By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs is fiscally sound and making progress in commercial development and public works improvements, Mayor Eva Galambos said in her annual State of the City address July 21.

“I can assure you we’re never going to get in the same situation as the city of Atlanta. We’re going to be in good financial status,” she told the meeting of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce at the Westin Atlanta North.

She supported Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie in his pursuit of a partial rollback in property taxes for the fiscal year that began July 1, she said. The rest of the council voted to keep the same millage rate.

Because of extensive reassessment of Sandy Springs’ commercial properties, that tax rate was expected to yield an additional $2.7 million in revenue.

“As it came to pass,” Galambos said, many commercial property owners are appealing to Fulton County to adjust their assessments. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to get that windfall.”

The tax debate was a rare example of disagreement on the council, she said. “The City Council and the mayor, we are very, very close together.”

An economist, Galambos said the city ended fiscal 2008 on June 30 with a 16 percent reserve and an unspent balance of $10 million.

Sandy Springs’ only mayor in its brief history noted that city residents pay the same millage rate today as they did when the area was unincorporated Fulton County.

“So what are we getting for local services now that we didn’t get with Fulton County?” Galambos said. “Well, one thing: We’ve got a police force of 120 officers. As you recall, under Fulton County, we were doing good if we had eight or 10. … The response time was horrific.

“Do you remember any roads being paved while were under Fulton County? No. … We’ve been paving roads like crazy, and this year we are putting again $10 million for road repaving.”

The city’s offer to buy the Target building on Johnson Ferry Road as the site for City Hall is “the most exciting thing that we’ve done in terms of capital expenditures,” Galambos said. “Don’t expect a City Hall to rise miraculously out of the ground immediately. It’s just not going to; we don’t have the money. But at least we’re making progress.”

Another sign of progress, she said, is the Griffin Co.’s planned MainStreet Sandy Springs development on Roswell Road, which will be a “beautiful 5-acre project.”

“It’s going to feel like plazas,” she said. “There’ll be office buildings, and there’ll be shopping. [Joel Griffin] is looking for nice restaurants. We’re finally going to have something that I think will jump-start the development on Roswell Road once we get over this credit crunch nationally.”

From a public works perspective, the city faces a challenge in repairing its stormwater system, Galambos said. The aging metal pipes in the system are collapsing from rust, creating sinkholes. The extent of the damage is unknown, and the city has come under pressure from state and federal environmental agencies.

Galambos also said she remains convinced a Roswell Road underpass is necessary to relieve congestion at that road’s intersection with I-285. She said she plans to approach Gov. Sonny Purdue about securing money generated by the Georgia 400 toll to widen Hammond Drive.

“Tollway money is supposed to be spent on streets or roads that connect to 400 interchanges, and of course on 400 itself,” she said.

The mayor ended her speech with strong words aimed at Atlanta.

The 21 percent fee Atlanta adds to its water rates for Sandy Springs residents is “the most aggravating thing I deal with,” she said.

“What is Atlanta doing with our water rates? I have definitive proof that they’re using our water rates to pay for their sewer improvements. And that’s double taxation because we’re paying sewer to Fulton County, but through our water rates we’re also subsidizing the Atlanta sewer system.”