About an hour ago I received a press release from the City of Atlanta in my Outlook inbox, updating me on the status of the municipal budget for fiscal year 2009. Turns out the status is pretty grim:
City Hall has projected a deficit of $50 to $60 million already. In order to soften the blow, the mayor has implemented a hiring freeze, mandated a 36-hour work-week for all employees in general fund departments (that includes police), and thrown $12 million in reserves in to help plug the hole. Those measures will amount to about $40 million. Where will the rest come from?
Three million dollars will be siphoned off from the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. In addition to closing or reducing hours at dozens of rec centers and community pools, the city has axed the Atlanta Jazz Festival (along with "various arts programming"). Yes, the same Atlanta Jazz Festival headlined by Herbie Hancock in Piedmont Park in 2007.
Public Works also took a $2.5-million hit: recycling and yard trimmings will be collected every other week in the future, which makes my little tree-hugging heart sad. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the more than 200 workers who are now among the jobless.
It's disheartening to watch the city I love struggle, and from so close a vantage point. I take some comfort in Atlanta's longstanding iconographic association with the phoenix. I hope that once we turn the corner on these dark economic times the city will be able to come back stronger than ever before.
UPDATE: I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion with Camille Russell Love, who clarified the situation. The Atlanta Jazz Festival will go on in 2009 and beyond, with the ultimate goal of becoming a freestanding non-profit, independent of the city's whims and financial crises. This year the festival will take place in Grant Park, and as of mid-December they had already raised funds equal to the entire 2008 budget.