Lake Charlotte Land Purchase

City Council Committee Votes to Mispend Even MORE Tree Trust Fund Money

it stinks quote

Just one week after a Tree Next Door investigation revealed that the Tree Trust Fund (TTF) has been used as a slush fund to pay for over $3.3 million of unauthorized salary expenses, the Community Development and Human Services (CD/HS) Committee voted Tuesday (April 28, 2020) to spend up to another $2.3 million of TTF money on salary and other expenses clearly NOT allowed by the TTF.

How did this happen? It stinks as bad as the porta potty that the Tree Trust Fund (TTF) money will be paying for instead of replanting trees.

Despite objections raised by members of three different Atlanta based tree advocacy groups -- The Tree Next Door, City in the Forest, and the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Tree Canopy Committee -- the CD/HS Committee simply ignored the fact that were voting to misappropriate money from the TTF for expenses that should be coming out of the Parks' Department. Already, the CD/HS Committee had approved a land purchase ordinance which had been padded with an additional $625K in "site security and stabilization costs" to be fully funded by the TTF. (This land purchase ordinance passed in Full City Council April 20, 2020.) Tree advocates were asking the CD/HS Committee not to authorize an additional $2.3 million to be misappropriated from the TTF in a second maintenance ordinance which accompanied the land purchase ordinance, but had been sent back to the CD/HS Committee for further review after several Councilmembers questioned why certain items in the maintenance ordinance were being funded by the TTF. This robbing of the TTF for non-approved purposes must end if we are ever to have the money to buy more forested land in the future.

In Tuesday’s meeting, Doug Voss, Director of Parks, presented to the Committee a revised five-year maintenance plan budget for the Lake Charlotte property purchase that added the salaries of two more employees, in addition to the maintenance manager, to be paid for by the TTF.  His budget also specified a F-250 truck ($38,600), a John Deere Gator ($19,950), and a portable toilet with weekly service for the next five years ($10,892)  -- all to be paid for with TTF dollars. These are items that clearly should be paid for by the Department of Parks and Recreation, but Councilmembers Joyce Shepherd and Carla Smith expressed their enthusiastic support for using the Tree Trust Fund money for these items instead, seeming not to understand that the Tree Trust Fund is not an auxiliary Parks' Department budget.  

5-year budget
                                                                      5-Year Maintenance Budget
                                                                           (Click chart to enlarge)

Councilmember Natalyn Archibong was the only Committee member who even considered that it was a violation of the Tree Protection Ordinance to be approving these Parks' Department maintenance items to be paid out of the TTF.  She asked the Committee to “parse out” what is truly tree maintenance and what is “squarely in the wheelhouse of Parks”. Archibong also noted the huge maintenance expense that has been tied to the purchase of the Lake Charlotte property (a total of $2.9 million of maintenance for a property that cost $4.7 million), and noted that if we have these kind of maintenance expenses tied to future forested land purchases, we are going to soon have a “train wreck”. There is not enough money in the TTF to support maintenance budgets that are nearly two-thirds of the amount it costs just to buy the land.

train wreck

Archibong said she did not like seeing the TTF depleted so quickly on this one land purchase. She asked the Committee to please “refine” the maintenance ordinance to make sure there were dollars left in the TTF for further land acquisitions.

Unfortunately, Archibong’s comments fell on deaf ears. The Committee members did not seem to hear or want to address the appropriateness of spending money from the TTF on items not allowed by the Tree Protection Ordinance. Nor did they want to ask questions about how the maintenance budget estimates were derived and if there might be more cost-effective measures to maintaining the property. Rather, they seemed overly eager to pass the ordinance without the appropriate due diligence. They reframed the question they were voting on from “Should we be spending money from the TTF on these items?” to “Do we need a 5-year maintenance plan?” Since the land purchase requires a maintenance plan, no one was going to vote “no” on needing a maintenance plan, which would make them appear opposed to buying the land. As it was, even Archibong abstained from voting rather than voting “no”.

the vote

This vote is disconcerting because the CD/HS Committee has responsibility for ensuring that the City is spending money from the TTF appropriately. When The Tree Next Door has just identified over $3.3 million in misappropriated funds from the TTF, it is stunning, really, to see the CD/HS turn around and vote for even more millions to be misappropriated from the same fund.   If we are to maintain our tree canopy, we cannot allow the one and only City fund we have to replant trees to be raided by the Parks Department. The TTF money is intended to replace the trees that were cut down, not to pay for Parks Department staff and their trucks, equipment, and porta potties.  


What can you do?

Please contact all the City Council representatives before the Full City Council votes THIS MONDAY, May 4 at 1 pm to tell them to not approve this maintenance ordinance as it is currently written and to send it back to the CD/HS Committee to get the full review it should have gotten in last Tuesday's meeting.  In addition to emailing and calling your City Council members individually, please call 404-330-6001 by 12 noon on Monday, May 4, to leave a voicemail that will be played during the public comments section of the City Council meeting.

In your communication please reference Ordinance 20-O-1216 which will remove an additional $2.3 million from the TTF over the next five years to pay for maintenance needs for the Lake Charlotte land purchase  -- in addition to the $625K in maintenance costs that City Council has already approved in conjunction with this land purchase.  Tell your City Council representatives to:

  • Say NO to depleting our TTF on maintenance costs which will prevent future forested land purchases.

       - and -

  • Say YES to buying the Lake Charlotte property (which they already have voted to purchase).

  • Say YES to a maintenance ordinance for Lake Charlotte which appropriately allocates its funding sources.
  • Say YES to using the TTF for its intended purpose: to replace our City's lost tree canopy!
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