By Gerhard Schneibel

Sandy Springs’ budget was about $600,000 to the good at the end of January, making it one of the few cities in Georgia whose revenues are exceeding spending without dramatic cuts.

Assistant City Manager Steve Rapson said the city is managing its $91.1 million budget this fiscal year on a month-by-month basis and will continue to do so in the fiscal year that starts in July. The City Council’s first budget workshop is scheduled for March 27.

“The budgets are pretty much exactly where we thought they were going to be,” Rapson said. “We run the city as a business. Not only do we live within our means, but we also allocate our means across the resources we have.”

Rapson said city management foresaw and thus lessened the impact of decreases in local-option sales taxes and the building permits that fund the Community Development Department.

Disputes with the Fulton County Board of Appraisers’ reappraisal of property values in Sandy Springs last April also took a toll on revenue.

In addition, the city is projecting a loss of $586,000 from the General Assembly’s decision not to fund homestead tax relief grants this year. But the influx of federal stimulus money is likely to reverse that state decision.

“We will be getting that,” Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said at her town-hall meeting March 16.

Overall, through the first seven months of the fiscal year, the city had $56.1 million in revenue, down about $2.3 million from the budget for the year to date. But at $53 million, expenditures were down $2.9 million from the budget.

Most of the savings came from reduced personnel costs for police and firefighters, although figures shared by McEnerny also showed below-budget expenses for the City Council, city manager, general operations, finance, legal services, facilities, the city clerk, the Municipal Court, recreation, community development and transportation.

Some savings came from pushing a month’s worth of gasoline costs into the previous fiscal year, which McEnerny said wound up with a $14 million surplus. She speculated that other savings reflect the city’s tendency to overbudget rather than a concerted effort to cut costs.

On revenues, the local-option sales tax accounts for more than $22 million, about a quarter of the city’s annual income. Rapson said the city anticipated a 4 percent decrease in those funds, so “we’re not seeing huge ramifications.”

Total development revenues are down 32 percent, but a 21 percent drop was anticipated, so “it only feels like 11 percent,” he said.

“We’re seeing a decrease, which is what everybody is seeing,” he said.

Burt Manning, the chief appraiser for the Fulton County Board of Assessors, said the county is operating under a collection order issued by a judge because at one point it had 13 percent of the tax digest value under appeal. The board had increased the value of the digest by 16 percent, and appeals were accepted for 45 days after the mid-April reappraisal.

The county has cut the pending appeals to 4.8 percent of the total tax digest value. Once it gets to 3 percent, it can submit the digest to the Revenue Department to be finalized.

Sandy Springs had 511 properties under appeal: 378 commercial and 133 residential. A total of 4.94 percent of the $7,584,390,710 gross digest was under dispute. The tax digest value for the city is up 10.3 percent from 2007, which is 3.69 percent less than first anticipated.

Rapson said Sandy Springs has enhanced community-appearance-type services, such as grass cutting, despite the economy.

“There are no checks that go out of here that me and the city manager (John McDonough) don’t scrutinize and sign off on,” Rapson said. “We make sure we have a very lean, competitive process that we use when we go out for procurements.”