Nov. 3 Johns Creek City Council elections feature 13 candidates in five elections. However, Post 4 features incumbent Bob Gray running unopposed. Barring a huge write-in campaign, he is assured of re-election.
Post 2 has two elections – one a special election for the unexpired term that ends Dec. 31 of this year, and a second election for the full term. The unexpired term features four candidates (Chris Coughlin and Todd Burkhalter are also running for the full term of Post 2). Also running for the unexpired term are Patty Hansen and Arun Misra.
The Post 2 election for the four-year term features Jay Lin along with Burkhalter and Coughlin.
The Post 5 is also a special election to fill the unexpired term that runs through Dec. 31, 2017. The three candidates for that post are Carlos Carbonell, Stephanie Endres and Nazeera Dawood.
The candidates are responding to three questions regarding issues before the city.
There has been much attention paid to the city’s plan for The District, the stated purpose of which is to revitalize business in the city and create a civic identity for Johns Creek. Is this a job the city should tackle?
JAY LIN - We have studied the concept of The District at length. Given all of the traffic problems facing Johns Creek, this is simply not the right time for this type of project. Congestion and traffic have significant impacts on quality of life for residents in Johns Creek.
And there are many related projects we should concentrate on before adding high density, dubious projects to our overburdened infrastructure.
CHRIS COUGHLIN - I oppose development or subsidies for the Central Business District. Adding thousands of residents in high-density housing (which would be required to make The District sustainable) will only compound traffic problems, overcrowd schools and increase expenditures required to support this development (e.g., additional police officers).
We do not need The District to be sustainable as has been claimed. That is illustrated by the $54.4 million surplus (over a year’s worth of expenditures) accrued since incorporation and our city withstanding the Great Recession.
The District was also proposed to attract more businesses to a specific location. I believe we should focus on fostering a better business environment by reducing burdensome occupational taxes and regulations for all businesses within Johns Creek.
Johns Creek taxes businesses on their profit margins and gross revenues (the top-line), which negatively impacts growth, is detrimental to small and startup businesses, creates "tax pyramiding," and unfairly taxes certain industries over others.
I propose reducing occupational taxes by up to 40 percent (or transition to a net income tax), eliminate the “per employee” tax and remove the administration fees. Government needs to make it easier to do business in Johns Creek. That’s how you attract and keep businesses.
The District was also proposed to attract millennials. I do not believe it is the city’s responsibility to socially engineer our citizens. As a millennial, I want to keep the single-residential home community that we’ve established. We’ve already spent $400,000 just studying The District without any substantial evidence that our citizens want it or is sustainable. It would cost millions more if we move forward. Let’s challenge the assumptions of the so-called “needs” (e.g., financial sustainability, competitiveness, ways to bring in businesses and millennials) for The District.
TODD BURKHALTER -
The city should be a vocal advocate for such projects as long as The District remains fully private developments. Johns Creek also has an opportunity to establish its own identity and city center through this project which is beneficial to all residents of Johns Creek.
POST 2 UNEXPIRED
PATTY HANSEN - Let me begin by saying that both the Parks & Recreation and the Economic Development Strategy drafts are currently in front of the council. This makes my answers to each of these questions ones that would be relevant to the seven-week term that I would serve in the Post 2 Special Election.
The District is not the answer. Since 2006 our citizens have asked for an accessible and lively downtown area with some useful passive green space. I do not however know anyone who moved to Johns Creek in search of a "Buckhead" lifestyle.
A hard look at the finances tells us that we do need to responsibly build up the professional/commercial tax base. We should be using the tools that have proven successful throughout the metro area — community improvement districts, tax incentives, etc. Throwing tax dollars at a design plan for a private landowner won’t work. We also cannot continue to ignore the overbuilt retail space that surrounds us. A proactive look at the city's business fees would be a great start toward filling those empty storefronts. We need to get back to what the residents actually are asking. Johns Creek is on the top of every "Best Place" list for our schools, safety, diversity and cultural offerings, among other things. Aggressive overdevelopment and density threatens all of that.
