ROSWELL, Ga. — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced cities like Roswell to completely reevaluate spending and economic priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

“The economic issues are severe,” Mayor Lori Henry said at the preliminary budget presentation May 11. “We don’t know yet how deep or how long this recovery is going to be.”

Roswell’s budget team had nearly finished assembling its proposed plans for fiscal year 2021 in February when the pandemic hit.

It changed everything, said Budget Manager Harpreet Hora.

“The economy that was looking very positive a couple of months back is no longer so positive anymore,” she said. “We’ve had to go back and change all of our revenue projections, the budget numbers, and what we were planning to fund.”

Hora and her team is bracing for a projected $9 million loss in revenue, the majority of which can be attributed to sales tax, which is expected to see a 10.4 percent drop in revenue.

These numbers and uncertainty have informed the priorities of the upcoming year, namely, to focus on maintaining current levels of services and programs. The budget team does not recommend increasing any employee compensation and anticipates a hiring freeze except for critical positions. The city currently employs 625 full-time positions.

The budget team also recommend deferring most maintenance and one-time capital requests, and Hora said they will be monitoring the situation each month to see if there are any changes or any requests could potentially gain funding in the future.

The upcoming fiscal year will see the first downward trend in the city’s funds since fiscal year 2015. Fiscal year 2021 is projected to net $144 million in revenues, down from $152 million in fiscal year 2020.

Despite a slight decline in property tax revenue because of COVID-19, the city’s millage rate is expected to stay at 4.955 mills, the same since fiscal year 2019, Hora said. One mill brings in $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value on a property.

Proposed expenditures top $144 million. That includes day-to-day operations covered in the general fund and one-time, big-ticket spending for major projects like road projects and vehicle replacement. Most spending requests in the current budget focus on maintaining services.

Some of the funded requests in the general fund include $1.8 million for the Historic Gateway Project, $1.4 million for fire vehicle replacement, $1.2 million for citywide network/fiber switch replacement, $250,000 for road resurfacing, $116,000 for police taser replacement and $10,000 for polygraph services.

Unfunded requests include $5.3 for construction of a new 911 emergency communications center, $4.8 million for construction of a new fire station, $3.9 million for Phase II of the Sun Valley Drive project, $2.8 million for road resurfacing and reconstruction, and $1.1 million for employee salary increase of an average of 3 percent,

Additional unfunded requests for staff include positions for community engagement, an internal affairs officer, a special events coordinator, a K-9 sergeant and a records administrator specialist.

The budget includes some funding for the city’s partner organizations: Roswell Arts Fund, Roswell Inc, Roswell Historical Society, Roswell Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Historic Roswell Beautification Project. All of the partner organizations, aside from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, have additional unfunded requests.

There may be additions and deletions to the funding as it passes through the first and second readings before the City Council. The first reading is scheduled for the May 26 City Council meeting, starting at 7 p.m. The second reading is slated for the June 8 City Council meeting, also starting at 7 p.m.

For the first time, Roswell has released an interactive digital book for citizens to review information about the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget. It can be viewed, along with other budget materials, at roswellgov.com/budget.

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