ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City officials are wrestling with a spending plan for next year in the midst of a total reset on tax revenue streams from the new floating homestead exemption on residential property.

Mayor Jim Gilvin said the city is operating at a disadvantage because it still hasn’t received an accounting of current property values from the Fulton County Assessor’s Office. Local governments depend on the tax digest to get some estimate on how much revenue they can anticipate from property taxes.

“We’re in a position of having to set a $140 million budget without knowing our tax digest,” he said.

As a result, Gilvin said he is setting aside an historically low amount of funding, around $733,000, for unallocated capital improvements. These funds are allocated for major one-time projects — like repairing a sink hole that develops along a roadway — throughout the year.

The first public hearing on the 2020 budget will be May 28. A second public hearing has been set for June 3. 

The 2020 proposed budget calls for a total of $141 million in spending. About half the total, $75 million, is committed to general government operations, like salaries and departmental operations. That’s up about 1.5 percent from the current year’s budget.

Major capital expenditures, such as road construction, land acquisition and vehicle replacement, total $34 million. About half that total, $15 million, is committed to projects funded through the transportation sales tax passed by voters in 2016.

The proposed spending plan is based on maintaining the tax rate of 5.75 mills on property. It also maintains the city’s $40,000 homestead exemption.

The Alpharetta City Council met May 20 to continue discussions on the 2020 spending plan which goes into effect July 1. 

At a special noon workshop held a week earlier, council members spent most of the session hashing out priorities for local transportation projects and plumbing all the city’s resources to fund them.

However, there were two issues outside of transportation that garnered debate at that May 13 meeting.

Gilvin proposed dropping the city’s annual membership dues — about $17,000 — committed to the Georgia Municipal Association, a consortium that provides research and lobbying services for cities. 

The rift with Alpharetta occurred earlier this year when the organization lobbied for enactment of legislation promoting the rollout of 5G technology by the telecom industry. Alpharetta opposed the legislation and spent more than $40,000 of its own money arguing it gave utilities blanket use of municipal right of way to deploy their equipment.

“Personally, I am adamantly opposed to joining GMA membership this year,” Gilvin told the group.

The mayor said he is even more steadfast after seeing the organization’s latest newsletter in which the GMA’s lobbyist who advocated against Alpharetta’s interests disclosed the organization had laid groundwork for the 5G legislation before lawmakers convened in January.

A second matter that drew council debate involved an annual funding stipend for Tech Alpharetta, a local nonprofit that serves as an incubator for tech startups. Over the past several years, the organization has received an annual allowance of $125,000 to assist in its efforts.

Council members, however, were divided about continuing the allocation without establishing benchmarks to show the city’s money is benefiting residents in terms of added jobs and new local businesses.

The council is working this week to iron out differences in how the money should be allocated and what goals should be set to measure the organization’s success. 

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