ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Following a volley of heated exchanges, the Alpharetta City Council voted 4-3 Monday to place a $29.5 million bond referendum on the November ballot.
Mayor Jim Gilvin called it “financially irresponsible,” but others said the city has an obligation to maintain the quality of life that has made it the envy of Metro Atlanta.
Money from the 25-year bond will go for development and major upgrades to city parks.
Debate covered several layers, but the most contentious issue was the final list of parks projects up for funding. Gilvin said the final list presented Monday was never discussed in front of the public. The mayor said it also allocated almost twice as much money for parks projects on the west side of the city which has already garnered the lion’s share of taxpayer money for projects like City Center and Avalon.
Councilman John Hipes said a parks bond referendum should be held in the spring, after county voters decide whether or not to extend the transportation sales tax this fall. If approved, the TSPLOST would generate an estimated $554 million in transportation dollars over five years. Alpharetta’s share would be about $52 million.
Hipes also took issue with the late changes to the list of parks projects on the list.
“Most concerning to me is it is not the list that we received public input concerning what it looks like,” Hipes said. “I feel like we’re pulling the rug out from beneath the feet of our citizens.”
Councilman Dan Merkel also objected to the late changes.
“It was done behind closed doors,” he said. “It was brought out to us a week later.”
But council members who favor the fall referendum said they had communicated the changes all week with everyone, and Councilman Ben Burnett said all of them had been discussed at prior public meetings.
“You guys act like it’s literally just been dreamt up,” Burnett said. “To say that it wasn’t in an email is fine, but don’t give me that disingenuous garbage that you weren’t sitting up here because seven of us were here.”
Councilman Jason Binder, who has championed the campaign for the parks bond, insisted the project list has been changed numerous times since it was proposed back in January. He said he called for ideas from everyone at the last council meeting on June 7.
Binder also said the council has known about the TSPLOST referendum since January, as well.
“I’ve done nothing but had discussions with you all, and it’s been for two years,” he said. “I’ve been nothing but transparent. But, sometimes, it’s time to put the pen down and say ‘Let’s bring it to the voters.’”
Mayor Pro Tem Donald Mitchell was more direct, insisting there had been open communication about changes to the parks project list. The problem, he said, is that other council members weren’t listening.
“You can invite people to your party, but if they don’t show up … it’s not your fault that they didn’t come, and that they didn’t bring anything to the table,” he said.