ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Anticipated shortfalls in funding next year’s budget has prompted Alpharetta city officials to consider sidetracking a host of major projects already funded for this year.
At its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, the City Council asked its staff to draw up a list of current projects that could be halted in their tracks in order to preserve close to $5 million for urgent needs next year.
Like most local governments, Alpharetta operates on two dominant budgets, a general fund budget that pays for day-to-day operations, and a capital budget that funds major, one-time projects, like road work, new buildings, equipment and land purchases.
With funding sources, like sales taxes, taking a hit from the coronavirus pandemic, city officials say they are worried whether they will have enough money to pay for necessary recurring capital expenditures next year.
Alpharetta Finance Director Tom Harris said he and the mayor should have a draft for the 2021 general fund budget within the next week. The 2020 general fund budget was set at $75 million, and it is not expected to grow a great deal in the coming year.
Funding the capital budget may be trickier, especially recurring capital expenses, like scheduled vehicle replacements and street resurfacing, Harris said.
Normally, the recurring capital budget is $10 million a year. The city gets about half that from revenues it expects to bring in from the year’s current tax and fees collections. The other half comes from what is left over from the prior year’s budget — a surplus that is rolled over to help pay for recurring capital expenses.
This year, Harris said, he doesn’t expect a $5 million surplus left over in the 2020 budget. He said the end total will probably be nearer $3 million.
Right now, Alpharetta has more than $11 million in unspent money that was committed for capital projects this year. But, not all that money is available. Much of it is required to either complete projects already well underway or is helping pay for items on a strict maintenance schedule, like replacing worn vehicles.
Overall, Harris said, there is about $4.3 million in unspent money that could be reallocated to projects in 2021.
“I think that if you don’t feel you need to do it really right now, you would unwind it — no one’s going to completely forget about it…but unwind what you can and let it be available for unallocated [funding] as we work to fund the recurring and anything else you feel is important,” Harris said.
Mayor Jim Gilvin said the exercise in parsing current projects gives Alpharetta a leg up on addressing the economic fallout from shrinking tax revenues it expects due to the pandemic.
Council members said they were amenable to scrapping as much as possible to help pay for necessities in the coming year. Road resurfacing, they said, is one expense the city cannot afford to scrimp on because scheduled annual maintenance is crucial in keeping the city’s street quality at a high level.
A preliminary polling of the City Council identified projects that were added mid-year, like new or upgraded restrooms at several parks. That line item alone totals around $1 million. Another $1 million in savings is being considered that was to fund a roundabout at Hopewell Road and Vaughan Drive.
Councilwoman Karen Richard recommended holding off on most if not all the items approved as part of the mid-year budget adjustment.
“I think we should take a very conservative approach,” she said. “I think we’re going to need it as far as looking at our budget for next year.”