081419_MNS_Sandy_council Rusty Paul with Purple Heart recipients

At its meeting Aug. 6, one day before National Purple Heart Day, the Sandy Springs City Council honored the city’s living Purple Heart recipients. With Mayor Rusty Paul, far right, are, front row from left, recipients Lou Zayes, Donald Bullard, James Gordon, John Hawes and Carl Walker. Back row from left, recipients Doug Brown, Ed Harmon, Brandon Puhlman and Tibby DeJulio. DeJulio is also a council member.

The city of Sandy Springs should lower its millage rate after receiving higher tax revenues in recent years, one resident argues.

“Over the last two years, the city will be raising about $7 million more in property taxes if it uses the same rate it’s used since inception,” Walter Cohen said. “I’m so glad the charter requires this millage rate to be advertised as a tax increase. At this point the city will (have) enough of a windfall that merits a reduction in the millage rate. … We’re talking about a 37.6% (total tax revenue) increase over the amount collected in 2014.

“Yes, by increasing the amount the city is raising, that’s more than the city needs and it demands a rollback. I understand things do increase in price and some services become more expensive, and I know we built this nice facility (City Springs), which cost us some money. But due to the increases, the city council should rethink this 4.731 millage rate.”

Cohen was the only resident to speak during the public comment portion of the millage rate public hearing that was part of the Sandy Springs City Council’s Aug. 6 meeting at City Springs. The meeting was the third public hearing on the millage rate, as required by state law, with the first two taking place July 16 and the morning of Aug. 6.

Despite Cohen’s objections, the council voted 6-0 to approve the fiscal 2020 millage rate at 4.731 mills, the same amount the city has had since its incorporation in 2005. Karen Ellis, the city’s finance director, said the rate represents a 3.05% property tax increase.

District 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio said in response to Cohen’s comments, the city has been able to maintain a high level of services when the economy was in poorer shape in years past.

“One of the things we have to realize is when we had lesser revenues, we didn’t have to cut back on city services,” he said. “As the city’s budget has increased and the amount of revenues has increased, we’ve been able to increase our services.”

In an interview after the meeting, Mayor Rusty Paul said Cohen represents the minority when it comes to residents’ opinions on the services the city offers and tax revenues. He said the city has conducted surveys or polls two to three times since it was incorporated, and “an overwhelming majority” of residents are in favor of more services even if it means a tax hike.

“You’re looking at $10 or $15 (more in taxes) for the average household,” Paul said. “They’ve said, ‘Look, we’d rather have our sidewalks and our roads resurfaced. So it’s been … a pretty strong consensus that we do that. So the fact we’ve had all these public hearings and one person (spoke against it), that’s not to say there may not be others. But in general people want us to continue to build parks and pave streets and build sidewalks.”

Paul added that when some Fulton County residents were hit with extremely high increases in their property tax assessments, the city’s built-in cap on property tax hikes kicked in.

“We rolled back the homestead exemption to offset that,” he said. “So we already have mechanisms in place to make sure we don’t do things like get carried away with revenue. We’re pretty much keeping up with the total revenue. He was just talking about tax revenue. We’re keeping up with the (increased) cost of construction. It’s getting harder and harder to do these public works projects.”

In other news, Paul read a proclamation honoring the city’s living Purple Heart recipients, including DeJulio, one day before National Purple Heart Day. The award goes to U.S. military members who have been wounded or killed in battle, and Sandy Springs’ recipients got a standing ovation.

Sandy Springs, along with Atlanta and others, is designated as a Purple Heart City, meaning it honors that award’s living recipients annually.

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