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Green for greenspace

Alpharetta parks bond faces new headwinds

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Wills Park Equestrian Center

City officials are considering whether to place a $29.5 million bond referendum before Alpharetta voters this November. As currently proposed, a large share of the money, about $7 million, would go toward major improvements and enhancements at Wills Park, the largest public park in the city.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City officials are continuing discussions over whether Alpharetta should consider a multi-million-dollar bond issue dedicated to parks.

As proposed, residents would vote on whether to approve the bond in the November general election.

Revised cost estimates for parks initiatives to be funded through the bond have swelled by 15 percent over original figures.

At a May 24 meeting, the City Council learned that costs for major upgrades and land acquisitions generally approved for the bond have climbed to $35 million. That’s about $5.5 million more than the original figure discussed in April.

Alpharetta opens mic to public over $29.5 million parks bond

Right now, the city has a bonding capacity of about $30 million, according to Alpharetta Finance Director Tom Harris. That means the city could afford annual payments of $1.65 million over 25 years without raising the tax rate on property or without raiding established levels of other funds. If the city approves a higher bond, say $35 million, the higher annual payments would likely be drawn from the city’s recurring capital projects fund which the city wants to rebuild after it took a sizeable hit last year during the pandemic.

Harris said the city could scale some of the parks bond projects into phases and address the most immediate needs, then tackle the balance of the work with regular parks or capital funding.

The city is listing 12 projects to consider for the bond, each ranked in preference through polling of the City Council.

Topping the list are the buildout and improvements to the Equestrian Center at Wills Park and new turf for the Webb Bridge Park soccer field.

Upgrades and enhancements to Wills Park outside the Equestrian Center also scored high.

Implementing portions of the Wills Park Master Plan were originally estimated at $4 million. That number is now $7 million.

Other projects under consideration include design and buildouts for Waters Road Park, Mayfield Road Park and Milton Avenue Park.

Alpharetta officials bat around parks bond proposal

The list also includes design and buildout for the small Farmhouse Park site near Ga. 400 and Old Milton Parkway. The 5-acre tract is thought to be the earliest settlement for the area that would become Alpharetta.

Parks and Recreation Director Morgan Rodgers said his department is still waiting for final conceptual drawings for some of the projects. He said projects could be divided into phases, but no decisions have been made as to which portions are delayed.

He said he is confident his department can develop a staged approach to all the projects that would fit into the bond funding.

Most council members said they want to keep the bond at its original $29.5 million level that would allow the city to continue a financially secure path on other funds.

The higher project cost estimates are one kink in what earlier appeared to be an almost certainty.

Alpharetta officials divided over bond, wedding proposal

Now, a November bond issue itself is drawing some concerns.

Councilman John Hipes said he prefers the city wait until next spring before placing a bond issue on the ballot. He said November is already weighted with a referendum to extend the countywide transportation sales tax, or TSPLOST, a measure expected to net the city close to $60 million over five years for roads and trails.

If the TSPLOST vote fails and the parks bond passes, Hipes said, Alpharetta will have committed a giant share of its assets to parks, and transportation projects will suffer.

“We’re putting our fate into the hands of Fulton County voters,” he said, adding that the last TSPLOST referendum passed 52 percent to 48 percent.

The City Council is expected to continue discussions on the parks bond referendum this month. A final decision on whether to place the issue on the November ballot must come before the end of summer.

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