As Sandy Springs develops a fiscal year 2019 budget for a City Council presentation May 15, the wish list ranges from public safety improvements and City Springs subsidies to a dog park and water system upgrades.
The following are some of the budget topics discussed at a council hearing on May 1.
Security and safety
The city is considering building new “emergency operations” and 911 backup centers at City Springs next year at an estimated cost of $1.25 million.
Both would be built on the fourth floor of the new City Hall, and both would be relocated from current facilities provided by the city’s private 911 service, the Chattahoochee River 911 Authority or ChatComm.
The $750,000 emergency operations center would relocate from ChatComm’s facility at Mount Vernon Highway and Barfield Road. The center is used to direct response to such events as major storms.
“Our center of gravity, if you will, is going to be the City Springs facility,” said City Manager John McDonough, so he feels “strongly” that the center should be located there.
Also proposed is a $500,000 new backup center for ChatComm’s 911 operators. McDonough said that a 911 outage on Oct. 6 forced the operators to make a 30-minute trip to the current backup center in Alpharetta. That 2.5-hour outage was caused by an HVAC system issue. Alpharetta was used as a backup because other ChatComm partner cities do not have independent systems.
ChatComm is a private 911 service operated in partnership by the cities of Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Johns Creek. McDonough said that the 911 backup center, at least, would need approval from those other cities. A Brookhaven spokesperson said that city is aware of the concept and awaiting further discussion; the other cities did not respond to questions.
Another safety topic: the expiration next year of the contract with the private ambulance service AMR. Fire Rescue Chief Keith Sanders said AMR is still struggling to meet a response-time goal of 8 minutes or less on 90 percent of calls. The typical response is now closer to 11 minutes, he said, despite AMR adding a sixth ambulance at no cost.
The city is proposing a new contract with two more ambulances, which would require a $650,000 cost. The reasons for longer response times, Sanders said: more car crashes; a population both growing and aging; and traffic increasing.
Sanders is also worried about response to possible mass shootings. “I hate to say this, but I’m looking for money to put ballistic protection” on firefighters’ gear, he said.
The city is proposing an overall staffing increase of 8.75 full-time-equivalent positions in various departments at a total cost of $950,674. That’s especially due to the city’s growth, the demands of the new City Springs facility, and a new program of multiple “field services” contracts to ensure high-quality maintenance of public streets and spaces. A new field services contract manager position is budgeted at $135,000.
The City Springs Performing Arts Center, set to open in August, will require a subsidy of about $2.3 million, McDonough said. The city hopes to partly offset that cost with the facility’s parking fees.
The Heritage Sandy Springs Farmers Market, which is relocating to City Springs May 12, is proposed to receive $10,000 in city funding.
McDonough also proposes setting aside $1 million to place more electric lines underground in the City Springs area after an effort to force developers to do it got resistance.
The city’s 299-vehicle fleet is too large to be located at City Springs. Last year, the city proposed creating a new 90-vehicle parking lot at a Public
Works facility at 7477 Trowbridge Road to handle the extra vehicles. It has now abandoned that plan and it will turn it into an emergency supply yard instead for $750,000. The vehicle fleet will remain at the old City Hall location in the Morgan Falls office park at 78540 Roswell Road, where the police headquarters and city court remain.
Among the park proposals is a long-awaited $500,000 to Heritage Sandy Springs for a shade structure and restrooms at its Entertainment Lawn on Blue Stone Road.
Another idea is a new dog park. City Councilmember Andy Bauman noted that Dunwoody has a good dog area at its Brook Run Park. Michael Perry, the city’s Parks and Recreation director, agreed that Sandy Springs’ dog area at Morgan Falls Overlook Park is “not nice.” McDonough said city staff have a dog park proposal as “an option to something else we’re working on” that he will reveal at another time.
The city earlier this year launched a new priority to seek improvements to the Atlanta-run water system or sue to seize control of it. Sandy Springs claims the system is aging and leaky, while Atlanta says the criticisms are all wet. McDonough is working on some type of plan, originally called “water independence” but now the more conciliatory “water reliability.” Its tactics remain secret, but McDonough said he is planning “a way ahead, if you will” that will cost “multiple millions of dollars over the next five to seven years.” He’s asking for $1 million in seed money in this budget.