The Sandy Springs City Council will soon have the option to choose whether some of the city’s residents’ homes are in a floodplain, but it’s a choice some council members don’t want to make.
The process for updating the city’s flood maps has so far been about as clear as mud to the council and residents, further complicating the issue.
The council revisited the often-confusing topic again at the Dec. 20 council work session and received some clarity about what its responsibilities are. The city has control over the fate of 173 structures on the current drafts of the new maps, known as Flood Insurance Rate maps or FIRMs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency currently has these structures listed as Zone A, meaning the owners would have to carry flood insurance and would see their property values drop. The council could opt to move those properties to Zone X, which would make flood insurance optional. The city would have no way to ensure owners knew their property’s flood risk, however.
Angela Parker, the city’s Community Development Director, said the city will not issue building permits for structures in Zone A.
The council could opt to do nothing before a 90-day public appeals process that begins in January runs out. The maps would default to what is currently on the FEMA drafts if that happens.
Councilman Chip Collins said he will not place what he considers another burden on residents trying to sell their homes. He said it boils down to a “philosophical” issue of whether the city wants more federal regulation. He said he would vote to move the properties to Zone X. The council did not take any action at the Dec. 20 meeting.
“I’m not affected by this map … but I’ve got a house I can’t sell. If I had one more thing that made it harder to sell, I’d be incensed that the council had an opportunity and chose to put this burden around my neck,” Collins said.
Confusion about the issue wasn’t limited to the council. Some community members walked away from two recent public information meetings unsure of whether their property would be stuck in a flood plain. It didn’t help that maps on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website differed from maps the city had on its website, a discrepancy city employees said would be rectified.
Further clouding the issue is the process for approving the final maps, another decision that falls to the council. While the final maps will be informed by what the council designates the 173 structures, the adoption of the final maps by the council is a separate issue.
If the city does not adopt the final maps six months after the community receives a letter from FEMA stating the maps have been finalized, the city will be suspended from the national flood insurance program which means residents with flood insurance policies would be unable to renew them. Also, no new policies would be issued. The letter of determination is scheduled to go out in May, according to a Georgia DNR contractor. Georgia DNR is conducting the flood mapping process for FEMA.
The final FEMA maps will reflect whatever decision the city council makes about the 173 structures it has control over.
Councilman John Paulson said it shouldn’t be up to the council to decide one way or the other on these structures. He said if the council puts properties in Zone X that in all likelihood will flood, it would bear some of the responsibility for that.
“It’s insane for us to be doing this ourselves,” Paulson said.
In other action during its regular meeting Dec. 20, the council approved changes to its contracts. Sandy Springs is known nationally for its practice of outsourcing most of its basic functions to contractors.
The council voted to modify its contract with Jacobs Engineering, which oversees the operations of the Hammond Park Gymnasium and its municipal court. The contract for the gymnasium allowed Jacobs Engineering to bill the city for providing administrative oversight of the program which would be paid from 4.5 percent of fees generated by the gymnastics program. The contractor informed the city that it could not provide this service, prompting the change.
Jacobs also received a contract increase to hire three additional court docket specialists for the city’s municipal court at a cost of $138,746. The contractor explained that the staffers were needed to keep up with the city’s case load.
The council also approved giving contractor Severn Trent Services money for providing the city’s interim finance director, Karen Ellis. The city will pay the contractor $33,175 for Ellis’ work overseeing city finances from Aug. 5 through Dec. 31. Former Sandy Springs finance Director Amy Davis resigned in August. The city reports Ellis will become the city’s next finance director on Jan. 2.
The council also moved part of its meeting to a closed-door executive session to talk about litigation and real estate matters, according to City Attorney Wendell Willard. Mayor Eva Galambos, who is officially on vacation, showed up for the executive session but did not preside over the Dec. 20 meeting. The closed-door meeting lasted more than 45 minutes.