The Sandy Springs City Council heard an $88.9 million general fund budget proposal that uses its rainy-day fund and extensive, 21% cuts to cover an estimated 10% loss in revenue for the next fiscal year.

At a May 12 budget workshop, City Manager Andrea Surratt proposed putting on hold some big ticket capital projects, including a new Fire Station 2, a possible new public safety headquarters, and enhancement to three bridges over Ga. 400. If favorable bids were received for the public safety building or fire station, city council could decide to commit the funds then, she said.

Surratt told the City Council that she wants to wait until the city gets a better idea on when the economy will recover from the coronavirus pandemic before committing the funds in the fiscal year 2021 budget, which begins July 1.

To deal with the loss in revenue, she proposed cutting expenditures by 21% compared to the fiscal year 2020 budget. That would cut almost $24.7 million in spending by Sandy Springs.

A hiring freeze for every department except the police and fire departments has been put in place. Departments are eliminating or leaving unfilled any vacant positions. Recreation and Parks has furloughed employees with programs not being held.

Surratt said the nation lost 20.5 million jobs in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Georgia, almost 1.6 million people filed unemployment claims, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

“It’s too early to tell how it will affect Sandy Springs in specific detail but regardless the numbers are staggering. We are not insulated from the affects of the job losses,” she said.

Another area of concerns is the reduction in gas tax revenues. The Georgia Department of Transportation is among those agencies across the nation projecting a 30% decline in transportation revenue for the next 18 months.

Mayor Rusty Paul said with that kind of decline in gasoline taxes, GDOT will need to cut almost a third of its projects out of its budget, defer them or spread them across more years.

One such project, recently approved by the council, is enhancements to the Ga. 400 crossings of Pitts Road, Spalding Drive and Roberts Drive. The enhancement project would add a shared use path for bicycles and pedestrians on one side of each bridge, with raised buffers to protect path users from vehicles, decorative rails and lighting. The city is applying for a state grant for funding, which the city would match at 20%, or around $2 million. Now, such state grants may not be available.

Surratt proposed pauses on several other project areas. A planned Cultural Center, which is not yet in a construction phase, could be made slightly smaller, Surratt suggested. A process of creating redevelopment concepts for four shopping centers in the North End already got put on hold until city residents can gather safely for public meetings on proposals.

“The reality is that with the financial space where it is today, there’s going to be little to no capital available for development,” Councilman Chris Burnett said. “And as we’ve always talked about, we don’t want to be in the development business.”

Surratt and Paul told councilmembers they may come back with budget adjustments several times during the year to adjust to however the financial situation and economy change or recover. The next budget meeting will be Tuesday, May 19 at 4 p.m. on Zoom and Facebook Live.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.