Audit: Atlanta planning department overspent millions of tree trust fund on salaries and benefits

Facts about Atlanta's tree canopy

Facts about Atlanta's tree canopy

A city of Atlanta audit says that the city’s planning department improperly spent $2.2 million of the city’s tree trust fund on employee salaries and benefits between 2009 and 2019.

Atlanta’s tree trust fund was established decades ago to protect the city’s canopy by collecting fees and fines from developers and homeowners who remove trees. The money is then used to replant trees in other areas of the city.

The audit, which will be presented to the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development and Human Resources Committee Tuesday, also says: “The department lacks procedures for collecting unpaid fines and fees due to the illegal destruction of trees."

The last study of the city’s tree canopy, conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, showed that Atlanta lost nearly 1% of its canopy between 2008 and 2014.

Tree advocates have expressed concern that the city’s recent real estate boom has eroded the canopy to a much greater extent.

Another Georgia Tech study of the canopy in 2018 is underway, according to the audit.