By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Milton moved into uncharted waters this week as city officials got their first glimpse of the 2011 budget -- the first spending plan where every penny is a matter of public record.
The proposal calls for $17.4 million in spending, down about $400,000 from last year. The big change is that Milton has severed ties with a private firm that had provided the majority of municipal services since the city incorporated nearly four years ago.
The company, CH2M Hill-OMI, still provides services to Johns Creek and Sandy Springs, north Fulton's other two new cities.
Milton's parting with the firm should save the city about $1.4 million, said City Manager Chris Lagerbloom. The company's contract called for a fee of $8.2 million this year.
Because CH2M Hill-OMI is a private company, how the money was spent was proprietary and not open to public scrutiny. With the city assuming the services, Lagerbloom said, all expenses, from workers' salaries to the price of operating copiers, is accounted for.
"Don't get me wrong," Lagerbloom said. "Without CH2M Hill-OMI, we wouldn't be where we are today. They helped us a lot."
Milton still hires out some of its work. Labor for public works costs the city about $540,000 annually. The city also contracts for a planning reviewer and building inspector and a part-time traffic engineer.
Johns Creek is similarly pursuing a path to ween itself from CH2M Hill-OMI. The city last month authorized its own information technology director to eventually assume some of the duties now handled through the firm.
Johns Creek will present its preliminary budget at Monday's City Council meeting.
While the Milton budget proposes a decrease in spending, Lagerbloom told council members at a Monday work session that the plan calls for adding one new police officer. The police budget is proposed to increase from $2.46 million to $2.51 million as a result.
Preliminary estimates from the Fulton County Assessor's Office show a relatively flat tax digest, meaning the city's property tax levy should bring in about the same amount as last year, about $8.6 million.
The county also indicated that Milton's ZIP code, 30004, was the only zone in Fulton showing an increase in value over 2009, up 3 percent. The rest of the county averaged a decline of about 5 percent, Lagerbloom said.
The Milton City Council plans to review more of the spending plan at its regular meeting Monday and again on Aug. 23. It is set to adopt a final budget Sept. 6.