JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Johns Creek city officials began parsing the mayor’s proposed 2021 budget, a $59 million spending plan that trims expenses by 6 percent from the current year.
While the city’s new fiscal year does not begin until October, the City Council spent the bulk of its July 13 work session discussing priorities for funding and which initiatives could wait until the economy becomes more stable.
New this year would be creation of an economic development director within Community Development. Up till now, the city has been contracting out economic development initiatives to the tune of $130,000 annually through private entities —$100,000 to Johns Creek Advantage, and $30,000 to the Pendleton Group. Under the new budget, the money would transfer in-house to the operations of the economic development director.
While not everyone was on board with the idea, Councilman Lenny Zaprowski stressed his support, saying there is scientific data showing the benefits of an in-house economic development operation.
“I’m not saying anything about the job itself,” he said, “but creating jobs is important, and there is a science behind it, proven by data.”
Councilwoman Stephanie Endres called out the absence of funding for in-house positions for the Georgia Crime Information Center, an initiative that has been proposed for the past four years. The operation is important, she said, because it brings in-house the entering and maintenance of warrant records and the warrant process.
The city has been shopping for and receiving the service from other jurisdictions. Right now, it receives its information through Forsyth County. That arrangement could end suddenly, Endres said, if Forsyth determines it isn’t receiving proper compensation. Johns Creek staff must also drive to Forsyth County to receive and deliver documents because some cannot be handled electronically.
The estimated line item to bring the service in-house, brought up at the city’s last mid-year budget review, would be $330,000 for the four positions required to perform the work. Endres said the council agreed to add the item in the 2021 budget, but that didn’t happen.
“I’ve been pretty consistent in saying we need to manage what we own first, and then look to new items,” Endres said. “We need to deal with that, because, at a moment’s notice, it’s going to be an emergency that’s not budgeted. Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money to try to find… It’s not as if you can just snap your fingers and that money is just going to appear, because we have reduced our reserves pretty significantly.”
Endres also called for cuts to spending to have the budget reflect the economic reality of double-digit unemployment and declining sales tax revenues. She said that while the overall operations budget total remains fairly steady, salaries paid within that budget — even if the number of employees remains the same — continue to rise because of merit raises and cost-of-living adjustments. That leaves less money to pay for other operations, she said.
Right now, the city spends about $27 million annually for personnel. The 2021 budget calls for reducing that by 2 percent through “fine tuning.”
Still, Endres said, there should be avenues to cut costs further.
Mayor Mike Bodker’s 2021 budget calls for holding the number of employees at the current level of 233. Public Safety accounts for three-fourths of that total.
Outside of salaries and day-to-day operational costs, the mayor’s budget is calling for $2.7 million in capital project spending for four high-priority projects:
- $1 million for construction of the roundabout at Barnwell Road and Rivermont Parkway. This would be the final funding infusion for a project a majority on the City Council agreed was needed to enhance safety on the Barnwell Road corridor.
- $635,870 for the second phase of a new Enterprise Resource Planning System. The system would provide the means by which city departments organize and manage their workflow and services to residents and businesses.
- $600,000 to fund right-of-way acquisition for two intersection improvements, one at Buice Road and Spruill Road, the other at Brumbelow Road and Tuckerbrook Lane.
- $500,000 for new sidewalk and trail additions.
The mayor’s 2021 budget anticipates a property tax rate of 3.986 mills. Under this rate, residents pay about $4 for every $1,000 of their property’s taxable value.