By Maggie Lee

Dunwoody’s budget for 2011 increases spending by 25 percent and leaves the city with a $1.3 million surplus – but maybe only on paper.

“I don’t expect us to have a 1.3 million surplus,” explained Dunwoody City Councilman Robert Wittenstein, “because there are things we are going to want to spend money on next year … 911 may be one of those things.”

Dunwoody now uses DeKalb County’s 911 emergency call center, but is weighing a move to a private service or a new center.  Those options would cost roughly between $1.2 and $1.4 annually.

The money could go into an earmarked fund – Wittenstein suggested one for the eventual purchase of new police cars – so that the city could pay cash instead of borrow on big buys.

But the city also ought to have four months’ operating expenses on hand, pointed out City Councilman Denis Shortal.  That recommendation comes ultimately from the Georgia Municipal Association, a nonprofit organization for cities.  Dunwoody’s founding City Council gave itself a target of four to five years to build up that cushion. Four months’ operation costs the city about $500,000.

Spending is rising in tandem with revenue.  Revenue in 2010 should total about $18 million. In 2011, the city expects a take of $21 million in so-called general fund revenue. That’s separate from earmarked funds, which are minimal in Dunwoody.  One is the hotel/motel tax, a portion of which goes straight to the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Dunwoody.

The biggest slice of next year’s $21 million goes to police. They’ll get nearly one-third of the budget. The budget allows the addition of two new sergeants.

The two new sergeant positions should keep lieutenants from having to cover the boss’ job when the sergeants are out of the office or drafting some sergeants to cover two shifts. The two new officers will not just be administrators or supervisors, but also patrol the streets.

Shortal called one new sergeant “quite adequate,” expressing his misgivings over the new hires. “‘the one thing we always want to make sure here is that we do not overload ourselves, then, when a lean day comes … God forbid, lay off any one of our employees, because once you do that, morale goes in the tank.”

Public works will cost the city about $5.8 million next year. Two million of that is for road maintenance – keeping aging asphalts in current condition, not improving them.   City Manager Warren Hutmacher said it’s due to “historical neglect.” Then come sidewalks and designs for traffic fixes.  Storm water systems are not on the agenda.

And nearly $2 million is a payment to Calvin Giordano and Associates, a Florida company that runs the city’s accounting, purchasing, forecasting, risk management and reporting services.  They also administer information technology, the website, public relations, marketing, customer service, records and human resources.

“Nobody got everything they wanted,” said Wittenstein, though he personally expects tax revenue to be a little higher than projected.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.