The Road Less Traveled?
Three years ago the Citizens of Dunwoody approved a City Charter and set in place a government to provide a better level of service than DeKalb County was providing, doing so at the same tax rate being charged at the time of incorporation. The battle cry was local control, close to home on important zoning and city decisions. I believe the Dunwoody City Council has delivered on that promise.
The millage tax rate for City Services at the time of incorporation was 2.74 mills and the City Charter stipulates that the city millage tax rate cannot be raised by the City Council above 3.04 mills unless it is approved by a referendum of the citizens. That being said, your current Mayor and City Council has delivered on the promises of better city services without increasing the tax rate the slightest amount, therefore today’s tax rate is still the same 2.74 mills that we started with. We have guided the city though the period of setting up the city management structure, the police and other city departments, we installed an intelligent state of the art computer infrastructure system which reduces manpower and therefore reduces long term costs, and finally we set policies and procedures for fiscal sustainability at the current level of service.
Here is the issue facing the council. I believe we need to stop looking backward comparing ourselves from where we originated and start looking forward to see if the current level of service is adequate to bring the City of Dunwoody to where we want to be in 10 to 15 years. Do we need to start making long term structured improvements to the city to maintain and improve the quality of life for the people and businesses who someday might want to locate here? Without continuous improvement, will young families, active seniors and community minded business people choose to go to a different community where they have already made that improvement?
We as a community have been through an extensive planning process on Transportation, Parks, and various Community Redevelopment Plans. Council has listened and heard of the communities’ desires to move forward with expensive capital transportation projects, as well as purchase and develop additional park land now at the lowest prices in a decade. Unfortunately the current city budget of 18 million dollars will not allow us to move forward on these citizens’ desires without a tax increase or bond referendum as stipulated in the city charter. Currently a $400,000 home pays about $250 dollars per year in ad valorum property taxes to the City of Dunwoody and unfortunately this will not move us from a state of where we currently are, to a place that we might want to be.
The City Council just budgeted Two Million Dollars ($2,000,000) for road repaving which will start in late July or mid-August and we intend to invest Two Million Dollars each year going forward. Unfortunately our paving study stated that we should be spending about 2.5 Million each year in order to go deeper into the neighborhood streets. Currently we are using about $500,000 of Host funds to do sidewalks and street capital improvements but it will take many years to have enough money to start moving down the Transportation checklist. In 2012 there is a chance that a state proposed 1 cent sales tax referendum may add about $800,000 to fund these transportation projects but with DeKalb & Fulton already paying a penny sales tax for Marta when the rest of the Atlanta Metro doesn’t, it makes this proposal inequitable and therefore questionable on passing in these two counties.
The question is then raised; without any other source of funding does it make sense for the community to raise the tax millage rate in order to dedicate funds to do the capital roadway improvements that the community has asked for? I am well aware that these are trying financial times for many people but I do believe that a small tax increase dedicated to transportation improvements would be an investment in the community. Such an increase in dedicated Capital improvement dollars would start moving projects off the transportation list and then free up other funds currently used in capital to increase funding on surface paving up to the recommended $2.5 million dollar amount.
The Parks and Greenspace Master Plan is the only master plan that is yet to be finalized because Council wanted a few questions answered before moving forward, but that being said I believe it will be brought back before council some time soon. The parks plan was conducted with a specific set of park properties in mind (those we currently own) and was done holistically looking at the needs of the community and how the current acreage could be arranged to best fit those specific needs.
Though no plan is perfect, this and all city plans will need to be fluid because of changes that happen. In the case of the park plan, new park land is and will be obtained and therefore it will then make sense to then do something that wasn’t part of an original plan. If money was available for land acquisition, maybe Council could find vacant properties for purchase that would drastically change the landscape of the civic and play areas of the city? Council has already found a way to possibly purchase 16 acres of prime real estate known as the PVC Farm but the money the Council has been saving is now gone, therefore this type of purchase can’t happen again without a decision of the citizens to make it happen.
Think of underutilized or vacant properties near your home, if we as a city invested in purchasing and developing those properties as a park or a better civic use, would you see an improvement in the quality of life in this community? Even if you never stepped foot onto that property, would your home value increase because it was now a city park? Now imagine not purchasing and improving that property for public use, could it cause a domino effect on the community that would have a detriment to your quality of life and/or long term property values? The City of Dunwoody is currently under served with available parkland and I believe that now is the time to have a community discussion and possible vote to see what the desires of the community are.
The parks study found that the Northside of Dunwoody was under served and needed a traditional park for children of all ages to run, play and relax. In rectifying that need the baseball fields at Dunwoody Park that are in poor shape needing millions of dollars in renovation and capital improvements to bring them up to ADA specifications, are being proposed to be moved into Brook Run where there are 40 acres of open space for them to be located. One of the current ball fields in Dunwoody Park would be converted into a playground and open field with a small pavilion and the other ball field would allow expansion of the Dunwoody Nature Center, giving them a permanent home so that they could then raise their own funds for a permanent structure on the expanded space. These proposed changes were done with close coordination with the neighboring community to mitigate noise and negative impacts.
This type of plan modification and community coordination has also been done at Brook Run too as drawings have been modified to reduce noise, traffic, lighting and other concerns. One of the questions being researched by the city is the drainage and water impacts if that parcel of parkland at Brook Run were to be converted into ball fields. Another question is what is the amount of trees that would need to be removed (if any) to install those fields. I understand that the back 40 acres of Brook Run was originally “Master Planned” as an aviary and nature preserve but just as the Parks Master Plan currently in front of council will change, so must that master plan as it is no longer realistic.
The City of Dunwoody is at a crossroads. We are a community of 46,000 strong, living within 13 sq miles and we need to ask ourselves if the current level of service being provided by the City of Dunwoody on behalf of its citizens is adequate to bring the City of Dunwoody to where we want to be in 10 to 15 years? Not moving forward won’t be bad but I believe we as a group could & should do better.
That being said the final decision isn’t mine; it’s yours as the City of Dunwoody Charter ties my hands and forces me to live with the money provided.
If I get the chance to vote on this in November, I'm voting for the road less traveled, as it might make all the difference.