In a Dunwoody City Council meeting that lasted until around midnight, the council expressed concern over the timeline for a possible bond referendum this November.
The city initially viewed a list of capital projects that needed funding at its annual retreat in March and voted to create a Capital Prioritization Committee in April. The committee was tasked with ranking the importance of projects ahead of a possible bond referendum, which is a voting process that would allow voters to decide if a city should be authorized to raise funds for specific projects through bonds to be paid back over time.
The Capital Prioritization Committee met for the first time on May 6 and again on June 10 to further refine the possible project list. In between those meetings, the city held three public town halls to gather feedback on what projects residents would like to see as part of a bond referendum, or if they would like to see a bond referendum at all.
The possible projects shown at a June 13 council meeting are:
- $8 million for Dunwoody Trailway – East West Connector: Winters Chapel to the Perimeter Corridor
- $8 million for Dunwoody Trailway – Town Central Connector: Perimeter District to Dunwoody Village
- $8 million for Dunwoody Trailway – Dunwoody Village to the Brook Run Corridor
- $8 million for implementing park design for a park at Roberts Drive
- $10 million for Citywide Parks and Greenspace – new parks and buildout
- $2 million for Brook Run Park enhancements, including a bathroom for the dog park, volleyball area pavilion and bathrooms, Veterans Memorial, and a maintenance facility
- $4 million for implementing park design for a park at Vermack Road
- $750,000 for construction at Waterford Park, including construction of a playground and trail system
At the meeting, council members discussed the merits of including particular projects on the draft list and some voiced concern over whether it would be possible to finish certain projects in the allotted time frame. According to the city’s attorney and financial advising team, if a bond referendum passed and bonds were issued, the city would have three years from that issuance date to spend 85%.
The bonds do not have to be issued at the same time. For example, if the city were to issue bonds for Project A on Jan. 1, 2023, it would have until Jan. 1, 2026 to spend 85%. If the city then issued bonds for Project B on Feb. 1, 2023, it would have until Feb. 1, 2026 to spend 85% of that specific issuance. The deadline for Project A would stay at Jan.1, 2026.
Some council members had concerns about whether to include the park projects at Roberts Drive and Vermack Road. The plans are still in the drafting stage and have not been finalized.
“How critical is it that we have something for people to consider if we’re wanting to fund those? I know for sure the Austin site, there were a lot of varying opinions on how that property should be used,” Councilmember Rob Price said. “I think that’ll be important for people to decide, whether or not they like this.”
In regards to the trail projects, some council members had concerns over whether it would be possible to complete those projects in a three-year time frame. Dunwoody Public Works Director Michael Smith said that the three trail projects on the list are comprised of smaller projects, some of which are in different stages. He said in the best case scenario, a normal project would require a year for design, a year for right of way, a year for utilities, and then construction.
“I don’t really feel comfortable saying we can get any of this done in three years unless it’s one of the ones we already are well into design on,” Smith said.
Council members also had discussions about how specific the project list should be. Mayor Lynn Deutsch said that from the feedback the city has received, most residents are in favor of having as many details as possible. Councilmember John Heneghan, who is one of the members of the prioritization committee, said he was leaning toward postponing a bond referendum for one year.
“In that timeframe, we would finalize our parks plan, put a list together of exactly what amenities we would need at what cost, under a specific timeline that the projects could be engineered, constructed, and used efficiently, so that we would use that bond money immediately and put things out to bid,” Heneghan said.
Councilmember Tom Lambert said he worried that the longer the city postponed a bond, the more inflation or construction costs might increase.
“I think some of these plans are far enough along,” Lambert said. “Given that we’ve still got several months before November and then of course several months after that until an issuance, I think we’re okay.”
Deutsch said she wanted to hold a special-called meeting to further discuss the bond, but did not specify a date. The council is expected to vote on whether to move forward with a bond referendum in July.
The entire discussion on a possible bond referendum and the rest of the City Council meeting can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page.