Decatur Commission approves $40 million budget, town center redesign

The spending plan is a $7 million increase over the current fiscal year

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The Decatur City Commission on Tuesday approved a budget of just under $40 million for the next fiscal year — a $7 million increase from the current year.

About 35% of the increase comes from a consolidation of the Active Living and Children and Youth Services divisions into the Parks and Recreation Department. City Manager Andrea Arnold wrote in the budget letter that the city is “in a strong financial and organizational position.”

Additionally, the budget will help further 60 items in the city’s 2020 Strategic Plan dealing with mobility, economic growth, civic trust, affordable housing, equity & racial justice and climate action. The plan has a 2030 deadline.

The budget affords an 8.5% increase in employee salaries that are not at the top of the salary range, and even larger increases for police and firefighter entry-level positions. The police raises are an attempt to help with recruitment. The Decatur Police Department’s vacancy rate has sat at around 20% for the past two years, according to the budget letter.

Police officer recruitment and retention has been an issue all over metro Atlanta. Gwinnett County reported more than 200 unfilled positions in its department last December.

The larger budget was achieved with a slight reduction in the property tax rate, because of rising home values.

“It was a team effort to put this together and I’m just really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve with the budget and what we’re going to be able to achieve with the budget that’s been adopted,” Arnold said.

Additionally, commissioners passed a new Decatur Town Center redevelopment plan.

Luis Calvo, a senior associate of urban design company MKSK, said the plan aims to improve accessibility by repaving sidewalks, adding a stage for performances and improving safety and signage features.

The first downtown plan was created in 1982. Commissioner Tony Powers, who was a senior in high school when the original plan passed, said it transformed downtown.

“If it had not been for that plan, I don’t know if I’d still be here,” Powers said. “What that plan gave us was a roadmap for the revitalization of downtown Decatur, and if you weren’t there in 1982 you have no idea what downtown Decatur was like.

“There was no variety, no diversity, no nightlife, there was nothing. It was a very different place. That plan gave our city life and breath.”

Mary Karwoski, a spokesperson for the Decatur Downtown Neighbors committee, expressed concern that the proposal was “heavy on economic development but not so much on community development.”

Similarly, Commissioner Lesa Mayer raised lamented the loss of green space and advocated for bringing in accessible businesses that will benefit people across many socioeconomic backgrounds, such as an affordable grocery store.

“I don’t want to be an elitist city — I never have, I never will,” Mayer said. “I want to be an inclusive city, filled with interesting, fascinating people that I can learn from, where I can grow and be a better person every day that I get to live in that community. While a lot of this plan covers that, it also has the opportunity to really go left, and so I want to challenge us all to watch that.”

Additionally, the Commission approved moving forward with plans on a $4.5 million project to repair and resurface Church Street.

This year is particularly special for the city, which is celebrating its bicentennial. There are continuing celebrations each month, culminating with the town’s founding date in the first weekend of December.