By Maggie Lee

The Fulton County budget road show rolled through Sandy Springs in search of suggestions for next year’s county expenditures. The answer it got: Save the libraries.

Although only seven people made comments at the meeting, four of them argued to keep libraries away from the firing line.

“Sandy Springs library is like a beehive,” said Friends of the Library member Naomi Parker. “I bet I can walk into any library and find the same thing.”

But, cautioned the veteran library supporter: “If we fall behind it’s doubly hard to catch up.”

At the Spruill Oaks Library, said Friends president Vickie Johnson, summer program crowds overflowed their community room and free Internet access is a key resource.

“Now, in tough economic times, people need libraries more than ever,” she said.

Fulton’s departments have made their pitches for next year’s money. Now county staff members are at work drafting the budget and the board of commissioners expects their proposal in mid-November.

A month later, the board is supposed to make a tentative approval of the budget, followed by an early January public hearing, and a final budget adoption in mid-January.

It’s not clear how much money Fulton will have to work with when officials start drawing up their next budget. Thousands of languishing property tax appeals cause uncertainty over the county’s expected revenues.

Between a major industrial reappraisal in 2008 and the following nationwide bust in property prices, the county received more than 20,000 tax appeals in 2010 – nearly double the count in 2007. Next year, the Board of Assessors expects some 35,000 appeals.

Property taxes account for three-quarters of the general fund. Downward revisions will cut that fund, which finances most county programs, including the courts, the jail, health and human services and libraries.

Last year’s general fund expenditure cuts – about 11 percent, compared to 2009 – already provoked squeals, most notably from Fulton’s DA, chief judge and friends of the drug courts, a pretrial intervention program.

Yet, county budget director Hakeem Oshikoya says the picture is probably not so gloomy. The county used the worst case scenario to project revenue – and now it looks like property values will not drop as much as they could, Oshikoya explained. However, he admits those revenues won’t come in until they works through the appeals process throughout 2011.