By Gerhard Schneibel

The Sandy Springs City Council voted 5-1 June 3 to back out of its initially announced plan for a partial millage rate rollback, instead likely keeping the $2.7 million in property taxes in the city’s coffers. Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie voted against the motion.

The decision comes despite an already positive financial outlook. The latest Fulton County tax assessment showed a 13.5 percent jump in Sandy Springs property values, which is largely due to reassessment or growth in commercial and industrial properties. The city also has about a $9 million budget surplus.

While Mayor Eva Galambos only votes to break ties on council, she voiced her disapproval of the motion, saying she felt the city needs to “acknowledge that maybe we owe something back to the taxpayers.”

The millage rate controls property taxes, and under the currently advertised 4.731 rate, the owner of a house assessed at $600,000 this year will pay an additional $80.51.

Council members who supported no rollback argued overwhelming citizen response in community meetings and through polls encouraged them to support keeping the money and using it to make capital improvements.

Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio formerly supported a full rollback but changed his position after speaking with constituents at a public meeting in his district. (See story, page 3)

“I think people see that we’re using the taxes to the benefit of the city and virtually every day, no matter where I go, people are saying to me, ‘You know you guys are doing a great job,’” DeJulio said. “So I have totally changed my mind and I am in favor of no tax rollback at all and putting the money to work for our citizens.”

Oliver Porter, a consultant who helped incorporate the city and has since published “Creating the New City of Sandy Springs: The 21st Century Paradigm: Private Industry,” spoke to the council about the budget before the millage rate discussion.

“Through efficiency and prudent management with leadership you brought us in a position today where we have a budget that I think is just absolutely exciting,” he said. “I think about all the other governments around us and the Federal Government and the State Government and how all of us feel that if we had just a day that we could be in charge we could – by God – fix some of that spending and tax and spend methodology. None of us would have that chance but you. You folks sitting right there do have the chance to fix that for Sandy Springs.”

Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul, who tentatively supported a partial rollback during a May 27 budget workshop, voted for no rollback.

“I’ve been in elective offices since 1977, and I have never voted for a tax increase. But I’m going to move tonight that we adjust our millage rate to incorporate no rollback,” he said. “Oliver Porter stepped to the microphone tonight and said he wanted Sandy Springs to be known as a different kind of city. Based on poll numbers that I’ve done in the last 48 hours, I can tell you unequivocally that we are a different kind of a city.”

MacGinnitie maintained his position in saying he wanted to see Sandy Springs be a “government where, when you do have the ability to give something back, you do it and not take the last tax dollar.” (See Letter to the editor, page 6)

Galambos dismissed council members’ claims they were basing their decisions on citizen input, saying, “I think it’s wonderful. You’ve been emailing your friends.

“In addition to the $9 million surplus which we’re going to have next year, we’re also going to have this additional property tax digest, which was almost like a windfall,” she said. “I do not feel that we should be extracting the additional funds, even in terms of thinking of the commercial taxpayers. They’re going to have a substantial tax increase and we are trying to increase economic development up and down Roswell Road.

Galambos concluded, “I don’t know whether a property tax makes a huge difference in terms of a decision of whether you’re going to build or not, but it is part of the bottom line.”