ARUN MISRA -
The District absolutely. I support downtown for shopping, dining, entertainment. A city hall, post office and park. Businesses can locate there. The District can have a senior center and the symphony orchestra. Restrict car traffic there to encourage bike and pedestrian use.
NAZEERA DAWOOD - The District is an ambitious initiative that was proposed to diversify our tax digest. The city council has suspended planning on The District for now. The city realizes that economic development efforts must not threaten the quality of life for the residents of Johns Creek.
Out of the thousands of residents I have talked with, the residents are not ready for a large-scale, high-density district. We need to focus on developing the infrastructure first. Residents are more interested in a small city center. It is about getting back to basics and the foundation on which the city was formed.
I believe in smart, controlled growth enhancing quality of life in Johns Creek. The city recently presented the Strategic Economic Development Plan. It provides the city with a plan and platform to a sustainable economic development.
CARLOS CARBONELL - The District is something that I believe we're overthinking. Let's break it down into what it really is. The presentations I have seen include a massive body of water running through the middle of it and a high-density development atop. And while that is just a proposal, everybody got hung onto it. I will answer this simply. I like the idea of a town center, I think we all want it. I don't care for adding high-density developments and I certainly do not believe in the city playing the role of developer. Our role as a city is to foster the proper investment environment that is attractive to bring in private capital to develop.
STEPHANIE ENDRES - Revitalizing business and creating a civic identity are [two] distinct activities.
1. Is it the purpose of the city to revitalize business in the city?
It is the government’s job to create a business-friendly environment to be competitive with businesses in surrounding counties and municipalities. We want businesses to come to Johns Creek that will meet the needs of the Johns Creek residents.
2. Is it the purpose of the city to create a civic identity for Johns Creek?
City identities are created through the community itself. Most people moved to Johns Creek for the residential look and feel, green space and excellent schools. That is Johns Creek’s identity. I do not believe it is the government’s job to change this identity – the community has already determined what it is. Johns Creek is a great residential community!
STEVE BROADBENT - The original concepts for The District presented earlier this year were based on a scale that was far too large for Johns Creek. The negative feedback from the residents was quite clear and the plans presented last spring are dead. I am against the high-density housing that was included in these plans and am also against any new high-density housing elsewhere in Johns Creek.
However, the fundamental issues remain: We have a tax base disproportionately skewed to residential property and our business community could be much stronger. One of the underlying challenges in growing the business community is the design of Technology Park. It’s a 1980s design that does not meet the needs of today’s emerging and growing companies. The City of Johns Creek needs to work with the owner and developer of Tech Park to create a vision for a revitalized office park with appropriate amenities which can compete with established office complexes in north Fulton. These amenities could include some limited retail and restaurants, along with a full-service hotel.
THOMAS RADFORD - Government should not impose or fund a city re-characterization without citizen approval (or a vote). The 725 acre “District” is neither feasible nor sustainable, especially with its inclusion of high-density apartments.
I support a co-op city center initiative by engaging citizens with the private sector in a mutual effort to accommodate an entertainment/recreation setting for the community.
Handled responsibly, a co-op city enter will allow for indirect funding to support arts and music through revenue generation via the free market. It will also allow for ethnically diversified small business and restaurants to flourish.
A center, as described, will not require taxpayer funding, will not include apartments, and will not burden infrastructure. This idea will increase quality of life, invigorate new business, increase commercial tax base and create civic identity.
The center will pose little threat of cannibalizing existing businesses. This concept is an example of win for citizens, win for businesses, win for economic development, and win for nonprofit entities.
The issues of traffic and recreation and parks are uppermost in the public’s eye. Would you support a bond referendum for the public to vote on that would accelerate roads projects and provide dollars for parkland acquisition and development? Why or why not?
JAY LIN - No. The city already has significant reserves and is bringing in more tax revenue than ever with the increase in property values. Also, the new gas tax has brought increased revenue to the state to fund projects in Johns Creek.
We need to be looking at lowering the millage rate before taking on additional debt.
CHRIS COUGHLIN - I would support a bond referendum for traffic projects and parks and recreation to determine if that is what the citizens want. However, if we properly allocated our massive $54 million surplus toward traffic and parks and then balanced our budget properly, these additional bonds would not be required. So, I’d challenge the government to employ budgeting best practices first before we over-tax further.
