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Sugar Hill presents 2010 budget proposal

SUGAR HILL -- Cities are struggling economically, but you wouldn't have known it as Sugar Hill City Manager Bob Hail presented the city's proposed 2010 budget at the first of three public hearings Monday night.

The $28 million budget included the first $7 million for construction of a long-awaited city hall and the downtown development of West Broad Street, as well as roughly $3 million for completion of the new 67-acre Gary Pirkle Park and expansion to 57 acres of old E.E. Robinson Park. But, even with tax revenues dropping, Hail felt Gwinnett's fourth largest city could meet its ambitious plans with what he considers a still conservative budget and prudent spending.

"There's no fat in this budget," he told the council at its work session. "This is a budget that keeps the status quo. I consider it a service-neutral budget. We're hoping to maintain the same service we did last year, even with (tax) revenues likely being down."

With real estate appraisals dropping and foreclosures rising, Hail said he's accounting for a nearly 10 percent drop in tax revenue, but expects he can deliver results with a general fund of about $18.5 million, little more than this year's $15.4 million. Vital to his plans are a carry over of roughly $9.7 million saved from previous years, a hefty reserve he attributed to the city's frugal spending habits.

"This is an extension of our normal, conservative budget effort," Hail said. "We don't always spend all the money allocated for expenditures.

Hail said managing Sugar Hill's money conservatively has been the key to continuing ambitious projects during challenging economic times. He noted that other cities have had to cease projects or postpone them.

"We've saved to be able to do the things we're doing," he said. "The key is to never go in debt. We've chosen to have a big reserve so we can build a lot with cash."