Tibby DeJulio, District 5
Sandy Springs City Council
I read with interest the commentary written by Jim Buckler in the Sept. 5-18 issue of the Sandy Springs Reporter. I thought I could clarify a number of points since I’ve been involved with the beginnings of the city of Sandy Springs since 1987.
As you know, we worked for the independence of the city from Fulton County’s Special Services District for many years. During that time we often emphasized and communicated to the citizens that the principal reason for an independent city was not financial. It was twofold: One, the tax dollars that were being collected for the Special Services District and collected in Sandy Springs were not being used for the betterment of Sandy Springs; secondly, there was a lack of accountability to the citizens of Sandy Springs.
You may recall that Fulton County estimated that more than $55 million in taxes were collected in Sandy Springs and that the county was spending only $25 million to provide services to Sandy Springs. The rest was being spent in other parts of the county.
In the early 1990s Eva Galambos and myself twice brought suit against the Fulton County Commission because it was spending Special Service District money in the city of Atlanta. In both cases Fulton County agreed to stop the practice, but it did continue to spend money collected in Sandy Springs in other parts of the unincorporated area.
From the beginning we were clear in our mission. It was not a financial mission; it was one of accountability and spending our money for the good of the citizens of Sandy Springs.
Since the incorporation of the city, we have experienced something new. We have government in the sunshine, where all decisions are made in an open forum and with the input of our citizens. All money that is being spent is being spent in and for the benefit of the citizens of Sandy Springs.
Mr. Buckler suggests that the money is being spent on “pet projects” of the City Council. Well, these “pet projects” are things like paving our streets, adding sidewalks near schools, upgrading our traffic signals, and adding police and fire units to our city.
An example: When we first incorporated, we had all 355 miles of streets within Sandy Springs surveyed as to their driving condition. On a scale of 0 to 100, our streets were rated below 30. Streets below 30 need not only to be resurfaced, but to be rebuilt.
In 2005, the last year that Fulton County was in charge of road repairs in Sandy Springs, the Special Services District spent approximately $600,000 on our roads. We have spent $6 million to $7 million per year on roadwork, and we are only about 30 percent through.
Also, as you may be aware, Fulton County had about 40 officers assigned to protect our citizens. We now have about 130 police officers. Fulton County had a time in the summer of 2006 when one of our fire stations was answering fire calls in an ambulance because there was no working fire equipment. We now have an exceptional Fire Department with all new equipment and an EMS department that is on its way to becoming the envy of other cities. We have just committed approximately $400,000 to increase ambulance coverage by 40 percent.
This last year we ran a surplus in our operating budget. Revenues were above expectation, and we were able to operate more efficiently than we thought. After careful consideration and in public hearing, the City Council decided to put part of that surplus in a contingency fund for the future and to spend part of that money to fund additional capital projects. We did not spend any of that money on recurring operations.
Now let’s talk about this year’s budget and tax increase. We started the budget process in May and soon realized that residential homeowners would not have a tax increase because few residential assessments increased. There were increases in our digest, but they were commercial. We had the option to decrease the millage rate for all taxpayers. Our staff calculated that if we did a full rollback of the millage rate, there would be a tax savings of $80 on a house valued at $600,000.
My first inclination was to roll back the rate and save our homeowners the $80. The feedback we received from our residents was to keep the rate unchanged and to invest in long-delayed capital improvements.
The people of Sandy Springs saw two things they liked: accountability and responsible spending. They saw firsthand what a responsible city government could do.
I’d be delighted to discuss the matter further with Mr. Buckner or anyone else.