Tackling inequality in Atlanta is a key focus for Mayor Andre Dickens in his latest proposed general fund budget released Monday. The potential $790 million tab would be the largest in the city’s history if approved.
Black residents have endured a disproportionate share of the added financial burden caused by the city’s rapidly rising inflation and gentrification. Providing training for young people and other legacy residents to secure better-paying jobs and granting pay raises to city employees are some of the ways Dickens is looking to address the problem.
“It is my honor to lead a dedicated team of public servants who come to work every day to serve Atlanta,” Dickens said in a letter to Atlanta City Council members. “This budget reflects our thanks to those employees.”
So, after spending some time reading through the 638-page budget doc, here are a few of our key takeaways.
Raises for city employees
Dickens’ general fund budget would pay the city’s bills from July 1 through June of next year. It would add a 2.5% cost-of-living adjustment for municipal workers for the second consecutive year and dedicate $10 million toward continued premium pay.
It also would offset the climbing cost of employees’ health care services.
“We have also ensured that rising costs of health benefits will have zero increase to employees and the increases are borne instead by the City in this period of unpredictable inflation,” Dickens noted in his letter to the council.
It’s not just city employees Dickens is looking to help. His proposed budget would also allocate $500,000 for Atlanta’s new Department of Labor and Employment Services.
The agency, whose focus is aimed at training city residents to secure higher-paying jobs, is set to open in July.
The proposed budget also highlights Dickens’ ongoing commitment to helping Atlanta’s children and young adults stay focused on education and job training via his Year of the Youth initiative.
It allocates $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for summer youth employment, $1.8 million in operations for the city’s At-Promise Youth Centers and $2 million for Parks and Recreation youth programming.
The mayor’s office says more than 3,000 Atlanta young people ages 14 to 24 received jobs and internships through Dickens’ Summer Youth Employment Program following its launch last year.
“I’m committed to creating opportunities for young people across this city during the Year of Youth,” Dickens said in a recent press release announcing the continuation of his Summer Youth Employment Program this year. “Together, we can move Atlanta forward by intentionally investing in our youngest populations.”
State lawmakers declined to pass any notable laws to address Georgia’s ongoing affordable housing crisis during their most-recent legislative session.
Dickens wants to add more than $8 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund to help combat the problem. That would increase last year’s contribution to the program by 15%.
It’s not just taxpayer dollars being used to address the city’s affordable housing problem. On Tuesday, the mayor announced a combined $200 million investment in the city’s affordable housing supply.
The mayor wants the council to greenlight $100 million in funding in conjunction with the program. The other $100 million would come from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta by way of the Robert W. Woodruff and Joseph B. Whitehead foundations.
The mayor’s office says the combined funds will be used to build more affordable housing on publicly owned land and maintain pre-existing affordable units.
“Today’s announcement is a game changer in our ability to have projects keep pace with a rapidly evolving market,” Dickens said.
Dickens’ proposal would add more than $10.4 million to the city department of police services’ operating budget. Roughly $6.2 million of that money would go to police officers’ salaries.
The City Council has made funding staffing and capital needs for the police department’s Crime Lab and Crime Information Center a goal for the latest budget. That’s in addition to adding a commissioner for the city’s 911 system, and enabling the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative to provide 24-hour service to address mental health crises.
In total, Dickens’ proposed budget would add more than $35.9 million to the general fund.
“In a city with the potential of ours, we can and should make all of the critical investments necessary to ensure that residents across Atlanta benefit from best-in-class service delivery in a safe environment focused on inclusive prosperity,” Dickens said in a statement.