Editor’s Note: Sandy Springs officials are heavily into budget discussions through June. Each member of city council has his or her priorities and we are not favoring one opinion over another. However, Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins offered us this explanation of some of the budget considerations and where residents’ tax dollars go. We thought this background was informative for our readers.
Ashley Jenkins, District 4 Sandy Springs City Council
We also urge residents to take part in the public hearings and view two budget presentations on the city’s website: www.sandyspringsga.org.
Budget Schedule (all public meetings):
June 3rd – First Public Hearing
June 10th – Second Public Hearing
June 17th – Final Public Hearing & Adoption
The City of Sandy Springs is in an envious position among most governments. When you look at the cities in financial jeopardy, it is because their employee expenses (salary, health care, pensions) account for 76% of their budget. That leaves very little left over to budget for maintenance, capital improvements, or reserve funds. Sandy Springs does not want to budget according to those principles.
Our budget principles are sound.
1. Conservatively determine revenue and expenses.
2. Do not use one-time revenue sources for ongoing expenses.
3. Balance current year revenue with current year expenses.
4. Adequately fund a reserve fund balance at 16% of the total budget.
Due to our conservative budgeting, outsourcing of employees, a balanced tax base of homeowners and businesses, and stealth watch over dollars spent, the city saved money from our fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget. In addition, our local economy has not been hit as hard with the downturn as other communities. In fact, we are expecting $9 million more in revenues this year than last year.
Where do our revenues come from? (FY2009 predicted)
Real Estate Taxes $27M 30%
Local Option Sales Tax $22M 25%
Business License $11M 12.5%
Franchise Fees $ 8M 9%
Insurance Premium Tax $4.7M 5%
All other $14M 16%
Assumptions: Real Estate Taxes increased by 8% (this is due to the revaluation of all commercial property in Fulton County. Prior to this revaluation, homeowners were paying more than their fair share as they were being reassessed every year and commercial properties reassessed every 10 years). Lowered sales tax revenue by 4%. Lowered permits by 20%. Business license remained flat.
Where does my property tax go?
Fulton County 29.86%
Fulton Schools 55.63%
Sandy Springs 13.74%
My tax bill increased 25%. I thought I was protected from rising assessments.
The only portion of your tax bill that is protected from skyrocketing assessments is the city portion. We have a 3% residential growth cap on our portion. Additionally, our millage rate is capped at 4.731 mils and cannot be increased.
If you would like to see the other portions of your tax bill capped, please contact your local house and senate representatives.
How is the city spending its 13.74% of property taxes?
During our incorporation debate, we argued that we (a city of Sandy Springs) could do a better job with our portion of the tax bill (the 4.731 mils) than Fulton County. Fulton was taking our 4.731 mils and spending it outside Sandy Springs. Improvements were scarce and based on favoritism rather than sound objective measured prioritized systems. Maintenance to our roads and parks was forgotten or neglected. When we became a city, we knew we had years of backlog to contend with and improve. It will take some time for us to address all of these issues. We are making progress so please bear with us. We have a 10 year plan to bring our roads back to satisfactory condition so they can be repaved on a regular schedule instead of rebuilt from scratch. We are making headway with installing sidewalks in the city. We are trying to address the outstanding stormwater problems found throughout the city. We are bringing our parks back to a respectable level for all our citizens. In addition to these issues, we are funding transportation improvements with local dollars (when feasible) so they will be completed in a timely fashion.
What are some of our Capital Needs?
Sidewalks – $69 million to place sidewalks within ½ mile of schools, all collector/arterial streets and to fill in gaps.
Repaving of streets/Rebuilding of streets – $40 million.
Police Headquarters – $31 million if we have to purchase property. Much less if we can get the Annex from Fulton County and rebuild for the police.
Stormwater projects – $5 million that we know of now. Could be upwards of $100 million after the engineers complete the assessment.
Hammond Park overhaul – $20 million.
Abernathy Park $13 million.
(We have approximately $240 million in capital needs for our city.)
What are the city’s budgeting priorities?
Public Safety, transportation, planning and zoning, and parks.
• Ambulance supplement & 911 start up=$3million.
$2.5M is a one time expense for the 911 system. The $1 you currently pay to Fulton 911 will cover future operations. The ambulance supplement will be recurring at about $450,000 to ensure fast response time. (Ask Fulton County for a rollback on this since your city taxes are now having to cover this expense)
• Facility Program=$2.75 million: The police department cannot stay in its current headquarters. That location was only intended to be a temporary home while we found a permanent location for the police department. Last year we allocated $2.75million for a new facility. This year we will allocate another $2.75M. We anticipate negotiating with Fulton County for the Annex building at a cost of $5-7 million. We will have to either completely renovate or rebuild this facility.
• More Police Officers: Chief Wilson will ask for more officers this year to get us to the number of officers we predicted upon incorporation.
Planning & Zoning:
Stormwater/Water safety compliance with federally unfunded mandates =$1.6 million. Stormwater repairs=$500,000.
Paving program = $6.5 million. We have also funded close to $900,000 in LARP funds (our 80% match to the money that the state gives us for road repaving). We have a 10-year plan to address failing roads in Sandy Springs. All roads have been surveyed. Roads above a 35 rating can be patched and repaved. Other roads, many of which are inside neighborhoods, have fallen below a 35 rating and must be completely rebuilt. It is much more expensive to rebuild.
Sidewalks = $1.5 million. Sidewalks are prioritized in the following way: Sidewalks around schools, sidewalks on collector/arterial roads, and filling in gaps. Last year, we allocated $250,000 to this program and have already completed the ½ mile around Sandy Springs Middle School and Dunwoody Springs Charter Elementary School. We still have outstanding costs of $4.23 million to finish this priority. With the $1.5 M allocated this year, we should be able to complete Lake Forrest Elementary (Fulton County School Board is providing sidewalks on the school site) and Woodland Charter Elementary. We have also inherited two major sidewalk projects from Sandy Springs Revitalization Inc. that will be funded (River Valley Sidewalks and Windsor Parkway) for $1.75 million.
Intersection Improvements = $1 million. This money is for minor intersection improvements, such as operational improvements, moving of traffic boxes, restriping, better signage and installation of new traffic signals. Last year, we fixed seven intersections with $1million. We will try to get to as many other intersections as possible on this allocation.
Abernathy Greenway = $1.08 million (to bury the utilities for the park and provide sidewalks). Park Facility Program = $500,000 (ongoing maintenance/repairs at Morgan Falls Athletic Fields and the Sandy Springs Tennis Center). Hammond Park Master Plan – concept only – $250,000. We are looking to completely overhaul the 13 acres at Hammond/Glenridge Drive to create a state-of-the-art park. Let me know what you want to see in this new park.
Morgan Falls Athletic Fields renovation = $3 million. Field of Dreams will have 4 ballfields with a bathroom/concession area in the middle. Football field stands will be demolished and replaced.
Fund Balance Reserve: $14.2 million.
Undedicated Reserve for capital projects: $2 million.
We know that two of our transportation projects will be in the multiple millions of dollars. The “triangle” of Roswell Road, Johnson Ferry and Mt. Vernon will be upwards of $20 million. Hammond Drive expansion may cost just as much. We wanted to set aside some seed money to grow each year for these improvements.
That is my take on our budget. Please feel free to call me or email me with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns (404-520-0879 or Ashley.Jenkins@sandyspringsga.org).