Our City Council is much divided on a parks plan for Dunwoody. In order to get something on the November ballot for parks, council and city staff needs to soon come to an agreement.
When the idea of a $50 million parks bond was presented, it was accompanied by some nice colorful renderings with a little bit of everything in it. In a classic sales pitch, the seller (City Council) must first define the ‘need’ to its buyer (you and I, the taxpayers), then present a solution to fill that need. No doubt Dunwoody has less park space (the need) than the national average and far less than neighboring cities. But is it something that has to be addressed this year?
There are other things we are short on here in Dunwoody. Sidewalks and freshly paved roads come to mind. Is our need for new sidewalks and road improvements greater than our need for three new baseball fields and a Frisbee golf course? I’d say yes.
When the idea of improving our existing parks came to light, I was naturally interested to see the plan. The thought of a nice park in the northwest section of Dunwoody is appealing. I was in favor of handing over some of my money, in the form of slightly higher taxes, to improve on Dunwoody’s parks.
But then I studied it more, and learned the costs were much higher than the $50 million, 30-year bond (close to $100 million with interest). And then I struggled with the $8 million for three baseball fields.
Before long I talked myself out of supporting the mega-bond.
But I still think Dunwoody needs to improve on its parks. Local places of worship do a decent job of organizing leagues and providing youth sports. Why? For the same reason the city of Dunwoody needs to do some improvements to not only parks, but to roads and sidewalks – to maintain and increase membership/residents.
Currently we have the Dunwoody Nature Center and two baseball fields at the Nature Center/Dunwoody Park property. These two things do not make for a true local park. But local homeowners are divided on what the true need is for the area.
The future of that area has become a tug-of-war between older residents living next to the park, and younger families in the area wanting a playground and open play areas. I believe there is a common ground whereas the nature center can expand, a playground be added, and an acceptable buffer maintained for nearby homeowners.
Same story at Brook Run. Homeowners living next to the park are opposed to development, preferring to keep the park as a passive-use environment, while parents with young children cherish the thought of fields for organized sports within our city.
Regardless of the details of the proposed plans for Brook Run and the other city-owned properties, is now the time for a tax increase? Water rates are on the increase and it looks as though county taxes (and maybe even school taxes) will increase next year. Home values have decreased in Dunwoody and employment rates remain stagnant. But is there ever a good time to take on debt five times your annual budget?
I think our City Council had best thoughts in mind when the idea of a parks bond was first discussed, but the idea grew to over $50 million in improvements (plus tens of millions more in interest) – way too much.
DeKalb owes us $7 million for use at Brook Run. Once the $7 million is under city control, I think we use the money at Brook Run as required, but that’s it for now.
What about that dream park for the nature center area and improvements to the other pocket parks in Dunwoody? I suggest council work on a new plan, a plan with costs about 80 percent less than the original.
That is the first step. The final say on any tax increase needs to be with the voters in November. One hopes we can all come to an agreement, perhaps bringing in the private sector, and make affordable improvements to our parks.
View Rick Callihan’s Dunwoody Talk blog at www.dunwoodytalk.blogspot.com.