By Dave Williams and Maria Saporta
The city of Atlanta paid Atlanta Public Schools $9 million last week in an important step toward resolving a long-running legal dispute over tax allocation district revenues from Atlanta BeltLine Inc.
Word of the payment emerged Monday from a source close to the negotiations as the Atlanta City Council met behind closed doors for more than an hour to discuss an issue of “potential litigation,” in the words of council President Ceasar Mitchell.
For a time on Monday it appeared that the city and APS might reach a tentative agreement that could be presented to the Atlanta City Council and Atlanta Board of Education. But after council members emerged from their executive session, nothing was said about the talks with APS during the remainder of the meeting.
“I think progress is being made, and the parties are working in good faith,” Mitchell said late Monday after the meeting.
Earlier on Monday, APS board Chairman Courtney English described a potential agreement that would involve the city making a schedule of payments to the school system.
But he said nothing would be final until the Atlanta school board signs off on the deal.
“The City of Atlanta, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta BeltLine and Atlanta Public Schools are all working diligently to resolve the BeltLine dispute, and we remain cautiously optimistic that settlement will be reached very soon,” City Attorney Cathy Hampton said in a statement issued late Monday afternoon. “Ending the dispute will benefit APS students and all of Atlanta’s citizens. The $9 million payment demonstrates our commitment to finalizing a resolution as quickly as possible.”
The BeltLine payment issue has caused tension between the city and its public school system for nearly three years. It has had a ripple effect in preventing other collaborations, such as the selling of school properties Atlanta holds the deeds to.
It is not known whether this agreement would address the sale of school-owned property, but it would be seen as removing a major impediment that caused a rift between Mayor Kasim Reed and APS leaders.
English said he is not surprised the legal dispute has dragged on for so long.
“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s really a complex issue that has a ton of moving pieces.”
The $9 million payment was significant because several people close to the situation said the city was scheduled to make its next payment to APS by the end of the year. The city was behind in its payments because it believed the amount of taxes called for in a long-standing agreement between the parties was not reasonable when considering the economic impact of the real estate recession.
APS said it was an agreement the city should honor and that it needed those revenues to run the school system.
Dave Williams is a reporter with the Atlanta Business Chronicle.