By Katie Fallon

City manager John McDonough presented to the Sandy Springs City Council a proposed new city budget of $79,418,000 at a May 22 work session meeting. Public safety remains a top priority in the 2008 budget, which is scheduled for adoption before the end of June.

The city will host three public hearings in the coming weeks to benefit both residents and members of City Council and to provide input to city staff regarding the budget. The hearings will be held on June 5, 12 and 19 to coincide with the council’s established meeting schedule. McDonough said he hopes the budget will be adopted by the third public hearing.

The city’s top concerns, McDonough said, remain clear no matter what the specifics of the budget reveal when it is passed by the City Council.

“When we look at our resources and how we want to allocate them, it’s all about customer service and our four adopted priorities, which are public safety, transportation, planning and zoning and parks and recreation,” McDonough said.

One issue that sparked discussion during the latest workshop for not being included in the proposed budget is the creation of a dog park.

McDonough admitted that many people have an interest in creating a dog park, but that the prospect may not be financially viable at this point.

“We have a lot of unmet recreational needs,” McDonough said. “We have $750,000 for improvements to existing parks.”

As was the case when the city first incorporated in December of 2005, maintaining and enhancing Sandy Springs’ public safety departments is the foremost concern in the budget process. The proposed budget includes funding for 121 full time equivalent (FTE) police department employees, 110 of whom are sworn officers, and 100 fire and emergency services employees, 89 of whom are full-time and 11 part-time.

Continued funding will remain for the city’s intergovernmental agreements with Fulton County for 911 services and with the Irwin County and the cities of Doraville and Roswell for jail services. EMS direction will also remain through Sandy Springs’ partnership with Emory University’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

The budget also proposes enhanced funding for municipal court services and EMS professional certification for the city’s public safety employees. Currently, the city offers a $1,000 bonus to employees in incidents where it is proven that EMS training saved a life. If approved, new funding will also take effect for a volunteer fire department and a police reserve program, which would assist in serving arrest warrants. Enhancements to the police department’s budget total $815,678 and enhancements to the fire department’s budget total $415,491.

McDonough said he and finance director Steve Rapson erred on the side of caution when estimating the city’s revenues and expenditures for the new budget. “We used very conservative estimates,” McDonough said. “We’re only 18 months into this.”

District 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said the cost of the dog park would only be about $10,000. Donations and assistance for creating the park, said district 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries, have been offered by Lowe’s home improvement store.

“If we can get a discount or pay zero on the supplies, I think we’re foolish not to investigate that,” Fries said. “Have professionals put it in. They’ll do that.”

Citing a good deal of community support for a dog park, McDonough said if such a project was allotted in the 2008 budget, it would have to be created within an existing city park. If the park receives the support, he said the city can make it happen.

“If the council wants to make [the dog park] a priority, then we’ll make it a priority,” McDonough added.

“I think we ought to go for it,” said Mayor Eva Galambos.

Rapson said he will suggest to the city’s parks director Brad Chambers to develop estimates for the dog park’s construction and have those estimates presented at a future budget workshop.

Following the 2-hour meeting on Tuesday, McDonough said the now three budget workshops the city has conducted have acted as good sounding boards for the City Council concerns and priorities. He said both the council and the public’s input will be taken into consideration to fine tune the proposed budget until it goes for adoption at the June 19 City Council meeting.