Eight parent groups have called upon Atlanta City Hall to resolve the long-standing multi-million dollar dispute between the Atlanta Public School system (APS) and the Beltline. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that these parent groups have sent a joint letter to the Atlanta City Council asking the council members to sign a pledge to pay school system what it is owed. From the AJC:
The exact amount the city owes the school district is in dispute. But what’s clear is that the Beltline is currently behind on a $6.75 million payment that was due last January, and is set to owe an additional $6.75 million next month. The parents contend the city should also pay interest and attorneys fees associated with the debt.
“We just want the city to make good on their promise,” said Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, president of Community Advocates for Special Education. “This is not just a business venture … This is about the children of Atlanta.”
The parent groups are also calling on Mayor Kasim Reed to settle this dispute as they believe “the city should pay up and now.” Mayor Reed has been spearheading the dispute negotiations regarding the Beltline debt to the APS since this summer. The parent groups want council members to urge Mayor Reed to ensure the immediate repayment of the Beltline debt to the APS as some parents believe he has been holding up the negotiations by “refusing to budge.” According to a WSB TV video accompanying the story, Mayor Reed’s office has responded to this petition by labeling it as a “manufactured controversy” with a timing that is “questionable at best.”
To gain a better context of the issue at hand, one would have to go back in time to 2005 when Mayor Shirley Franklin created the Beltline Tax Allocation District (TAD) for which she requested a buy in from the APS and Fulton County. Under the original Beltline TAD plan, Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County, and the City of Atlanta would agree to forgo the property tax revenue they received in order to have this revenue go towards the Beltline project. The plan was to have these revenue payments stop once the Beltline was completed by 2030. In return for their cooperation, the schools, county and city would reap better communities and higher property tax income.
However Mayor Franklin agreed to make fixed payments to APS through 2030 for a wide variety of reasons in addition to making fixed payments of a lower amount to Fulton County through the TAD. While the Beltline has upheld these payments to the County, it has been unable to do the same with the APS. The Beltline claims it has not been able to make these payments to the APS for two main reasons: a lawsuit and the Great Recession. While the lawsuit temporarily kept the Beltline from using school taxes, the Great Recession has led to the TAD only raising one third of the funding for the Beltline as opposed to the originally projected 60 percent.
To complicate things further, during the duration of the lawsuit, the property tax revenue that would have gone to the Beltline was held in escrow and not invested in the project. In 2009, city officials signed a contract agreeing to let APS keep these funds, amounting up to $26 million. The agreement specifically stipulated that this money would not be credited towards the Beltline’s debt. Ever since then, City and APS officials have unsuccessfully attempted at negotiations to amend this deal.
Meanwhile, city leaders simply want to make progress on completing the project. With progress delayed due to the recession, they fear making payments to the school system would cause further construction to grind to a halt.