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Alpharetta City Council approves funding hikes

Alpharetta CC retreat (1).JPG

Alpharetta City Councilman Brian Will speaks at the council’s planning retreat at The Inn at Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills Jan. 29. Will said he supports the city considering an in-house attorney to handle minor expenses.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The Alpharetta City Council heard an array of mid-year operating requests for more funding at its annual strategic planning retreat held Jan. 29-30 at The Inn at Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills.

Councilmembers fielded requests for an additional $750,000 in city legal services and more than $826,000 from Recreation, Parks & Cultural Services.

Staff presented breakdowns of their department’s mid-year operating requests for the remainder of the 2023 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Based on information presented by Finance Director Tom Harris, legal expenses are expected to rise from current budgeted rates now and in the coming years.

Six months following the death of longtime City Attorney Sam Thomas in 2021, the city appointed Cumming-based Jarrard & Davis to serve as city attorneys to handle an array of issues, including right-of-way acquisitions and legal guidance.

Harris said legal services will require an additional $750,000 this year, doubling its original budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

“The actual in 2019 before the firm came on was $842,500, and then in 2020, it was $882,000,” Harris said. “With prices and hourly rates going up, in addition to the actual work, I just think it's unrealistic to have a budget of $750,000 on this firm.”

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Merkel and Councilman Brian Will agreed the city could hire in-house legal representation to handle smaller legal expenses that do not require a private attorney.

Mayor Jim Gilvin said he is pleased with the work the law firm has done, especially with the McGinnis Ferry Road right of way acquisition, which he said the firm handled in 30 days.

City Administrator Chris Lagerbloom said the McGinnis Ferry project accounted for about 35-50 percent of this fiscal year’s legal spending.

The council also heard a funding increase request from Recreation & Parks.

Director Morgan Rodgers told councilmembers the cost of replacing the upper field synthetic turf at Webb Bridge Park has increased from $1 million to $1.2 million.

An inspection of the field’s septic system revealed the system is failing, and due to the condition of the soil, the project would require another $875,000 to connect the field to Fulton County’s sanitary sewer system.

The Public Works Department submitted a capital project request for the 2024 fiscal year for the sewer connection. Mayor Gilvin, however, said the project is worthy of a mid-year budget adjustment, and he suggested the department use the city’s unallocated funds for the new system.

Out of the city’s current capital project fund budget of $2.2 million, $1.8 million remains unallocated for other uses and projects approved by councilmembers.

Other requests included $39,263 for the Wills Park Recreation Center and $109,413 for aquatic services at the Wills Park Pool.

Rodgers said the increase in his department’s costs is partly due to more residents using park facilities.

He also said the design package for the Wacky World 2.0 project, the wood playground designed in the 1990s with community input, is scheduled to be completed July 2023.

Rodgers also presented a concept for the Farmhouse Trail off Old Milton Parkway, a staircase and path that will lead to the site of the city’s original settlement.

Councilman Will said he is concerned about funding the project this fiscal year because there is no dedicated parking for the trail, and it is not ADA compliant.

Director of Economic and Community Development Kathi Cook will pursue a temporary easement agreement to allow parking at the site if the council decides to move forward with the project.

The trail is estimated to cost $1 million. The concept has not yet been presented to the public for comment.

Reach Shelby Israel at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @shelbyisrael1.