Sandy Springs officials have decided how to spend a hefty fund balance that grew during the pandemic.
The unallocated fund balance for fiscal year 2021 was $63.7 million, the city’s Finance Director Toni Jo Howard said during the city council’s Jan. 18 meeting. Those surplus funds were due to the city deferring capital projects during the pandemic and also because the city brought in more revenue than it expected.
The council added another 5% to its reserves, bringing its “rainy day” fund to $31.8 million.
Another $13 million was allocated to establish a fleet and infrastructure fund.
Requests from city departments totaled approximately $11 million.
The council members had in previous meetings approved budget amendments of $4.1 million for more Veterans Park prep work, paving projects and Fire Department salaries.
The city’s future Public Safety facility at 620 Morgan Falls Road was allocated $4.3 million, with $3.4 million of that total coming from the city’s Public Facilities Authority and the remainder from the fund balance.
A piece of the city’s Master Trails Plan got a boost with $6.5 million designated for Trails Segment 2A.
This trail segment is part of a planned five-mile loop that connects the Morgan Falls Recreation Area to Roswell Road and surrounding neighborhoods using greenway trails, side paths and boardwalks.
That trail section is shovel ready, Sandy Springs Conservancy Chair Jack Misiura told the City Council.
The city’s Trail Plan Implementation Committee has been working for two years to identify a buildable trail route, make arrangements with property owners and finalize the design and construction plans for this portion of the trail, he said. City staff, Conservancy board members, trail design and construction experts with help from the Kaizen Collaborative, have been developing the plan.
“This segment of the trail will be exhilarating and visually spectacular, presenting the best natural elements of our great city and should get citizens very excited and supportive of future expansion of trails,” Misiura said.
The trail also is consistent with the focus on revitalizing the North End, he said. The city may not have to pay for any land acquisition for this trail segment.
Councilmember Andy Bauman said he wanted to make it clear that approving this allocation doesn’t automatically move the next trail segment to the head of the line for future funding. The city needs more than $100 million to fund all its parks and recreation needs and projects, he said.
“We need a funding mechanism to do these projects. Because if we don’t and all of a sudden we say the trails are going to be our top priority, there just won’t be money left for some of these other really important projects, including dream projects like a community center, a natatorium,” Bauman said.
The complete trail loop from Roswell Road through Morgan Falls Overlook Park and around Orkin Lake would cost an estimated $35 million, Assistant City Manager Kristin Smith said.
At Bauman’s request, the council added to its fund balance decision the requirement for the Recreation Department to come back to council before spending any of the $1.5 million allocated for bleachers, netting and shade structures at Morgan Falls Athletic Fields.
Staff noted the $7.35 million in time sensitive projects including in the fund balance allocations, which included public safety needs such as a new SWAT truck, radios and AED (automatic emergency defibrillators). It also included putting power lines underground, bridge maintenance and repair.