Gaining power over Sandy Springs’ water system remains a top concern for Mayor Rusty Paul.
“It’s an aging system based on the number of leaks that we have, (and) it’s continuing to deteriorate. So we want to get control,” he said.
Water service, improving the city’s north end/affordable housing and transportation dominated Paul’s annual State of the City Address May 14 at City Springs. Those three issues were among the five goals he had in his 2017 reelection campaign, with the other two — implementing The Next Ten comprehensive land-use plan and opening City Springs — already being accomplished.
Water woesBut the water service problem may take years to solve. When it incorporated in December 2005, Sandy Springs inherited a water system from Fulton County that had relied upon the city of Atlanta to provide service for since the 1950s. Since its inception, Sandy Springs’ water customers have been charged an at least 20 percent fee by Atlanta for providing water service. Paul said its customers pay nearly three times what Roswell’s customers pay.
After years of talks with Atlanta over the issue, Sandy Springs sued its neighbor to the south in November in Fulton County Superior Court, specifically regarding some documents Sandy Springs is requesting from Atlanta that it claims Atlanta won’t release in a timely manner via the Georgia Open Records Act.
The lawsuit asks a judge to compel Atlanta to turn over the documents Sandy Springs is requesting and to require Atlanta to enter into mediation with Sandy Springs.
Among the documents Sandy Springs is requesting is a more recent water rate study, which is supposed to be updated about every two years so water rates are not charge arbitrarily, City Attorney Dan Lee said. Paul said Atlanta’s most recent rate study is from 2003, adding the water service issue could remain in court for years.
“We (Sandy Springs’ water customers) contribute about $30 million of revenue to the city of Atlanta every year, and they’re not going to turn that revenue loose easily,” he said. “When I sit down with the (city’s) legal team, I say, ‘Just get prepared, because we’re going to face every challenge the legal community can throw at us to slow this thing down.’ …
“We had the first set of depositions this week, and the more we learn, the more interesting and interesting the information we get.”
TransportationPaul said he wants to provide solutions to Sandy Springs’ traffic problems through cost-effective mass transit, including the express lanes the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) plans to build along Georgia 400 and Interstate 285’s top end.
“We actually had some good news this week,” he said. “I’m glad (Fulton County) Chairman (Robb) Pitts is here today because he presided on the meeting where we got the east-west portion of 285 included in the Fulton County transit plan.
“That’s huge because it allows us to, as I think I reported to you last year, the mayors of Tucker, Doraville, Chamblee, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Smyrna had a meeting to talk about how we can move people more efficiently across east and west on the north end of the metropolitan Atlanta area. We studied that earlier this year.”
Those express lanes are for not only regular vehicles but bus rapid transit ones.
“We saw the results of that study show we can connect Doraville to the Braves stadium with bus rapid transit,” Paul said. “Now don’t think of bus rapid transit as buses. These are actually trains that have rubber tires. We can connect Doraville to the Braves/Cumberland area for about $400 million. That sounds like it is a lot of money, but compared to heavy rail, at $1 billion a mile, that’s a very cheap way to move large numbers of people across the north end (of 285).”
But metro Atlanta, he said, suffered a “real setback” March 19 when 54% of Gwinnett County’s registered voters cast no ballots on a referendum to levy a new sales tax of up to 1% to pay for new transit projects, in essence extending MARTA service into Gwinnett as part of the Atlanta-region Transit Link (The ATL).
“It does two things: one, it leaves one of the largest populated areas out of the system, and it kind of let Cobb County off the hook for a little bit,” Paul said, adding Gwinnett plans to vote on the referendum again soon.
He said he hopes that county gives more equity to the rest of Gwinnett when it votes on the tax again.
“They were spending a lot of money moving the rail line to Jimmy Carter Boulevard, and the rest of the county didn’t get much out of it,” the mayor said.
Paul said the express lanes projects along 400 and 285, which are expected to impact at least 40 and about 300 homes, respectively, as part of the right-of-way acquisition, have upset some Sandy Springs residents.
“It gets very personal when someone comes in and says they’re going to take your house,” he said. “I talked to a couple in their 8os. It’s the price we’re paying for not investing in our infrastructure for the last 20 or 30 years.”
During a Q&A after Paul’s speech, an attendee asked him about “an eyesore” of billboards across Roswell Road from City Springs.
“We have been waiting on a Fulton County Superior Court judge (for) a ruling to allow us to take those billboards down since September,” Paul said. “We know from the lease documents that we own them, so all we need is a judge to verify.”
He said once the billboards are torn down, the city will start construction on its improvement project for Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway from Roswell Road to Glenridge Drive “in mid-2020.”
North endPaul said the city is working to redevelop the city’s north end and hopes to provide more affordable housing.
“My own daughter can’t afford to live here, and I have told the police chief and fire chief that it’s immoral to not have (first responders) afford to live here,” he said. “What happened in the Great Recession is we cut off the lower rung of that economic ladder that leads to the American dream.”
The city has formed a north end revitalization task force to tackle the problems of suburban blight and related issues on Sandy Springs’ north end, including affordable housing. But at least two of its 12 members said they can’t support the task force’s final plan, and one said a poll of 600 residents showed 75% were either against or confused about the plan.
Paul said some residents are spreading falsehoods about the city’s north end redevelopment plan.
“People are being told that we want to push people out of apartments,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Why would we want to do that? These people are part of the essential economy. They’re as much part of this community as I am.”