Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Wednesday the city must do a better job of getting money from the federal government.
Reed made the declaration in a speech to the Buckhead Coalition and repeated it later when he spoke to reporters about a Tuesday story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that reported the city did not receive any money in the second round of federal awards for a program to buy, repair and occupy foreclosed homes. Chicago received $98 million, the mayor said.
"That should be unacceptable to the mayor of Atlanta and it is unacceptable," Reed said.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development spokesman Joseph J. Phillips said Wednesday the department is preparing a letter that will explain why the city didn't receive those funds. Phillips noted there was less money available and more applicants for it in the second round.
The AJC also reported that a December audit by federal officials concluded the city needs to speed up its spending of the $12.3 million it received in the first round of funding for the housing program. Reed said the city will reach agreements with contractors to spend all of the money by the September deadline. The mayor also said the city will reach similar agreements on an estimated $29 million awarded by the federal government more than six years ago to revitalize long-neglected communities. The city was supposed to have commitments to spend that money by the end of 2009. A bill in Congress would extend the deadline another year.
Reed said the city needs to better understand the federal appropriations process. To that end, he said he will spend more time in Washington, D.C., to build better relationships with federal officials. One project he mentioned is $300 million in federal funds the city is seeking for the Peachtree Streetcar project.
"Atlanta is not receiving the resources we should receive as the capital city of the South," the mayor said in his Buckhead speech.
Reed said he will not raise property taxes in his first term. He also reiterated his desire to see state lawmakers pass a transportation bill this session. The mayor supports an idea that allows local governments to impose a penny-per-dollar sales tax to pay for transportation improvements.
State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) said infighting among state lawmakers about issues such as the transportation bill hurts Georgia when it seeks federal funds.
"If the ball is dropped, we're sending the wrong message to Washington," said Orrock, who attended the speech.
Reed also told the audience he is working on a way to reduce the amount Atlanta spends on employee pensions. Between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010, the city will spend about $130 million on pensions, more than one-fifth of its general fund budget.
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