On February 21, 2018, the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a presentation to help the public understand city budgeting. Melonie Thorpe, our Programs and Advocacy Director, provided a brief overview of the city’s budget and discussed how this budget interacts with city policies. Following this presentation, our Advocacy Manager, Kyle Kessler, moderated an interactive Q&A session with two budget experts, Chuck Meadows and Cynthia Searcy, who offered insights on a range of topics including property tax values, best practices for city budget transparency, and ways that Atlanta citizens can get involved in city budgeting.
Some audience members expressed concerns about Atlanta’s changing residential landscape due to ongoing redevelopment projects which have been closely linked to the city’s growing income inequality. Meadows explained that property values will be affected by the emergence of new high rise condominiums such as those along the Atlanta Beltline. He noted that “the poor are getting poorer” and that Atlanta’s wealth is becoming more concentrated into the hands of a smaller community which has direct impacts on the stability of our city’s economy. Specifically, Meadows commented that property taxes perform better when you have a broader base paying into the system which is a challenge for the city to overcome
With rising concerns about the state of Atlanta, audience members were eager to know how the City can be held accountable to its proposed budget in addition to how citizens can become more involved in the budget process. Cynthia Searcy noted that the city provides monthly expenditure reports to the public but could increase its accountability by linking its spending to tangible outcomes through a performance-based approach. Audience members were curious to know if there are any mechanisms in place that allow external parties to keep checks and balances on the city’s budgeting process. Atlanta does not currently have an official third-party watchdog organization to oversee this process, however, an audience member raised the possibility of one being created if citizens mobilize and go through an official petition process through the state legislature -- though these interventions have historically been implemented in other major cities in the aftermath of a financial crisis or scandal.
Meadows and Searcy noted that there are events in Atlanta’s history that validate citizens being skeptical of the budget process and concerned about their inclusion. However, they both encouraged members of the audience to become more informed about the specific issues that they care about and set up meetings with their city council representatives to express their opinions. Meadows reminded the audience to be patient and persistent through this process as change takes time. The night ended with Searcy assuring the audience that, “You will see change. You just have to be vocal and have your priorities set.”
You can get the entire presentation here.