Atlanta Out Loud

Politics and rantings and just stuff that catches my attention.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

|| 6:23:17 PM
Missed Deadlines

The City's Department of Watershed Management today released the letter they sent in the final minutes of Tuesday night to the U.S. EPA and the Georgia EPD.

You can read the text of the letter here.

The letter almost, but not quite, acknowledges that Mayor Franklin has created a worst-case scenario through her veto of City Council legislation. In true fashion, the administration projects that the City Council will do NOTHING at their January 5, 2004 meeting. That's what Fulton County Commissioners call "sandbagging"... presenting a case so ridiculous that no one would believe it. It is the Mayor, not the Council, who created this doomsday outlook.

Nothing surprising, really. Just lots of run-of-the-mill posturing.

The City says it will miss the January 2 deadline to advertise for bids to build the Westward Tunnel project (which will begin just north of Piedmont Park and run west in an arc across the city... it will store sewage as "overflow" until it can be treated instead of dumping it in the Chattahoochee). Derrick Boazman suggests that's a bogus deadline created because of a city policy (not an ordinance), which requires all funding to be in place for a project before it is advertised.

Very few other governments have such a policy, and the Franklin administration seems to invoke it when convenient (the Mayor's proposal wouldn't have had the money in place by January 2 either). Most governments advertise contingent upon budget approvals and funding. Even those within Franklin's administration can't seem to agree:

Jack Ravan, Commissioner of Watershed Management: "You've got to have the money in the bank."
Rick Anderson, Chief Financial Officer: "I know of nothing that says you can't advertise unless the money's in place."
Linda DiSantis, City Attorney: "There is no law against advertising for bids before the money is in place. On many big projects, the funding is in the pipeline but hasn't materialized. So such a law would make it impossible to get much done."
Shirley Franklin, Mayor: "[The deadline] creates an orderly process to ensure 'cream of the crop' bidders rather than 'mediocre' ones."

Remember how the Franklin Administration trumpeted the downgrading of the city's water and sewer bonds as being a result of the City Council's irresponsibility? Moody's Investors Service shed some light on why they have BOTH the water/sewer bonds AND general obligation bonds on a "negative watch" today: The City's Audited 2002 financial statements have not yet been produced, while most governments completed them this summer. That's the responsibility of the Mayor's office.

Both the State of Georgia and Fulton County are now hinting that they just might be willing to pitch in to help Atlanta with its woes. State Senator Tom Price said, "What Atlanta has to realize is that if they want our help, we have to be involved in the process." City officials FINALLY delivered detailed plans for projects to the Fulton County Commission on Tuesday night. The Commissioners have denied three times a request for help from the City because they couldn't get answers to their questions. Shirley just can't understand why the County, State and Federal governments won't give her a blank check.

The City once again rejected a source of revenue to help with the sewer project (a la no privatization of the airport). Beggars can be choosers, it appears. The City owns some water lines that venture outside the city limits. Atlanta currently charges a surcharge on residents using those lines (which they had to reduce after being sued by the County). Fulton County has offered several times to buy them, for around $200 Million... nothing to sneeze at when you're broke. "You ready to sell us the pipes yet?" Commissioner Bill Edwards asked. "No sir," Jack Ravan replied.

Believe it or not, there are other things going on...

The Fulton County Commissioners approved a tentative budget Tuesday night, which will raid the County's savings and significantly raise property taxes. It was really a move to buy time. If it had not been approved, the County would have been required to implement cuts suggested by department heads, which would have meant firing hundreds of county employees, mostly at the jail, by December 31. Even Commission Chairwoman Karen Handel went along, even though she was elected just a month ago by promising no new taxes and sound financial management.

The Commissioners had asked Department heads to propose budget cuts for consideration. What they got was a laundry list of cost-cuts, most of which seemed ridiculous and impossible. "It was sandbagging at its best," Handel said. "They are testing me. I understand that."

More realistic alternatives will be taken up in January.


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