EDITORIAL: Atlanta Must Pay APS Beltline Debt, with Interest, Immediately
(APN) ATLANTA — It is time for the City of Atlanta to end the theft from Atlanta Public Schools, to end the “negotiations”–there is nothing to negotiate, unless the subject is how much to steal from school children–and to pay the approximately fifteen million dollars or more, when interest is included, to APS immediately.
Hypocrisy on Cheating Scandals
It is amazing how everyone made such a big deal about how they were so concerned about cheating on the part of some APS teachers when it came to standardized tests.
But where is the outrage that the Atlanta Beltline is cheating Atlanta school children out of fifteen million dollars, to pay for a bloated bureaucracy called Atlanta Beltline Inc, to enrich developers, and to pay for champagne and wedding gifts?
Throwing Taxpayer Dollars Down the Drain
As Atlanta Progressive News has noted several times, taxpayers as paying, through Tax Allocation District (TAD) increments, for staff salaries, overhead, and an office, for Atlanta Beltline Inc. to develop parks and trails, when the City of Atlanta already has, and is paying for, a competent, professional Parks and Recreation department that has the expertise to do the same.
Meanwhile, audits by the City of Atlanta’s Leslie Ward have found that Atlanta Beltline funds had been used on luxury items like champagne and gifts for employees.
This is where Atlantans’ taxpayer dollars are going, that is, property taxes that would have otherwise been going to Atlanta Public Schools.
The Beltline may be a separate organization, but it is carrying out development projects for, and in conjunction with, the City of Atlanta. It is a nonprofit created by the redevelopment arm of the City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta. Stakeholders like APS got involved with the TAD–allowing tax revenue that was supposed to pay for education to go to the Beltline–because the Beltline is perceived as an extension of the City. Therefore, the City of Atlanta should pay, even if the Beltline cannot, because of all the salaries, champagne, and overhead that it is putting before its obligations to APS.
Pay it Back with Interest
The agreement specifies that if APS does not receive timely payments for having foregone tax revenue to the Beltline TAD, that APS is owed interest. The City of Atlanta should pay that interest.
The fact is, APS has had to cut back on the level of educational services that it has offered to school children in the APS system because it went along with the Beltline TAD, and thus had less money to operate during the first years of the TAD.
Now, APS is having to play catch-up with those children, to make up for the loss in educational services that it was not able to provide during their early years of those childrens’ educations. As we all know, it costs more to play catch-up with education, than it does to invest early on. Therefore, APS is not just legally, but morally, and substantively entitled to receive interest payments.
Mayor’s Outrageous Comments about Council President Mitchell
Mayor Kasim Reed recently stated that Council President Ceasar Mitchell–who drafted legislation calling for immediate payments to APS in the amount of 13.5 million dollars, covering two missed payments but not interest–was undermining his fiduciary duty to the City of Atlanta.
But a City’s financial bottom line is not the only value or consideration that should figure into public policy decisionmaking.
Yes, making Atlanta Public Schools whole because they took a chance on investing in the Beltline, will cost money, but so does investing in public safety, so does investing in public works, so does meeting any obligation.
So to say that Mitchell is putting the City’s financial bottom line at risk is to say that saving money is more important than the future of Atlanta’s next generation. Education leads to empowerment, civic engagement, more income, better jobs. All that power taken away from children and given to Beltline developers – isn’t that the Atlanta way?
This is the kind of thinking that allowed Mayor Reed to push through the most draconian, regressive, hurtful pension reforms in the City’s history. Again, Mayor Reed was willing to abdicate the City’s commitments to city workers, for the future of their retirement and even their current well-being, in order to put more money in reserves.
We Told You So, actually We don’t hate to say it
What’s really astonishing about all this is the fact that there were those of us who were opposed to the Beltline TAD and the diversion of educational dollars to begin with.
Concerned citizens like the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, its former President John Sherman, and attorney John Woodham were opposed to APS, the City, and the Beltline creating a development slush fund at the expense of the schoolchildren. They got the Beltline TAD overturned by the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2008.
Then, in 2009, the powers that be deceived Georgia voters into passing a constitutional amendment to make the Beltline TAD constitutional, even retroactively [the retroactivity was then approved by the Court].
The ballot language was confusing and deceptive, as previously reported by APN.
But that notwithstanding, those who supported the referendum in 2009 said, oh, how wonderful it would be, that APS would not only get their money back, but that APS would benefit from increased long-term tax revenues because of development that was supposed to accompany the Beltline.
And if APS does not receive their payments, then it was all a lie.
Those like Mayor Reed who supported the amendment should have been honest with voters: “Voters, please pass this referendum, so we can steal money from schoolchildren; attack anyone who questions it like the Superintendent Davis or Council President Mitchell; and then we’ll have ‘negotiations’–wink, wink–where we’ll strongarm APS into giving up some of their money, and we’ll allow the Beltline to continue violating the agreement by continuing to fund development and operations, even though they’ll never meet their obligations to repay the schoolchildren.”
Voters of Georgia, would you have supported the Beltline TAD if you knew it was a conversion scheme directed at schoolchildren?
Hypocrisy on the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless
Recently, Mayor Reed was preparing to turn off the water to the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. The shelter avoided the shut-off due to a last minute payment from anonymous donors.
However, the Task Force came to the City with a cashier’s check for 100,000 dollars, in the final days before the scheduled shut-off, and the City refused it, saying they refused to negotiate and they were demanding the full amount that was due.
Isn’t that the height of hypocrisy?
Why does the City demand payment in full and refuse to negotiate when it is owed money, even when emergency shelter for hundreds of homeless men is at stake, and even when a partial payment has been offered? Yet, when the schoolchildren need to be made whole, the City expects APS to negotiate without the City even offering a partial payment on what it currently due?
Shame on the Beltline and shame on City leaders. Congratulations to Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) for introducing Council President Mitchell’s legislation. Every member of the Council should plan to support the legislation or plan to be held accountable in 2017.