By Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos
The bloom is not off!
Contrary to some recent, uninformed critics, the bloom is not off the metro area’s newest cities. Quite the opposite: The residents of Sandy Springs and the other new cities are still delighted, and recommend cityhood to the voters of Brookhaven!
Moreover, the financial and budgetary health of these new cities is being contrasted by national media against the bankruptcy of many older cities.
Contrary to statements by Professor Katherine Willoughby of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, our citizens are not “facing the same skepticism and opposition all governments deal with.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 9.) And Bill Crane, writing in the July issue of Georgia Trend, falsely concludes that the new cities over-forecast revenues and under-forecast expenses. Where did he get that data?
Our Sandy Springs’ revenues in the first year exceeded the Carl Vinson Institute projections. (Interestingly, in 2005, Professor Robert J. Egers of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies was less optimistic, but proven wrong.)
Our revenues have been sufficient every fiscal year permitting the city to allocate from 15 percent to 20 percent of its budgets to capital improvements. Thus, we have been able to pave more than 100 miles of roads, add 10 miles of sidewalks, build a brand new award-winning park, synchronize the traffic lights on Roswell Road, and make countless other infrastructure additions—all within the exact same tax rate our citizens were paying prior to incorporation.
Mr. Crane questions how the new cities can offer more and still keep tax rates down. They have done so by being infinitely more efficient than the county governments they replaced for local services.
For example, by paying the exact same millage rate for local services as was previously paid into the Fulton Special Services District Fund for local services Sandy Springs was able to go from 40 Fulton County police officers to our current 127 city of Sandy Springs officers. Yet, we did not raise taxes!
Our model of contracting for most of our municipal services with private companies adds competition into the formula for costing public services. And it works!
A year ago, we put all of our contracted services out for bids. With the responses from new bidders, we were able to maintain all of the contracted services at a savings of $7 million per year.
Also, the employees in the police and fire departments, who are direct employees of the city, are under a defined contribution pension plan, rather than the old-fashioned, defined benefit plans that are driving many existing governments into bankruptcy. The offered health plans emphasize health savings accounts, which incentivize employees to make more prudent expenditures for health care.
About a year-and-a-half ago, a National Citizen Survey (conducted under the auspices of the International City Managers Association) reported that the overall quality of life in Sandy Springs was rated good or excellent by 83 percent of the respondents. The study concluded that the ratings on the overall direction taken by the city of Sandy Springs were much higher than the national benchmark for similar-sized cities.
The city of Milton, which is the smallest of the new north Fulton cities, also demonstrates a huge turnaround in local services after it was liberated from the Fulton special services district. As an example, the parks and recreation department now offers 32 programs as compared to none under Fulton. A general contractor in the Atlanta area for 30 years stated “… we can confidently say that Milton is the most professionally operated city in Fulton County.”
Despite the recent dispute on the Dunwoody City Council, Mayor Davis of Dunwoody reports citizens constantly approach him and describe their joy at being part of the new city. The same thing happens to me when I do my shopping at the grocery store.
The naysayers who disparage the new cities do not seem to realize that the government closest to the people is going to be the most scrutinized by the taxpayers. The terrible waste and corruption that we observe at federal, state and county levels are much less possible at a small city level. This factor alone speaks to the advantages of our new cities versus governance by a distant county.
Eva Galambos is the mayor of the city of Sandy Springs.