Skip to contents
City Politics

Council’s Vote on ‘Cop City’ Unlikely to Change Despite $67 Million Cost to Taxpayers

Supporters stress that the training center is still needed, although some members say messaging has been a problem.

Members of the Atlanta City Council Finance Committee meet at City Hall on May 24. The committee voted to advance funding legislation for the controversial "Cop City" public safety training center. (Stephen R. Dennis/Atlanta City Council Office of Communications)

Building “Cop City” might cost taxpayers more than double what Atlanta government leaders have been telling the public. But the revelation about the public safety training center’s price tag doesn’t seem to be changing lawmakers’ stances on the project.  

Atlanta City Council members are scheduled to vote Monday on whether to greenlight $67 million to help the Atlanta Police Foundation build the controversial facility. The council’s finance committee voted May 24 to advance an ordinance authorizing the public funds. 

The total construction bill is about $90 million. Before May 24, city leaders had said publicly that Atlanta taxpayers only had to contribute about $30 million for the project, with the APF covering the rest. But then, before last week’s finance committee meeting, the Atlanta Community Press Collective reported the city’s contribution could cost significantly more than that. The increase is linked to a lease-back agreement provision included in the legislation the council is set to vote on Monday. 

Capital B reached out to council members after the news broke to ask if it would affect their support for the center. What we heard back suggests that battle lines haven’t shifted much.

Post 1 At-Large City Council member Michael Julian Bond said he wasn’t aware of the lease-back agreement’s total cost before last week. However, he still plans to approve public funding for the training center because he believes it’s needed.

“We still don’t have an adequate place for our police and more so for our fire department to train,” Bond said.

The training center funding ordinance would authorize the city to send $30 million from its general fund to the police foundation to pay for the center’s construction, allocate $1 million in public safety impact fees to build a gymnasium at the facility, and allow Mayor Andre Dickens to enter into the lease-back agreement with the foundation.

The lease-back would come via a loan that the police foundation will take out to help pay for the center but that the city will pay back through annual $1.2 million installments over 30 years, for a total of $36 million. 

A police department spokesman said the city sees the installments as “budget-neutral” because the city won’t have to continue renting other facilities for police and fire department training. Multiple council members echoed that reasoning, reaffirming their support for the training center.

Bond is one of at least seven council members who have publicly expressed their support for legislation to fund the training center. The ordinance needs only a majority vote from the 16-member legislative body on Monday to be approved. City Council President Doug Shipman would provide a tie-breaking vote if needed.

Council members Dustin Hillis, Byron Amos, Howard Shook, Mary Norwood, Marci Collier Overstreet, and Matt Westmoreland are all co-sponsors of the measure.

Hillis, Overstreet, Westmoreland, Shook, and District 6 council member Alex Wan were the five council finance committee members who voted to advance the funding legislation on May 24, more than a week after it was introduced.

District 5 council member Liliana Bakhtiari and Post 3 At-Large council member Keisha Sean Waites confirmed they still plan to vote against the funding legislation on Monday.

Bakhtiari expects the measure will get approved anyway.

“They do have enough votes to pass it,” she said. “The community is definitely in pain, and we have done nothing, in my opinion, to prevent that. Everybody’s in pain for good reason. The messaging around this has been terrible. The communication has been terrible. The delivery has been terrible.”

District 1 council member Jason Winston says he is undecided about the training center legislation. Winston’s district is the closest to the “Cop City” construction site. (Stephen R. Dennis/ Atlanta City Council Office of Communications)

District 1 council member Jason Winston, whose district is the closest to the training center construction site in south DeKalb County, said he is undecided about supporting the legislation and is “still listening” to constituents on both sides of the issue. 

He abstained from the finance committee vote last week, but told Capital B over the weekend that the revised $67 million taxpayer price tag for the training center wasn’t surprising, given Atlanta Chief Financial Officer Mohamed Balla’s report to the council on the facility’s construction costs at the committee meeting. 

He said the buzz around the center’s cost hadn’t swayed him one way or another.

“I can see where it can seem like this was misleading, but I think at the end of the day, the capital expenditure to be able to build this facility is going to be the $31 million,” Winston said. “The folks who have been promoting this could have done a better job of just talking about where the numbers are coming from.” 

Bond admitted he’s worried that building the training center could cost taxpayers even more than $67 million. He acknowledged city officials have a track record of underestimating the cost of capital projects over several years.

“I’m very concerned about that,” Bond said. “It can hurt the bond rating of the city of Atlanta, which would be devastating across all of our financial tools, or rather all of our financial arrangements that we’ve made.”

The council’s final vote on the training center funding legislation is set to take place at 1 p.m. Monday inside City Hall. Members of the public can attend in person or watch online.