TODD BURKHALTER - No, I do not believe we should borrow money to pay for projects. If we properly manage the taxpayers' monies by not spending everything we have, we can complete these various projects without going into debt.
POST 2 UNEXPIRED
PATTY HANSEN - The city has accelerated road improvements and the Public Works Department has brought in over $30 million in state and federal funding for infrastructure improvements.
We need to strategically deploy those projects and prioritize regional cooperation to address traffic. If we can work to slow the growth of high-density housing, we should start to see some improvements in the coming years. I would prefer to see leveraging of reserves to address these maintenance issues.
A recreation and parks bond would address the taxpayers’ desire for a robust program and have the positive secondary effect of potentially taking remaining land out of the housing development market.
Although it is not a referendum, the overwhelming response of the citizens who participated in the 10-year strategy supported a small per household financial commitment toward recreation and parks. I would support the placement of a bond referendum that included a comprehensive strategy, considering all the avenues through which our residents receive programming, and a conservative approach to land acquisition.
ARUN MISRA - Yes, bond will help get funds Private-public partnership to develop pocket parks especially along Johns Creek and the Chattahoochee River. There is a great necessity for better lives for residents.
NAZEERA DAWOOD - I agree traffic is the No. 1 concern in the city. I sit in the same traffic as everyone else on the way to work.
I have been in conversation with the traffic engineers and exploring the innovative evidence-based technologies available to move traffic safely and efficiently. As a Leadership Johns Creek graduate, I have toured and met the Johns Creek traffic engineers and the ChatComm 911 center and appreciate their coordination in resolving traffic-related incidents.
The consensus from the community for the Recreation and Parks Strategic Plan indicates there is a need for additional parkland and improving existing parks. We do not have unlimited financial resources to fully implement the recommended road and park improvements.
Once on the council, I will assess the situation and gather information available and explore options such as public-private partnerships, collaborative innovative partnerships and funding availability to provide dollars for road and park improvements. I am willing to consider simultaneous millage rollback for operations as well as a dedicated bond for green space and parks.
CARLOS CARBONELL - There is no simple answer for this. So let me start by saying that not only I support it, I would make a strong push to have the citizens decide in a nonbinding referendum if we should have bonds to pay for these projects. Let's now be careful though, and I think communication is key here. And perhaps this will make me "unelectable" but it is the truth. Parks cost money, so we should also do a fair job when communicating that while we are issuing bonds; we will have to pay them, and for this to happen, the millage rate will not be rolled back. So it is the citizens who have to decide what it is they want, parks or less taxes.
STEPHANIE ENDRES - Currently, the city has a significant amount of money in reserves and, until it is fully determined how it will be spent, I would not support a bond referendum. However, in the future if the citizens come to the city council requesting a bond referendum, I would support it. The bond referendum should specifically identify how that money would be spent.
STEVE BROADBENT - If a bond were to be considered, the priority for bond financing should be park acquisition and development. Multiple sources of funds at the state and federal level are available for road projects.
The state and federal dollars for road projects represent tax dollars that our residents have already paid through gasoline and other taxes. These tax dollars should first be used for road projects ahead of a bond. City Council has allocated $20 million of reserve funds for acquisition of parkland, but these funds will not be sufficient to fully develop a large park.
A bond referendum would be ideally suited as a financing source for this development.
THOMAS RADFORD - I would support a referendum to accelerate infrastructure improvements and parkland acquisition for the citizens to vote on. Our city is accepting federal grants with multiple earmarks for projects that provide little material benefit to our citizens, i.e., sidewalks to nowhere.
Citizens are fed up with encumbrances imposed by federal, state and Fulton County for accepting restricted funding. We should demonstrate fiscal stewardship and be self-sustaining.
I will unite with our North Fulton neighbors and forge the way for Milton County. My opponent is a board member of the Development Authority of Fulton County, which is a conflict of interest that strengthens Fulton County’s grip and promotion of high-destiny apartments.
