Mayor: Atlanta budget in better shape

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and her staff said Thursday the city is about $6 million in the black so far this budget year, but hold the confetti and celebratory champagne.

The numbers are based on early data that still must be analyzed by each department, said Chief Financial Officer Jim Glass. The initial information showed the city spent about $7 million less than it expected but collected approximately $1 million less than projected, he said.

More importantly, the city is anxiously waiting to see how much money it receives from Fulton County from its collection of taxes from Atlanta property owners and when they’ll get it.

The city typically begins receiving the money by October, Atlanta officials said during a news conference to give an update on its finances. The mayor said it could take longer this year because of the high number of reassessments by Fulton County appraisers of some properties and the large number of appeals filed by homeowners and businesses disputing how much the county says their homes or office buildings are worth.

“We will be a royal pain with Fulton County to get as much money as we can,” Glass said half-jokingly to reporters.

In June, Fulton officials estimated a $300 million drop in the value of properties in the county. Franklin said the city would closely monitor city spending as it waits for the property tax money to come to City Hall.

“I do not see this impacting city services,” the mayor said.

The city’s budget year began July 1 and ends June 30. Franklin and the City Council set aside $27 million in reserves and is hoping not to touch it. The council voted 8-7 to raise property taxes in June to help fill a $56 million shortfall in its $541 million general fund budget.

The city has applied for $535 million in federal economic stimulus funds, which Franklin said could somewhat help offset operating costs. Atlanta so far has received about $40 million. Much of the money the city is seeking would be for a proposed streetcar system along Peachtree Street. City officials also are hoping for money to install surveillance cameras in high-crime areas largely to prevent car theft and burglaries.

The mayor said during the update that her staff is preparing for an internal audit that may find errors in how a company set up billing between city departments.

Glass also said the city is doing a better job of paying vendors on time. In May 2008, city officials said they had about $40 million in unpaid invoices. Glass said Thursday the unpaid total for general operations was about $1.5 million.