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Dunwoody bond referendum may have to wait until next year

Peachtree Middle School

Upgrades to Peachtree Middle School’s football field turf has been removed from the short list of items proposed for funding if the Dunwoody City Council places a bond question on the Nov. 8 ballot. The City Council is expected to discuss the fate of a bond referendum at its July 25 meeting.

DUNWOODY, Ga. — Plans for a November bond referendum in Dunwoody appear to be on hold after two of three City Council members voted thumbs down at a Capital Prioritization Committee meeting July 15.

Signs of a delay were telegraphed a few days earlier when the full City Council discussed a lack of shovel-ready projects that could be included in the bond.

At that July 11 meeting, Mayor Lynn Deutsch said she thinks the city needs “more time to flesh out priorities.”

Councilman Rob Price agreed it could be a challenge.

“With a little bit of elbow grease we could get to a workable list in time to put something before the voters this fall,” he said.

That discussion spilled into last Friday’s meeting resulting in a consensus among the committee that a bond referendum in 2022 would not happen.

The committee, consisting of City Council members John Heneghan, Catherine Lautenbacher and Joe Seconder, voted 2-1 against providing a project list to the full city council. Heneghan and Lautenbacher voted against providing the list.

Extensive discussion is expected at the next full council meeting on July 25.

Over the past months, the Dunwoody City Council has held public hearings to weigh the merits of a bond referendum – somewhere between $30 to $50 million – to expand parks, trails and infrastructure projects.

An approved bond referendum would be the first in city history.

The Capital Prioritization Committee was created following the April 25 council meeting and is tasked with narrowing down the list of unfunded city projects to be folded into a bond referendum.

Over the past two months, a list of 95 projects was reduced to 17, then narrowed again to eight.

The July 15 meeting went line by line of the 17 projects and considered each. Several of the projects were either completed by the council or are not eligible to be included in a bond.

The city approved a $1 million match program on June 13 to fund expansions at the Dunwoody Nature Center and the Spruill Arts Center.

At least two items on the proposed bond list of projects may be removed because the city does not own the property or responsibility rests with DeKalb County.

One project calls for upgrading the turf of the football field at Peachtree Middle School. Dunwoody has a 20-year intergovernmental agreement with the DeKalb County School District concerning the football field and has made improvements to lighting and a storage facility, but it does not own the field. Converting the turf would likely be outside the scope of a bond referendum because it would require changes to the agreement with the school district.

Updates to the Brook Run Park Veterans Memorial is another item expected to be removed. The memorial was constructed by DeKalb County. Talks are ongoing between the city and county about improvements.

Discussions about delaying a bond issuance follows the council approving a 0.3 percent millage rate increase on July 11. The increase from 2.74 to 3.04 mills is the maximum allowed by city charter.

Time is running out for a November bond referendum.

The council would have to set the bond amount, specify how the money would be directed and pass a resolution at least 90 days prior to the Nov. 8 general election date.

If voters approve a bond referendum, they would also be voting in support of an additional millage rate increase.

“Having just raised the tax rate for all citizens, I am very reluctant to do it again for these back of the envelope ideas that have not been completely flushed out,” Councilman John Heneghan said in a blog post.

“Maybe next year as far as I am concerned, but I am only one vote,” he wrote.