Inside City Hall: Digging deep, yet again, into Atlanta’s pocketbook

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road NW in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022.  (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road NW in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

A weekly roundup of the most important things you need to know about Atlanta City Hall.

Most of us know how hard it can be to create and stick to a personal budget, so we can’t imagine what goes into a spreadsheet for a multi-billion dollar city. But the past six weeks have displayed the complications behind the formation of Atlanta’s $734 million general fund.

Last Monday we published a story about staffing shortages in Atlanta’s fire department. In it, firefighter union leaders and councilmembers criticized the raises proposed by Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.

Dickens wanted to offer lower pay increases than suggested in a 2019 pay study for the majority of firefighters, while giving bigger raises than suggested in the study to higher ranking firefighters. Union president Nate Bailey told us the firefighters were initially let down and confused.

By Thursday, Dickens announced he and his administration worked with union leadership to provide new raises in addition to the initially proposed pay increases. The administration is submitting legislation to the City Council that would boost firefighter pay from 7% to 15.5%, with the largest percentage increase targeted at recruits. He’s also adding a fifth tier of compensation for longer-tenured firefighters.

Combined ShapeCaption
Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road NW in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road NW in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022.  (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Mayor Andre Dickens speaks in front of Atlanta Fire and Rescue Station 26 on Howell Mill Road NW in Atlanta on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

We’ve spent the last few days asking the administration for more details about the proposed pay raises. Officials from the mayor’s office said the cost of the raises will be revealed in the budget amendment, adding that the administration found efficiencies elsewhere in the city’s revenue accounts to cover the raises without increasing the general fund balance.

The city also mentioned the administration is still reviewing ways to provide additional financial support to Atlanta Police Department, which is also seeking more money to help with recruitment and retention.

---

Speaking of the budget, we took another look at the numbers to see which departments are slated to lose money from the general fund in Fiscal Year 2023, which begins July 1.

Under the mayor’s proposed general fund budget, the department of Enterprise Asset Management will lose more than $2.7 million, documents show. Procurement will lose $420,418, the Inspector General’s office will lose $287,857, and the Public Defender’s office will lose $118,173.

---

The Dickens administration recently responded to opposition against the proposed $16 million general fund budget for the Department of Corrections, which manages the city’s detention center.

During a budget presentation for the city’s executive office last Thursday, City Councilman Dustin Hillis told Dickens it’s “very glaring” to see that money for a jail housing less than 50 non-violent detainees. Hillis said that money could go elsewhere in the city.

Combined ShapeCaption
The city of Atlanta and some activists want to transform the near-empty city jail into an "Equity Center." Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

The city of Atlanta and some activists want to transform the near-empty city jail into an "Equity Center." Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Combined ShapeCaption
The city of Atlanta and some activists want to transform the near-empty city jail into an "Equity Center." Photo by Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Chief Financial Officer Mohamed Balla said most of the proposed budget ― $13 million — is solely for corrections personnel. The remaining funds are for utilities and maintenance of the jail, he said.

Dickens told the council his administration “is doing math on all sides of the equation” to see whether the city should use the detention center to alleviate overcrowding at Fulton County’s jail, or to repurpose the building into a center for the homeless.

Prior to the administration’s comments, dozens of speakers filled the council’s chambers at last Tuesday’s public hearing for the budget to urge lawmakers to close the jail. They all said the $16 million could go toward affordable housing, transportation and health care services.

If you missed the first public hearing, you will have another opportunity to share your thoughts on the city’s spending at the next hearing scheduled for June 15. The council is slated to adopt the budget next Tuesday, June 21. Dickens could approve or veto the budget on June 29.

Send us tips and feedback at Wilborn.Nobles@ajc.com and jdapelouto@ajc.com. We’re also on Twitter, @jdcapelouto and @WilNobles.