Lake Charlotte Land Purchase

Forested Land Purchase Ordinances Include Expenses That Shouldn’t Be Paid Out of Tree Trust Fund

The City of Atlanta recently agreed to purchase from the Conservation Fund a 216 forested acre property in southeast Atlanta, called the Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve. This $4.7 million land purchase is being made using Tree Trust Fund (TTF) money as authorized in a 2016 amendment to Section 158-66 the Tree Protection Ordinance. This will be the first forested land purchase made by the City using TTF funds.

On April 20, 2020, two ordinances which had previously passed unanimously in the Committee on Community Development and Human Services (CD/HS) were included as part of the consent agenda to be voted on by the Full City Council. These ordinances are:

All expenses in both ordinances are to be paid from the TTF.  Section 158-66 of the Tree Protection Ordinance stipulates that a property maintenance plan must be attached to any TTF land purchase ordinance and the maintenance plan must identify the source of funding for the estimated annual maintenance cost since not all maintenance costs will or should come from the TTF.

Shortly before the April 20th Council vote, The Tree Next Door (TTND) discovered expenses in both the land purchase and maintenance ordinances that should not be paid from the TTF because they have nothing to do with the maintenance of trees. The TTF was never intended to be used to provide security, or to develop park land, or to hire staff to manage park maintenance, but that is exactly what is included in these two ordinances.

In response to concerns aired by TTND, City Council voted to pass the land purchase ordinance but to send the maintenance purchase order back to the CD/HS Committee for further review. Although TTND fully supports using TTF funds to purchase the forest at Lake Charlotte, we are concerned that the land purchase ordinance passed on April 20th includes the following "site security and stabilization costs" which should not be paid for using TTF money:

  • $220,240 - fencing
  • $122,425 - a gravel road that is over three-quarters of a mile in length
  • $59,000 - demolition and clean-up
  • $50,000 - signage
  • $22,500 - parking lot with 30 spaces
  • $22,000 - electronic gate
  • $8,000 - vehicular access control

All the above items, except for signage, are cited as being needed for “safety” reasons. While it is important to keep residents safe on City property, the TTF was never intended to pay for security issues, just tree maintenance. Additionally, as we drill down into the documentation for some of the estimates for the above items, we find issues with how these estimates were derived that need further explanation.

The maintenance ordinance that was sent back to the CD/HS Committee proposes nearly $2.3 million for maintenance of Lake Charlotte to be paid over five years, including such expenses as:

  • $550,000 for an on-site manager

    While there may need to be on-site manager to supervise work crews for invasive removal, is the supervision of invasive removal truly a full-time job for 5 years? Furthermore, the job description associated with this on-site manager is for a “Parks District Maintenance Supervisor”, which is for a buildings maintenance supervisor not a vegetative or tree maintenance supervisor.

  • $700,000 for trail development and maintenance

    TTND recommends that the Department of Parks and Recreation finances the $700,000 for trail development and maintenance trails through another means.  Park trails are for recreational purposes and should not be fianced by the TTF.

  • $1,000,000 for vegetation management, i. e. invasive removal.

    TTND fully support invasive removal from the forest as a TTF expense; however, even the amount of one million dollars is difficult to verify from the supporting documentation. Trees Atlanta and The Conservation Fund prepared a report entitled "Lake Charlotte Vegetation Analysis and Management", but pages 28-31 of this report are missing from the exhibit. The missing section includes part of the actual cost estimate for vegetation management.

TTND hopes that the CD/HS Committee will take the time to thoroughly vet the expenses coming out of the TTF in the maintenance ordinance before sending it back to the Full City Council for a vote. And, if and when additional legislation is presented for the purchase of forested property, we hope the entire project is thoroughly vetted to avoid the misallocation of TTF money and to improve the transparency of supporting documents.

The purpose of the TTF is to protect and maintain the tree canopy, not to provide safety and recreation for the city. These goals may overlap, but the intended purpose of the budgeted items should determine where the funding comes from. We hope that as the CD/HS Committee and City Council make future decisions regarding the TTF, they will keep in mind the intent and purpose of the TTF to prevent future misallocations.

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