Atlanta Mayor Franklin upbeat about airline negotiations and future city finances

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, during her annual address at the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday, let it be known that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is in good hands under the city’s control.

She also said she hopes the city will finish the year in the black, despite the current economic climate.

Rotarian R.K. Sehgal asked the mayor how she felt about some Georgia legislators exploring ways for the state to takeover Hartsfield-Jackson.

While not mentioning the threat directly, Franklin made it clear the city is doing just fine running the airport and working with its major airlines to renegotiate the master lease agreement.

“I expect that by the end of the year, we’ll have a master lease agreement,, a fair and equitable agreement,” Franklin said.

Franklin said that Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson and AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro want to negotiate a new agreement with Hartsfield-Jackson because they like flying out of Atlanta.

“Atlanta is the cheapest place for airlines to fly in America,” Franklin said. “It also is one of the most efficient airports.”

But negotiating a new master lease agreement is complex.

“As we move forward, the question is what kind of relationship we want for the future,” Franklin said. “I will assure you there are very productive conversations underway. We are on track, and it is precisely because (the airport) is a good place to do business.”

She then said Hartsfield-Jackson is the result of a “series of city leaders over 80 years who have made a series of decisions” that has turned a little crop duster airport into the largest airport in the world.

“How did it get developed? Who provided the leadership? How did it get financing? Franklin asked rhetorically, clearly pointed questions for state leaders. She then wondered why some leaders were focusing their efforts on the airport rather than spending their time dealing with real problems, such as transportation.

Asked about the city budget, Franklin said she knew in January, 2008 that the downturn was coming and tried to prepare for it. The first sign was when the city’s sales tax revenues fell flat instead of growing at least 4 percent a year.

The city ended up with a deficit in its last fiscal year, and Franklin attributed part of the reason to the fact she couldn’t get the Atlanta City Council to support a proposed property tax increase.

The city now has implemented furloughs and other cutbacks in its operations.

“We believe we will finish the year on June 30th in the black,” Franklin said. In fact, she mentioned that there might be a surplus.

“We now have a policy that if we have a fund balance at the end of the year, that it will go into a rainy day fund, which the city has never had,” Franklin said.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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