By Katie Fallon

The city has now faced little opposition in its budget and millage rate process in the first two of three public hearings scheduled before the city council expects to pass the budget at its June 19 meeting.

While city manager John McDonough has hosted a number of budget workshops over the last few months, June 5 and 12 marked the first of those hearings with the third and final one scheduled for the same meeting in which the council is expected to pass the budget. So far, the hearings have included positive feedback from the city council and very little, if any, public comment either positive or negative.

The June 5 public hearings saw just two residents, one with a positive comment about the budget and one with negative comments about the millage rate, speak to the council while not a single resident spoke in any capacity at either of the June 12 hearings.

The one resident who has spoken out publicly was Robert Proctor. A local attorney and a founding member of the Fulton County Taxpayers Association, Proctor became quite animated while chastising the council for not lowering the current millage rate of 4.731. The proposed 2008 budget calls for the rate, which is at its maximum as capped by the city charter, to remain the same.

“That is the limit that we can’t go over without going to a referendum and that is where we’re staying,” Mayor Eva Galambos said.

Proctor, however, said he was distressed by the mayor’s comment because it seemed Galambos already made up her mind about the millage rate even though the public hearings have not been completed and the council has not voted. He claimed that if the millage rate stays the same, the city will raise property taxes by 14 percent in one year because of a corresponding increase in the tax digest.

“This is a defining moment in the life of Sandy Springs,” Proctor said. “Unfortunately, the budgetary process in this government, all county governments and the state government is to follow the myth that even though they know the tax base has grown from the previous year, they are going to budget based on collecting the same dollars they collected the previous year.”

District 5 city councilman Tibby DeJulio said that because the city inherited 30 years of neglect from Fulton County, it has chosen to fix Sandy Springs’ infrastructure with taxpayers’ money instead of borrowing the funds.

“We’ve chosen to go ahead and use the money that has been given us by the taxpayers in what we feel is the most efficient and most effective use for our residents,” DeJulio said.