The Dunwoody City Council voted July 25 to approve two ballot referendums that will let voters decide whether to invest in more parks for the city.
The unanimous council decision came after months of debate. Though council members did not agree on everything, they were united in their belief that they should let the voters choose how to move forward on developing parks in Dunwoody.
There will be two referendums on the Nov. 8 ballot. One asks voters to decide on the issuance of general obligation bonds for the acquisition and remediation of land for parks. The other asks voters to approve issuing general obligation bonds for improvements to the city’s park system.
Each referendum will ask voters to approve up to $33 million in bonds that will be repaid by the city over the course of 30 years. Each bond would require a 0.75-mill increase for taxpayers to cover the costs. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property.
The council voted unanimously to approve the bond referendum.
City Attorney Brian Anderson presented the council with several minor edits to the referendums.
Councilman Denis Shortal, who has been vocal against the city taking on bond debt, said it would be “deceptive” for the referendum not to include language explaining that the city’s millage rate would be increased to pay back the bonds.
“To not state how this is going to be paid is not in full disclosure to the citizens,” Shortal said. “With probably 90 percent assurance, this is going to be paid off with a millage increase.”
Councilman Doug Thompson said though it is likely the city will raise the millage, in the future, other sources of revenue such as a sales tax or increasing property values may make it possible to pay back the bond debt without a higher millage.
“Obviously, it’s general obligation bonds, they have to be paid, but we don’t want to boot strap ourselves,” Thompson said of the referendum language. “The city has a very diverse tax base.”
Shortal said despite his own objections, he supported letting Dunwoody residents decide on the issue.
“I’ll vote to let the people vote,” Shortal said.
The council voted to accept the attorney’s recommended changes and approve the referendum.
Councilman Robert Wittenstein said the vote was an important one.
“Right now there’s an enormous urgency to acquire park land. Land today is at historically low prices and if we don’t, it’s going to get sucked up by developers,” Wittenstein said.
City Councilman John Heneghan recalled that when the city was founded, city proponents agreed to keep the tax rate constant, unless residents voted to raise it to provide a higher level of services. Without “continuous improvements,” he said, the city will not be able to increase the quality of life and attract new residents and businesses.
“Dunwoody is at a crossroads and I believe the time is now,” Heneghan said. “I’m going to vote for both of them but I’m going to leave it up to the citizens.”
“As promised, we will bring it to the voters,” said Mayor Ken Wright.