By Amy Wenk

Like a fireworks finale, the last 2010 budget hearing in the city of Sandy Springs brought the budget process to a loud, exciting conclusion.

About 35 people, many green-shirted volunteers with the festival Heritage Sandy Springs holds each September, attended June 16 to hear the City Council finalize the nearly $97 million budget, which includes $14 million left from fiscal 2008 and directs one-fourth of the money to capital projects in areas such as transportation and recreation. The budget has no fee or tax increases.

Before the council adopted the fiscal 2010 budget, effective July 1, the discussion turned explosive over $1.825 million proposed to renovate the lower level of Heritage’s Bluestone Building.

The nonprofit group wants to construct an event hall and caterer’s kitchen in the 4,500-square-foot basement of the facility, to which it moved early this year, to accommodate special events and weddings. Plans also include a two-story veranda overlooking the entertainment lawn.

Many people spoke in support of the proposal, including Glenn McDaniel, the owner of Slope’s BBQ on Johnson Ferry Road.

“I get a little emotional,” he said as a few tears flowed. “The reason we voted to have a city is because we wanted a community.”

A fully renovated Bluestone Building would be an invaluable amenity in the city center, he said. “Morgan Falls ain’t it, y’all.”

But some council members questioned the investment because of uncertainties about how to share rental revenues between Heritage and the city and whether the facility would be rented enough to cover utility costs.

The council voted 4-2 to give $150,000 to Heritage for the architectural design plan.

“We have never allocated money for a project we don’t have complete plans for,” said Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio, who made the motion to decrease the allocation.

He said the delay in full funding “gives Heritage the time to prove they can do something with the building.”

Dianne Fries of Dist. 2, Rusty Paul of Dist. 3 and Doug MacGinnitie of Dist. 1 voted for DeJulio’s motion. Dist. 6’s Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Dist. 4’s Ashley Jenkins opposed it.

“We were disappointed” not to get the full request, said Carol Thompson, Heritage’s executive director. “We are eager to complete the project” and will keep seeking funding.

“We were delayed but not defeated,” said the organization’s president, Lori Evers. At least the council “acknowledged the contribution Heritage has made to the community” and realized the city should pay for the nonprofit’s capital improvements because its facilities are on city property.

The extra $1.675 million was split equally between the city’s sidewalk and repaving programs, although council members debated the percentages. When they split 3-3, Mayor Eva Galambos broke the tie.

The amended 2010 budget includes nearly $6 million for road paving and just under $4 million for sidewalks.

The need for such city improvements drew the most speakers during the budget process.

The June 16 meeting brought several residents from Dudley Lane near Chastain Park.

“We have been trying to get sidewalks longer than Sandy Springs has been a city,” said homeowner Carlos Moreno, who serves on the board of the Chastain Park Civic Association.

Another request for sidewalks came from Dan Ross of Sutton Pines Condominiums, off Dalrymple Road near North Springs Charter High. Ross said the homeowners association would donate the land to the city.

Ten people spoke about roads at budget hearings held June 2 and 9. The city’s $24.5 million worth of road work to date has focused on repaving 64 miles of streets but hasn’t touched roads that are so bad they need reconstruction.

Reconstruction costs about twice as much as repaving, but the council has expressed interest in beginning reconstruction in fiscal 2010.

“I support money going into reconstruction,” Paul said.