Some Dunwoody council members worry the town doesn’t have enough shovel-ready projects to warrant a bond referendum.
The city first reviewed a list of capital projects needing funding at its annual retreat in March and voted to create a capital prioritization committee in April. The committee was tasked with narrowing that list ahead of a possible bond referendum, which is a voting process that would allow voters to decide whether a city should be allowed to raise funds for specific projects through bonds to repay over time.
The Capital Prioritization Committee has met several times since, and the city has held several town hall meetings to gather feedback from residents. Dunwoody City Council has previously discussed concerns about some projects being completed on time. According to the city’s lawyer and financial advisory team, if a bond referendum passes and bonds are issued, the city would have three years from that date of issuance to spend 85%.
The board continued to discuss scheduling concerns at its June 11 meeting. City staff say council is expected to decide whether to go ahead with a referendum on the bonds by the end of this month.
“I would rather have more projects ready to go,” Mayor Lynn Deutsch said. “That’s exactly what I have in mind in terms of trails. I think there’s too much discussion out there. I think we’ve had some community misunderstandings and I think we need to take a step back.
The preliminary list that was presented to council at the July 11 meeting included trail projects. During the meeting, some board members said they would feel more comfortable with a park-specific list. Since then, an abbreviated draft list has been posted on the city’s website ahead of a July 15 public meeting that includes only park projects.
The projects included in the preliminary online list are:
- $10 million for park design implementation for a park at Roberts Drive
- $10 million for the acquisition of land in city parks
- $5 million for Brook Run Park improvements
- $8 million to implement park design at Vermack Road
- $2 million for the construction of a competing park in Waterford Park
Much of the conversation around the draft list at the July 11 meeting was about trail projects and whether they were advanced enough to consider including them in a link. Director of Public Works Michael Smith previously said he didn’t feel comfortable the city could complete some trail projects in three years.
Council member Rob Price raised the idea of using bond funds to design trails and not necessarily build them, but Mayor Lynn Deutsch said she didn’t feel comfortable including the trail projects.
“I have concerns about the multi-use trails not being far enough…throughout the process to be able to succinctly outline where the funds would go,” she said.
Council member John Heneghan was not at the July 11 meeting but has previously said he would favor postponing a referendum on the bonds. Council member Catherine Lautenbacher said she doesn’t feel ready to move forward, but would feel better with a park-specific list.
Deutsch expressed concern about whether to include the park projects at Roberts Drive and Vermack Road on the list. According to the city’s website, the plans are still in the draft stage. Council member Stacey Harris said she thinks the general land acquisition category should be dropped from the preliminary list. Parks and land acquisition projects are included in the new list posted on the City’s website.
“I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re going to put $10 million for land acquisition on a bond in November because we’re not doing anything with the land we have now,” Harris said.
Harris said she wasn’t ready to give up the possibility of a bond referendum this year, but she wanted to make sure the projects included were achievable. Price said he thinks the city could put together a slate in time for a bond in November.
“I think with a little elbow grease, we could come up with a workable list in time to present something to voters this fall,” Price said. “I also appreciate the concerns of the rest of the board.”
Council member Tom Lambert also said that while he understood other council members’ concerns about creating a viable slate before the end of the month, he didn’t think the council could afford to launch the link on the road.
“I believe this is something very important for the city, and I don’t think there will ever be a perfect time to do it,” Lambert said. “The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us in the long run, because [of] construction costs, inflation.
Lambert said that if the council decided to postpone bail, he wanted to impress on staff that he would like to try again to get bail as soon as possible.
“Nothing will happen in the other parks without bond money,” Lambert said. “If we want these parks, and if we want to develop them…the public will have to make a decision as to what they want.”
The bond referendum slate is expected to return to the board at its July 25 meeting. According to the city’s website, the Capital Prioritization Committee will meet July 15 at 8 a.m. at Dunwoody City Hall to further discuss the list. This meeting is open to the public.