By John Schaffner
Calling the action “pure politics,” “short-sighted” and “bad policy,” Mayor Shirley Franklin reacted swiftly March 17 to a resolution passed the day before by the Atlanta City Council that laid out the council’s 2010 budget priorities to eliminate furloughs and fully fund sworn police and fire positions.
In its resolution March 16, the City Council “states and supports a policy to fully fund 100 percent of all sworn public safety police and fire positions in the 2010 Budget,” based on projected revenues of approximately $450 million, “prior to consideration of any property tax increase.”
The council projected that the public safety portion of the 2010 budget will be $250 million.
The council points out in its resolution that providing for public safety is the primary responsibility of the city of Atlanta, above all other services.
“Council encourages the administration to make cuts and seek efficiencies in areas other than sworn police and fire in order to allow the city to meet its obligation under the City Charter,” the resolution reads.
The council went on to state that funding for other essential services specified in the City Charter, such as code enforcement and sanitation, also should be fully funded based on projected revenues “prior to any consideration of a property tax increase.”
The intention of the council is that the funding for all other services “not specifically enumerated in the City Charter” be funded only after public safety and other services specified in the charter are fully funded.
The council said it has not determined its position regarding any proposed or contemplated property tax increase, but it wants the mayor and her administration to fully fund public safety and other charter-mandated services through projected revenues before proposing a property tax increase.
The resolution was introduced by Councilman Ceasar Mitchell, a mayoral candidate this year, but it reportedly was composed by council President Lisa Borders.
In a statement issued through her media relations officer, Franklin said:
“Public Safety is the number one priority in this year’s budget as it has been in every budget during my two terms as Mayor. The City Council has also consistently ranked public safety at the top of its list of priorities. Since 2002, we have increased the number of sworn police on the streets by 350. Last year in the face of an economic downturn, I was willing to increase taxes to maintain the higher level of sworn personnel. City Council was not, and instead rolled back taxes.
“Second, this resolution ignores the basic way in which Atlanta, and all cities, work. To say that we can address crime and broader public safety issues only through sworn officers ignores the critical role of the courts and corrections in our democracy. Some 70 percent of personnel and related costs in our budget are dedicated to the necessary functions of police, fire, corrections and courts. Non-sworn personnel within these departments are critical to making the entire system work. Leaving out the non-sworn personnel and the courts and corrections functions when viewing our investment in public safety will dramatically reduce the effectiveness of sworn police and fire personnel.”
Franklin said the 13 council members “are suggesting that other aspects of the City’s work are irrelevant to the quality of life of Atlanta residents, including matters that directly affect public safety. City Council must believe that closing recreation centers, reducing parks maintenance, eliminating homelessness programs, cutting investment in traffic safety and road maintenance, laying off personnel in the support departments that serve the Police Department and Fire Department all have no impact on crime. I disagree, as would every mayor across America.”
Franklin concluded, saying, “If Atlanta seeks to be a best in class American city, it must be a safe city, a green city, a creative city and a caring city. This resolution ignores essential elements of what makes Atlanta great.”
The mayor said she will offer her final budget to the council in May,