Sandy Springs is in its infancy as a city but it’s making some headway in becoming financially independent of Fulton County and Atlanta.
It has joined with other cities to push for a greater share of sales tax revenues from Fulton County, and that sharing arrangement is likely to be decided in Superior Court. The city also recently scored a victory in its fight with Atlanta over the cost of water for its residents.
City Attorney Wendell Willard said the city is waiting for judges to take up both cases. In both instances, state law dictates that a judge from another county takes over the case.
The city incorporated in 2005 and has continued to pull revenue out of Fulton County’s coffers.
Currently, the city receives 9.5 percent of the sales taxes the county collects, Willard said. Cities sought a greater share and were unable to reach an agreement.
Willard said a judge will likely take up the case in what’s called “baseball arbitration.” Put simply, it means a judge can’t order a compromise between the competing proposals and must choose one or the other.
“We also have the opt-out provision which any city can use,” Willard said of the sales tax agreement. “So you can say, ‘We opt out,’ and will receive a percentage based on our city population, the denominator being the entire population.”
City records show that in Fiscal 2012, the sales tax accounted for 26 percent of the city’s revenue, bringing in $21.4 million. That’s $2 million more than the city anticipated when it approved the fiscal 2012 budget.
Willard said a consultant hired on behalf of the cities will investigate a fair distribution of the sales tax money.
The water rates dispute with the city of Atlanta raises a different issue of fairness. Sandy Springs leaders have long-complained about a 21 percent surcharge they pay for Atlanta’s water service.
Willard said Sandy Springs sought to have a state judge allow it to determine its own water provider. The city of Atlanta succeeded in having the case moved to federal court. The decision was recently overturned on appeal. Willard said the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the case sent back to state court.
Atlanta wants all the revenue it can get as it completes massive upgrades to its water and sewer infrastructure. One possible outcome of the dispute may be the city establishing its own water authority, Willard said.