As Sandy Springs residents publicly voice their visions for the city’s downtown, the city government is looking for ways to pay for it.
The latest proposal would allocate $9 million in next year’s budget for downtown purposes to implement a plan that could include a new city hall. A projected $11.3 million surplus also will be available for city projects, but city officials say they are not specifically directing the budget surplus to its city hall plans. City Council members discussed the budget during a May 8 work session.
“The $9 million [is] simply assumptions at this point used to help in the planning process,” city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said. “When the budget is finalized, it will be placed in a designated area. It does not necessarily come from that $11 million budget.”
Kraun said the numbers are projections and the City Council will decide what its priorities are for the upcoming budget.
The city’s policy is to keep a minimum of 25 percent of its operating and debt expenses in reserves. The current budget assumption would set aside $20 million to cover three months’ worth of expenses.
She said all capital projects, which include downtown spending, will come from next year’s revenue and unspent money from the current fiscal year. The city calls its $11.3 million surplus an “undesignated fund balance.”
The current budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013 assumes the city will set aside $5 million to buy land for a City Hall and $4 million for downtown infrastructure improvements. The city is currently working with Boston firm Goody Clancy to develop a downtown master plan.
The city is negotiating to buy property around the intersection of Roswell and Johnson Ferry roads. The city owns property at 235 Johnson Ferry Road, the former Target site. Residents are currently debating whether downtown plans should include a City Hall, a plan favored by Mayor Eva Galambos. Some, most notably the Main Street Alliance, a group of owners of downtown property, favor a park.
City Manager John McDonough said the $4 million in infrastructure includes, “Streetscape, right of way, a parking garage. All the things that are critical that would flow from the downtown master plan.”
McDonough said he reduced an earlier proposal to spend $5 million on downtown infrastructure improvements by $1 million to spend more money on other projects. The city currently has $9 million saved in its City Hall fund. The actual costs of City Hall are not known, beyond the $8 million the city spent buying the former Target site.
Council members in the past have said building a City Hall complex may require the city to borrow money in the form of bonds.
During a discussion about the amount of money the city keeps in reserves, Councilman Tibby DeJulio said the council should consider beefing up its reserves to improve Sandy Springs’ bond rating. DeJulio did not specifically mention paying for the city hall project using bond money.
A government’s bond rating is essentially its credit score. Sandy Springs has never issued a bond and doesn’t have a rating.
DeJulio said he wants the city to build its reserves higher than 25 percent each year and keep building.
“Someday we’re going to have to bond …,” DeJulio said. “[Rating agencies are] going to want to see a permanent reserve there.”