By Gerhard Schneibel

Sandy Springs’ fiscal 2010 budget will be reduced to about $85 million from the current budget’s $91 million, according to Assistant City Manager Steve Rapson.

The city has a $14 million fund balance — a two-month reserve — about $4 million of which is undesignated “over and above what we’ve already done,” Rapson said.

“We’re in good shape,” City Manager John McDonough told City Council members during a retreat March 27 to set budget priorities for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The council decided those priorities are public safety, code enforcement, parks and transportation.

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny suggested using the undesignated $4 million to offset a roughly $6 million drop in revenues, but McDonough said a basic principle of budgeting is to “not use a nonrecurring funding source for a recurring expense.”

At least one recurring expense is new: The former Target site on Johnson Ferry Road, which the city bought for $8 million in December, now costs Sandy Springs $400,000 in annual utility fees alone.

A cost borne by the Police Department is that of answering false alarm calls. To offset those costs, the city could contract with an alarm company to tie alarm calls directly into the city’s state-of-the-art 911 system when it becomes operational around Aug. 1.

“It’s something that’s very worthwhile exploring,” McDonough said.

Another concern for council members is the possibility that Fire Station 4 near Wieuca Road is answering more calls than usual because of Atlanta’s firefighter furloughs.

But Fire Chief Jack McElfish “likes them out as opposed to just sitting in the stations,” McDonough said. “We shouldn’t just pull back and take an isolationist approach.”

While discussing code enforcement, Dist. 3 Councilman Rusty Paul said the city’s permitting process is too cumbersome for residential property owners. He said someone who wanted to add a portico was told a complete landscape survey was necessary.

“When somebody wants to do a minor project around their house, it becomes this huge deal that takes months,” he said.

In terms of parks, council members agreed on the importance of the projects at Morgan Falls but differed on the Lost Corner Preserve.

McEnerny said she would like to see a master plan for the preserve and the stabilization of the old house on the property.

Mayor Eva Galambos agreed on securing the site but said, “I don’t think we have any consensus about a master plan.”

When transportation was discussed, Dist. 1 Councilman Doug MacGinnitie called for connecting fragmented sidewalks as an inexpensive way to improve lives.