Mayor Andre Dickens has released the proposed city budget for fiscal year 2024. The $790 million general fund budget would be the largest in Atlanta’s history if approved.
Between now and then, City Council members will spend roughly 45 days in committee hearings listening to Atlanta service department leaders make their case for their municipal funding requests.
City Council members recently discussed their budget priorities with Capital B Atlanta. Among their top concerns are increased funding for affordable housing programs and initiatives aimed at creating better economic opportunities for lower-income Atlanta residents.
“We want to have a city where live, work, and play is real, particularly the live part,” said Post 1 At Large Atlanta City Council member Michael Julian Bond. “[We want to make sure] that people can actually afford and exist to live in this city, just like I have my entire life.”
Here’s what else we know about the City Council’s budget priorities and what’s on the minds of Atlanta leaders.
Atlanta is becoming too expensive a place to live for many of its Black legacy residents, which is why City Council members say they’re prioritizing programs aimed at making it more affordable in the latest fiscal year budget.
“It is a weight on the citizenry, trying to find affordable accommodations,” Bond said. “That’s the number one issue, I think, outside of crime and public safety, that is on the minds of every Atlantan.”
At the top of several council members’ priority list is addressing the city’s ongoing affordable housing crisis.
“Affordable housing has just really been a nightmare in Atlanta,” said Post 3 At Large City Council Member Keisha Sean Waites. “People like my mom, a single parent, would not be able to live in Atlanta today if we were running the clock back 50 years.”
Council members want to set aside 1.5% of the budget for the city’s affordable housing trust fund, and bring more funding to the Metro Atlanta Land Bank so it can acquire land to build affordable housing.
The council also wants to invest in programs that offer down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers. Members also want property tax relief for eligible seniors who need it, in addition to providing low-interest repair and remodeling loans to legacy residents.
Council member Byron Amos represents District 3, which includes Vine City and Bankhead. Amos said seniors need resources to pay for upgrades on their homes.
“We should also be giving them information pertaining to a pot of money so that the city can actually correct those code violations for them because they are our senior citizens,” he said. “They are the ones that have kept this city together for all this time.”
City Council members say they’d like to increase funding for programs aimed at helping those experiencing homelessness in Atlanta. Several members said they believe homelessness is on the rise despite a report that shows a decline since 2020.
“There is no way in any world right now, with the state of the world the way that it is, that our homeless population is going down,” District 5 City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari said.
Council members are calling on the Dickens administration to purchase and install self-cleaning bathrooms that unhoused people can use in city parks and public facilities. They also want the city to purchase mobile warming centers that can be used during inclement weather.
Bakhtiari said she’d like Atlanta officials to take a “housing first approach” to addressing the issue. That approach includes loosening the rules some of the city’s homeless shelters have for admitting new people. Some shelters, for example, are only designed to admit domestic violence victims.
“Low barrier to no barrier shelters, I think, is a big piece that’s been left out of the conversation,” Bakhtiari said.
Granting pay raises to city employees and helping legacy Atlanta residents get the education and training needed to land better-paying jobs from companies like Microsoft and Google is also a top priority.
Waites said providing opportunities for legacy residents is “huge,” as the cost of living in the city continues to rise.
“If you are living at the poverty level and you’re making 15 bucks an hour trying to feed a family, then you’re going to have an economic mobility issue,” she said.
Finding workers has been a challenge for city officials since the pandemic began, partly due to wages not keeping up with inflation.
Council members want to increase funding to raise pay for city workers who are not first responders and to invest in a workforce housing program for all employees. They also want city service leaders to come up with a plan for filling the slew of job openings throughout their departments.
Additional budget revenue, if the council gets its way, would replenish Atlanta’s Economic Opportunity and Middle Wage Jobs Fund and invest in programs that support legacy businesses.
Some budget funds are expected to go to the city’s first-ever Department of Labor, which is scheduled to open in July. The mayor’s office says the local DOL will manage the city’s labor and innovation work, including Dickens’ Summer Youth Employment Program and his Youth Leadership Institute.
“I’m excited for what the mayor is proposing with his Department of Labor, particularly as it leans towards focusing on the Year of the Youth,” Bond said. “You want to get people exposed and to get these credentials so that people can’t use that as an excuse to keep them out.”
According to Dickens’ office, Atlanta’s overall violent crime rate has been on the decline this year. To keep the trend going, the City Council wants to increase Atlanta Police funding so the department can create a community policing program and deploy an additional officer on each city beat.
Council members also want to fund staffing and capital needs for the Atlanta Police Department’s Crime Lab and Crime Information Center. Additional revenue would fund a commissioner for the city’s 911 system and enable the Policing Alternatives and Diversion Center to provide 24-hour service to address mental health crises.
Then there’s the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, aka “Cop City.”
Multiple City Council members have acknowledged they may be asked to greenlight using Atlanta taxpayer funds to build the controversial facility.
Bond said it’s more likely that the mayor would use a revenue bond or some sort of municipal bond to fund the training center’s construction if needed.
“I would be surprised if the administration came and asked for a check for $30-some-odd million to pay for it,” he said.
The Mayor’s office says the full details of Dickens’ proposed budget will be available May 1, declining to comment further. Several council members have acknowledged to Capital B Atlanta that a vote on training center funding is a possibility.
Parks and greenways
City Council members want to increase the number of greenways and boost budget dollars spent on park maintenance, repairs, and capital investments.
They plan to beef up the Office of Recreation’s budget so the department can expand programming for the city’s senior citizens. They’re also looking to fund a citywide trails master plan and continue investing in greenway projects.
Potholes, transportation and ‘green’ infrastructure
Georgia has a pothole problem, and Atlanta City Council wants to help solve it.
Council members plan to increase funding for potholes and sidewalk repairs and to fully resurface some of the city’s worst roads. They also plan to spend more on sidewalks, speed tables, signage, crosswalks, and traffic beacons to help reduce pedestrian deaths in conjunction with the city’s Vision Zero campaign.
Helping the city go green is another budget priority. Bakhtiari says hotter temperatures and increased flooding caused by climate change are contributing to rising energy costs in Black neighborhoods.
“[It’s] leading to additional health issues, which is leading to inevitable displacement from housing because of the cost of living,” Bakhtiari said. “We are experiencing a hundred-year storms every year, flash floods, you name it. The fact [that] energy burden is a driving cost for displacement speaks to that very heavily.”
The council is looking to invest budget dollars in energy, environmental, and material sustainability initiatives in addition to solar installation, weatherization, and other initiatives for city-owned buildings.
They’d also like to use budget funds on E-bike rebates, to pilot a fleet of electric vehicles, and add EV charging stations at city-owned facilities.
Other budget dollars would go to a new street sweeper for city bike lanes. Council members also want to use budget funds to commission a study on building grocery stores in the city’s food deserts.
This story has been updated.
Capital B is publishing this story as part of ATL Budget, a civic engagement project done in partnership with Atlanta Civic Circle, Canopy Atlanta, and the Center for Civic Innovation, to help you understand where your tax dollars will go — and how you can have a say about it. To keep up, follow #ATLBudget on Twitter and Instagram, and sign up for our newsletter here.