Dunwoody voters go to the polls on Nov. 7 with a chance to approve a countywide special local option sales tax referendum that could bring in some $42 million over six years into the city’s coffers to pay for transportation and public safety projects.
The mayor and City Council voted Sept. 18 to enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with DeKalb County to acquire funds raised from the penny tax increase, from 7 to 8 percent, if approved. The DeKalb County Commission voted this month to put the measures on the ballot.
Of the approximately $42 million the city would acquire from the penny sales tax increase, $36.8 million would go specifically to transportation improvement projects. Those include: road resurfacing, replacement and rehabilitation of bridges and drainage systems; pedestrian and bicycle path improvements, including the addition of sidewalks, streetscapes, bike lanes, and multi-use trails; congestion relief, such as intersection improvements, road widenings, traffic management and signal upgrades; safety and operational improvements, including addition or extension of turn lanes and elimination of sight distance problems, as well as widened lanes and shoulders.
The city would put $6 million toward public facilities and related equipment, including the purchase of police vehicles; and another $1.2 million would go toward repairs of city facilities, such as parks. Finance Director Chris Pike explained that state law prohibits more than 15 percent of proceeds from going toward such repairs.
DeKalb County is also asking the incorporated cities to kick in extra funding to cover Fire and Rescue Department costs. Mayor Denis Shortal said the city has not decided whether it would contribute more money and a decision does not have to be made before the vote.
The council also approves as part of the IGA the ability to sell bonds if future councils decide to do so of up to $5 million over five years for a total of $25 million. Shortal asked that the amount be reduced to a total of $18 million over six years.
“It seems like when politicians get some money they start using it in a less than conservative manner,” he said. “If we don’t bond anything, I’d be a happy camper.”
Councilmembers Terry Nall and Doug Thompson disagreed and said it would not be fair to limit future councils, although they predicted the city would not sell bonds for future projects.
“I don’t want to forestall an option,” Thompson said.
Pike said he also did not expect the city to use bonds in the future but wanted the language included so that future councils may have the ability to bond projects.
But before the SPLOST kicks in, voters must also approve another ballot measure that would replace the Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) with an Equalized Homestead Option Sales Tax (EHOST) to put all homeowners in cities and unincorporated DeKalb on equal footing, according to county officials.
If the SPLOST is approved, DeKalb would receive $388 million over six years and nearly 60 percent of that total is slated to go toward transportation projects, with $151 million for road resurfacing, according to DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond.
Money would also go toward new fire stations and police cars as well as renovations of parks, libraries, senior centers and health centers.
“This is a transformational moment for DeKalb County,” Thurmond said in a prepared statement. “The county and its 12 cities are in agreement on a plan to work together for all of DeKalb citizens. With the support of the DeKalb legislative delegation which passed enabling SPLOST legislation earlier this year, we will be able to improve the quality of life for all residents.”
State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) worked with Thurmond on the SPLOST bill so that the sales tax increase would not be tallied on food. Millar’s bill also prohibits any money going to MARTA.