Johns Creek will suffer consequences if my opponent is re-elected. Mature equipped stewards like me can navigate and overcome wasteful government bureaucracy and retain the majority of our taxes currently funneled out of Johns Creek by Fulton County.
What do you think of the “parks without borders” idea in which the city enters a reciprocal agreement to waive nonresident fees with neighboring communities to allow greater access to facilities to all residents?
JAY LIN - The parks are already open to the general public, with Newtown Park hosting many free events. I don't think we need additional agreements relating to our parks.
CHRIS COUGHLIN - I would support an intergovernmental agreement to waive nonresident fees for programs. I would propose a five-year pilot program and evaluate the data to ensure no city is unfairly burdened and the citizens enjoy it.
Until we resolve our traffic issues regionally, why inconvenience residents by forcing them to drive further to their respective municipal park when another park is closer and more convenient? It would reduce some traffic congestion.
TODD BURKHALTER -I believe nonresidents should pay a fee to play sports in our top-notch facilities. I commit to working closely with our parks and recreational department to ensure that we continue to provide excellent parks and programs. If we allow thousands of people outside of our city to use our facilities it will add enormous wear and tear to our facilities which our citizens are responsible for maintaining.
POST 2 UNEXPIRED
PATTY HANSEN - I think parks without borders is a great idea, in its very early stages. What many are ignoring is that it is the delayed registration, and the lack of stability it causes each year for families, that most negatively impacts many programs.
Minimum residency requirements for teams also have coaches jumping through hoops in order to have upward of 50 percent of the team from the selected municipality. If a family has to wait every year to find out if their player has a spot on last year's team, eventually they will walk away and find a more reliable program.
Young athletes want to play with their friends no matter what side of the street they live on. We need to adopt that ideal into our decision making in this process.
ARUN MISRA - Yes, waive nonresident fees so we can use areas from Duluth, Norcross, Alpharetta and Cumming due to the lack of facilities in Johns Creek. We should enhance Shakerag Park, widen Bell Road and construct the bridge on the Chattahoochee to connect Rogers Bridge between
Duluth and Johns Creek.
NAZEERA DAWOOD - I believe in innovative creative solutions and partnerships to leverage resources to achieve meaningful outcomes. I have established public-private partnerships and agreements to make collective impact and improve community outcomes. It ultimately saves taxpayer dollars. In the spring of 2015, an agreement was established for a pilot program between Alpharetta and Johns Creek waiving nonresident fees for the youth softball programs offered in both cities. There is always an option of revisiting the agreement if the evaluation efforts are not mutually beneficial. I support continuing the program and would consider expanding programs with other neighboring cities also.
CARLOS CARBONELL - I like the idea of "parks without borders." I think our community is very open and diverse and we want to attract more people to gravitate toward our city and our businesses. Also, the fact that these agreements would be reciprocate would be a good thing because we could leverage the small amount of parks we have in our city.
I would look at what the impact of this measure would be and hold a town hall to get the input of our community to make a more educated decision.
STEPHANIE ENDRES - I agree with the “parks without borders” idea.
STEVE BROADBENT - The initial agreement with Alpharetta for youth softball was the first initiative aimed at improving the working relationship with our neighboring city, which had been damaged in prior years.
The council approved, during the Oct. 12 work session, the expansion of the agreement to include baseball and lacrosse for 2016. I fully support the expansion of the agreement as Johns Creek residents will be able to take advantage of Alpharetta’s programs. The city will continue to track usage of Johns Creek’s programs by Alpharetta, and vice versa, to ensure the program remains balanced between the two cities.
THOMAS RADFORD - A hybrid solution is the answer. Parks like Newtown bordered by Roswell with huge capital investment and maintenance costs funded by Johns Creek tax dollars must include nonresident fees.
Low-maintenance parks and green spaces should not.
Johns Creek allocates millions of tax dollars to Newtown Park, with millions more earmarked in 10-year forecast. I have posed the question to council regarding the ratio of Johns Creek versus nonresident use of Newtown Park.
Considering what we invest into Newtown Park, we must charge a nonresident fee. Otherwise, funding should be allocated toward other green space like a co-op city center.