By John Schaffner
“I’m feeling mighty good this year,” and the state of the city is good, too, Mayor Eva Galambos told an audience of about 130 people at the July 20 Bagels & Business meeting of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce.
The mayor’s reference to feeling good was a reflection back to her State of the City address to the Chamber last year, when she was receiving chemotherapy for cancer that is now “in total remission.”
But the thrust of the mayor’s speech was about the health of the city, which she said is “exceptional” when compared with the financial state of the federal government.
“If you compare us to the city immediately to the south of us (Atlanta), the state of the city of Sandy Springs is superb,” she added, eliciting much audience laughter. “We are very pleased that we have been able to hold our head above water in these turbulent times, and we think we can continue to do so.”
Reporting that the general fund budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 is about the same as it was for fiscal 2009, the mayor told the audience: “That says a lot. Here we are in a period of declining economic activity, and we are able to sustain the same level of budget that we did a year ago.”
Galambos said total revenues are projected to decline a little more than 10 percent this year. Property taxes are estimated to be down about 10 percent, primarily a commercial property problem; sales taxes down 8 percent; businesses taxes down about 18 percent because they are based on revenues; and permits off about 18 percent, mostly in building permits.
She attributed the good state of the budget to the fact the city was able to apply $14 million left from fiscal 2008 to this year.
The mayor’s checklist of progress included three times as many police officers as operated before incorporation, paving 69 miles of streets, building about 6 miles of sidewalks, getting ready to open a joint 911 center and having “the finest emergency rescue service in the state.”
“We have done that with the same tax rate as we had before,” she said.
Galambos cited three factors in the city’s accomplishments: The public-private partnership running the city allows more flexibility and efficiency in government operations; the city has a cohesive government — a council that gets along and “doesn’t grandstand”; and “we have a superb staff … sharp management and a sharp pencil at the top of the staff.”
Speaking to the challenges and opportunities for the future, Galambos said the city still faces the need for redevelopment of Roswell Road in what is referred to as the city’s downtown or town center.
She said several developers along Roswell Road are beginning to think about a Community Improvement District (CID) to revitalize downtown Sandy Springs. With a CID, the property owners agree to tax themselves an extra amount to pay for improvements they want within the CID area.
A second challenge is the narrow Roswell Road bridge over I-285, which has been discussed for 10 years but can’t be fixed until the Georgia Department of Transportation decides what it is doing with I-285.
The third involves Hammond Drive. The new half-diamond interchange with Ga. 400 will make Hammond more congested. Galambos said she is trying to get some of the Georgia Tollway Authority money to widen Hammond.
Fourth, she said, is the situation in which Sandy Springs residents’ water bills keep rising to fund Atlanta’s water system improvements — on top of the 21 percent surcharge Sandy Springs residents pay for Atlanta water. She said Sandy Springs eventually needs its own distribution system.