The Dunwoody City Council voted 6-1 to let voters decide if they want to finance major improvements to their city’s parks and trails.
At its May 22 meeting, after listening to a presentation by member Tom Lambert, the council approved a resolution that will put a $60-million, $20-year bond referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. Councilor John Heneghan was the lone dissenting vote.
Heneghan did not elaborate on his reasons for voting against the measure, but said after the meeting that his dissenting vote reflected the lack of specificity regarding the projects on the bond list.
“In negotiating for a possible bond referendum, I was hoping for a more detailed list of specific projects that would be funded with the bond proceeds and I also requested several bond questions on the ballot vs the ‘all or nothing ‘aspect that was finally presented,” Heneghan said. “During my questioning of the proposed projects, the city attorney explained that the question being presented to the electorate on the ballot will give ultimate flexibility to the city council and that no specific list will need to be followed, but instead the items listed Monday are high-level aspirational items to be funded where numerous changes can be made.”
Heneghan said his vote against the bond referendum “was me stating that I wanted more transparency as to where specifically the proceeds would be going and additional referendum options on the ballot.”
At the meeting, Lambert and other officials said that since there is another measure on the November ballot asking for a renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, having more than one question about city improvements could be confusing.
Lambert laid out the options for financing the improvements, which include paying the cost out of the city’s existing operating budget, allocating the expenditures in a “pay-as-you-go” model, or issuing bonds.
“Across the nation, bond financing is the most common means to fund infrastructure improvements,” Lambert said. “With a bond vote, the decision will be made by the residents of Dunwoody.”
The improvements were narrowed down by council after considering public input for months, and will include:
- Buildout of Homecoming Park, formerly referred to as Vermack Park and the yet-to-be-named park on Roberts Drive;
- The acquisition of land and construction of softball fields at a site that has yet to be determined;
- Improvements at Brook Run and other area parks;
- The construction of four multi-use trails (in the Dunwoody Village area, Winter’s Chapel Road, North Peachtree Road and Mt. Vernon Road).
The average annual tax increase for a resident with a house valued at $500,000 would be around $160, according to city officials.
“There is nothing hasty about this decision (to ask for a bond vote),” Lambert said. “The final decision, by the voters, will be fair, equitable and democratic.”
In other news, the council discussed spending $600,000 in federal monies to fund a dedicated ambulance that would service Dunwoody residents. According to Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan, the ambulance service would not replace the contract the city currently has with American Medical Response, but rather enhance response times.
The cost for one year of services would be about $566,000, according to Grogan.
A memo from Grogan to the council said that “staff believes directly contracting with AMR for one ambulance staffed with a paramedic and EMT operating 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day will make a significant impact on response times and the level of service being provided to the citizens of Dunwoody.”
Ambulance response times have long been a point of contention in Dunwoody and throughout Metro Atlanta, with staffing shortages and increased demand as the main reasons for slow service. Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch said the average wait time for an ambulance in the city is more than one hour.
The council took no action, as it was a discussion item, and will take up the measure at a future meeting.
In other action:
- The council approved up to $60,000 from the city’s hotel-motel tax to fund the construction of a ceramic mural on a retaining wall on Womack Road;
- Voted 6-1 to approve the revised master trail plan presented by the PATH Foundation. Heneghan, the sole dissenter, said he voted against the measure because he’s against 10-foot sidewalks in front of single family homes, the possible reductions of street widths and some parts of the calm streets policy that was outlined in the plan;
- Heard of a plan to build a Vietnam War Memorial at Brook Run Park with funds donated by the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association;
- Allocated $735,000 to pave a road leading to Two Bridges Park, the area’s newest park.