Sandy Springs remains the city with the lowest millage rate in the area and the only one that does not have a bond millage rate to tax residents with on top of that.
“I’ve been through this a few times in my life, and one of the things we have gotten a lot of inquiries from our neighbors about is the cap on assessments,” Mayor Rusty Paul said of both the millage rate, which is capped at 4.731, and the assessments, which are limited to increasing annually at 3 percent or the consumer price index (whichever is lower). “Not only do we have a cap on the millage rate, but the cap we adopted years ago, so we didn’t allow the Fulton County (tax) assessors to inflate people into higher taxes. I know about five or six of our sister cities who wish they had that right now. They’re moving very quickly to do that. We feel like we can operate the city on the revenues we have."
At its meeting last week at City Springs, the Sandy Springs City Council voted 6-0 to approve the fiscal 2019 millage rate at 4.731, which is the highest allowed under the city charter. The meeting also served as the third and final public hearing on the millage rate, as required by state law, and no individuals spoke during the hearing’s public comment portion.
In his presentation, City Manager John McDonough broke down where each property owners’ taxes go.
“54.7 percent goes to the Fulton County Schools (district), 14.0 to Sandy Springs, 0.7 percent to Fulton County bonds and 30.6 percent to Fulton County operations and maintenance,” he said.
According to a document provided by the city, four other neighboring cities (Alpharetta, Atlanta, Johns Creek and Roswell) have higher millage rates and a bond millage rate on top of it. Milton has the same millage rate but a bond millage rate. Sandy Springs has no bond millage rate.
Sandy Springs’ millage rate, under city ordinance, cannot be raised unless residents approve it in a voter referendum. The city also has a $15,000 homestead exemption plus a consumer price index exemption.
More than 40,000 Fulton property owners have appealed their 2018 assessments, representing more than 8 percent of all parcels. Therefore, by law the county must ask for a judge's approval to collect property taxes.
But last week DeKalb County Senior Magistrate Court Judge Alan Harvey granted Fulton’s petition for a temporary collection order, meaning the county, along with its cities and the Fulton and Atlanta school districts, can collect Fulton’s 2018 property taxes.
However, the state still has not yet approved the county’s tax digest, so the numbers for tax collection are likely to change depending on the outcome of the appeals process.
In Sandy Springs, Paul said, there’s “no real reason” to increase the millage rate, adding the city’s public-private partnership allows it to thrive and save money at a time when other cities are struggling and have to increase their millage rates.
“As a result of our uncommon service-delivery strategy, we’ve been able to cut our government operational costs about every five years when we’ve rebid the contracts,” he said. “We’ve always been able to lower them because we’re one of the few cities I know of that ask the private sector to come in and look at our operations top to bottom and tell us how it can be done better, faster, cheaper. … I think that’s a record we can be justly proud of.”
In other business, the council voted 6-0 to approve Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s request for a special-use permit, with some staff-recommended conditions. The church asked to increase its footprint from 6,000 square feet to 8,400, so it could build a fellowship wing and expand the sanctuary.
The staff-requested conditions include the construction of an 18- to 24-inch-high wall along the western side of the church’s parking lot to “act as a detention pond of sorts,” Director of Community Development Ginger Sottile said. Another provision the church must make is to provide treatment for the first 2.4 inches of rainfall for the newly proposed impervious area, double what the city requires in its development code.
Two church board members - Kristen Folks and David Zenner - spoke in favor of the plan, and two others - attorney Nicholas Borquez and his client, homeowner John Fuller - spoke against it. Folks said one stormwater issue could be caused by water flowing from a pipe not originating on the church’s property but nearby, and she’s contacted the city’s public works department about it so it could be addressed.
Those in opposition said they did not have a problem with the church's building being expanded but take issue with steps taken to address the stormwater drainage problem that persists at Fuller’s home, which he purchased in December 2016. He said his back yard, which abuts the church's property, floods often.
Fuller said he believes the church’s solution, recommended by the city, could even worsen the situation. He said his engineer has come up with a better solution and asked the council to table the vote for 30 days so he could have more time to explore the idea with the church.
But the council approved the issue anyway, with some members saying they didn’t want to get in the middle of a minor dispute between two property owners. Paul said despite the permit being approved, he had hoped the two sides could work out their disagreements on the stormwater issues and find a proper solution.