Church. “We will have a balanced budget in another month or so for 2014. It will be a fiscally conservative budget of $120 million over the first term.”
He said the city is giving a modest raise of a few million dollars to city employees but hopes to increase pay more robustly by next year.
“At that time, we’ll have the chance to do something for police and fire, and other employees in the city,” Watson said. “We managed to increase public safety roles. We now have 2,000 officers and increased the relative safety in the city because more officers are on the street.”
But while more officers were hired, he said the city could not pay officers more.
“A lot of us are committed to do it as soon as revenues return to higher levels,” Watson said.
He also said the city will soon be able to address necessary infrastructure needs, including bridgework, roadwork and sidewalks.
“We’re trying to stay committed to those things,” Watson said.
And he said the city has no responsibility, by law, to create or repair sidewalks throughout the city, and it has been that way for 50 years.
“The basic philosophy of the city is sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners. Many cities employ that system,” Watson said. “That’s led to what we have. Some neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
He said the city’s focus has recently been placed on increasing bike lanes more than sidewalks, because it does have responsibility of the roads - including bike lanes - which will also be increased in the near future.
However, Watson said the city is working on thinking of creative ways to generate revenue to both create and repair sidewalks throughout the entire city, including Buckhead.
“It doesn’t do me any good to say I’m going to change the law alone, unless I offer some suggestions on how we’re going to have regular existing revenue behind it,” he said.
Although sidewalks are not the city’s responsibility, the city would be willing to allocate funds toward reviving them, Watson said, and the money may come from a $350 million to $400 million bond offering it will receive in the near future.
“There is $150 million in maintenance needed for sidewalks,” he said. “I want people to walk for the vitality of the neighborhood, for their own health, and so they can get out of their car.”
In other news, William Perry from Common Cause Georgia told council members his organization is scrambling to gather 35,000 signatures from Atlanta voters in order to force the city to hold a referendum on public funding of the $1 billion stadium for the Falcons. The signatures have to be collected within the next 60 days, which started Tuesday.
“This is a monumental task we’re taking on,” he said. “We’re trying to put public funding of the new stadium on the ballot so people can vote for it.”
Perry said the biggest myth is the Falcons are paying $800 million and the public is paying $200 million on the new stadium.
He said the public would actually be spending more than $500 million, according to the city’s estimate, and nearly $1 billion according to the state’s estimate.
“Fundamentally for us, it’s the public input piece, whether you’re against or not. It’s an opportunity to vote on the issue,” Perry said. “The public hasn’t had a true opportunity to weigh in on this thing.”
Watson said, “I don’t have a position on this. I’m in favor of democracy and this issue is settled for now.”
To sign the petition and/or volunteer to help collect signatures, contact Perry at (404) 524-4598 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.AtlantaRaiseUp.com or www.commoncause.org/GA/Donate.