Report finds Atlanta shifts from a surplus for taxpayers to burdening them

(The Center Square) — Georgia’s capital city has $3.4 billion to pay $4 billion worth of bills, leaving The Gate City with a $598.8 million shortfall.

According to Truth in Accounting’s “2024 Financial State of the Cities,” Atlanta saw a “financial deterioration” of $599.7 million from a year earlier. The city now has a burden of $4,089 per taxpayer, earning it a “C” grade from the group.

Additionally, the city received $18.3 million in grants and saw its revenue increase by $20 million. However, the city’s “unfunded pension promises” increased because of decreased pension investment values.

“According to the city’s 2022 financial report, Atlanta continued to spend large amounts of federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened the city took in additional tax revenue,” Truth in Accounting said in its analysis. “Such economic gains were offset by significant decreases in the value of the city’s pension investments.”

According to the group, investment market values have shifted dramatically in recent years. In 2022, this “volatility” negatively impacted the city’s pension liability and financial situation.

Truth in Accounting said Atlanta officials have only set aside 76 cents per dollar of promised pension benefits. Additionally, money has not been earmarked for promised retiree health care benefits.

“It is important to note that continued market fluctuations, changing investment values, decreased COVID relief funds, and a stabilizing economy that may slow tax collections, could continue to worsen the government’s financial health,” Truth in Accounting said in its analysis. “We advise city officials to follow the recommendations in our 2024 Financial State of the Cities report which would bring greater transparency and accountability to its finances.”

Atlanta was the only Georgia city the group examined for its report.

A spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said they would look into the report. However, he pointed to Bond Buyer naming the city’s Moving Atlanta Forward Infrastructure bonds as the Southeast “Deal of the Year.”

“This recognition extends beyond financial prudence—it is a resounding acknowledgment of Atlanta’s broader commitment to societal welfare and sustainable development,” the spokesman told The Center Square. “The issuance was further strengthened by Moody’s Investors Service’s Aa1 rating and Fitch Ratings’ AA+ affirmation, highlighting Atlanta’s sound fiscal management and strategic policy alignment.

“Further, we have the highest positive fund balance in our city’s history,” the spokesman added.