Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dunwoody at a Crossroads - Bond Referendum?

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.


Anonymous said...

No new taxes. Period.

Our 46,000 residents moved here as they found Dunwoody desirable as it is. In the last census, Dunwoody experienced one of the largest growth rates in population and this was without any change in parks acreage over that period. No doubt, park acreage is not a factor in choosing to live in Dunwoody.

We would have been better off to use the city savings to upgrade our current ball fields, not buying the PVC farm.

I'm not sure the city should worry about the nature center since it serves so few people relative to the size of Dunwoody's population. But the program could easily be moved to Brook Run where administrative buildings already exist and a large chunk of the park is forested with a stream and trails. We could then convert the current nature center space into a playground area for the north side.

Dunwoody is already a gem for many reasons and people will continue to move here without us spending megabucks on new parks.

Let's be smarter about our spending by using the incoming funds we already have. We amassed a surplus in just two years, so we do not have a tax revenue problem.

shark bait said...

I agree Anon. No new taxes. Period.

The parks situation in Dunwoody is fine. We just need to repair and maintain the parks we have. Spend the money fixing the ballparks and fixing the water feature at the playground in Brook Run. How about renovating the tennis courts at Wind Hollow? Is it so horrible to leave the back area of Brook Run undeveloped? If so, just put in some hiking or biking paths. Or let it be the nature preserve as planned.

We don't need more parks, we need the parks we have to be the best they can be... and that won't happen if we don't use the money we have to repair, remodel and maintain.

Anonymous said...

There's not going to be a better time to buy land in Dunwoody.

I'm all for modest tax increases as long as it means better police protection, better parks, and better schools.

There were comments about the PVC farm being used for more than just a park. I heard that the police department and/or city hall could be built on that site. I would much rather have Dunwoody own the land/buildings than leasing.

xplainme said...

No new taxes. Period. At least not right now. With EVERYTHING going up (with no end in sight) - gas, food, Dekalb County taxes and possibly services (sanitation) etc., and with more increases a certainty - and income decreasing, there are a lot more people in Dunwoody than you choose to believe who are stretched beyond the limit already. We supported Cityhood because that's what ya'll said - "no new taxes". Stop dreaming and get real.

JerryGarcia said...

The crossroads is not on whether Dunwoody wants parks; the crossroads is on whether you trust city council anymore. Vote NO.

Heyward said...

Unfortunately I think this will be the opinion of a lot of Dunwoodyians and the reason that this referendum wont pass. The attitude of our society right now is no new taxes. Its doesn't matter if it is at the federal level, state, county or even our new city. People are not wanting to be taxed at all. I on other hand am for improving our surroundings and make our parks better, more usable and indirectly makes us healthier too. I think these improvements will benefit our city, improve the home values and make it a better place to live. The impact of that will draw businesses and home buyers to Dunwoody. I am sure the park plans are not for everyone and there are certain piece we all might do differently. There is never going to be a perfect plan that please all. I think if there was any tax increase I would be for, it would be to do it at the local level. This is where you can actually see your dollars at work. Larger governments such as counties, states and the feds, it is much harder to wittiness the dollars being used. This is a great opportunity for the citizens of Dunwoody to make a change that makes our community better but I do see the challenge that is ahead. At the end of the day Dunwoody is a great place to live no matter what happens in November. I am for the road less traveled.

christy said...

A giant NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO from me & my husband!!! No way, no how. We were promised taxes would not increase with cityhood. We were told you could handle the job better than DeKalb.......Yet look at all the money that has been wasted on unnecessary things such as consultant firms. Including the one that came up with pathetic town slogan that it took all of 5 minutes to figure out was on loan from another city! None of these things makes me want to increase my own taxes to support such asinine ideas. They knew they were blowing the budget with the secret purchase of the PVC farm and thought nothing of it. They thought by doing this they could force bond referendum on us to cover the cost of real city business which as anyone knows comes before splurges such as land purchases and cute slogans! Until zone 3 AKA Dorwoody gets paved (and that includes more than just the tiny swatch in front of Beth Shalom) I say NO!!!

Dunwoody Dad said...

Well stated Christy... I think the "new" Dunwoody is far lacking than what we all expected.

The town slogan is still a sign of "arrogant idiocy" as far as what it projects to our surrounding neighbor cities.

In addition, we now are signing on our 911 emergency service with ChatComm which may result in delayed response times and a significant increase in costs.

The madness continues....

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Every governmental entity in GA is pushing more taxes. DeKalb county is not only trying to raise our taxes, they're using Dunwoody as a scapegoat for it. Don't get me started on the BoE and their waste.

You seven on the council have pushed through a number of items that you felt were important (city identity, ChatComm, etc) and you've faceplanted on a few ideas that were completely out of touch with reality (greenways, chickens, etc) and you're spending quite enough money on it. I know that we all have "dreams" about what the city can and should be. But there are two points to consider when "dreaming" -
1) We're not building up the city from scratch. We are making do with the infrastructure we have and adjusting it as necessary
2) Money is tight and everyone and their dog is trying to make up the gap by raising taxes.

The city needs all kinds of things but like I tell my kids, you can't have everything at one time. You have to choose your priorities. Are the residents of the city going to suffer if we don't have an exact number of acres of park per person? No. Are the residents of the city going to suffer if taxes go up at the same time everyone else is raising them? Yes. Do the math.

As some of the previous comments have shown, some city decisions, whether yours or Huttmacher's, have caused some tough feelings and ill will toward City Hall. You're going to get more in the long run if you back off the taxes and build up some good will by being the only area government that doesn't raise taxes at this time. It won't kill you to maintain what we have and live without buying up property. It may not be the politically correct decision that you and your friends have your hearts set on, but it is the right one for the 46,000 other people who have to pay for it.

This doesn't mean that opportunities for growth are lost forever. No one has a crystal ball that will say for sure what will or will not happen. More opportunities are possible when financial times improve. Just give it a rest for now. Be the guy who refuses to raise taxes in the city when everyone else does. THAT is what we need.

Jonathan LaCour said...

I'm totally fine with a moderate increase in taxes for an improved quality of life. I'll never understand the attitude that taxes are evil/bad. Now is the time to buy up land for parks. Its a great investment in our future as a city.

More parks, improved existing parks, improved roads (greatly needed), and more sidewalks all excite me for the future of my newborn daughter here in Dunwoody. I want to be able to walk to the village on sidewalks that aren't falling apart, and on my street which is currently badly in need of repaving. I want to take my daughter to beautiful parks, the nature center, and more.

Please, please, tax me more. Seriously. I am happy to pay for an improved quality of life!

Tasneem said...

I agree with everyone who said NO on the taxes. When the vote came up to create the city of Dunwoody, I voted no and the primary reason was that we would end up with city taxes because let's face it, when you create a government, no matter how small, you are creating another level of bureaucracy, hiring people who need something to do, in order to justify its existence. Frankly, we haven't fixed some of the basic things that still need to be done: reducing traffic congestion, building sidewalks, and continuing to deal with crime. I still hear gunshots frequently on my side of Dunwoody and one of my neighbor's home has been broken into twice in the last 2 months. Let's deal with these key issues with the money we have because these were the promises that were made to people who voted to create the city of Dunwoody, before trying to raise people's taxes.

Sara said...

I agree with Jonathan. We are more than willing to pay a couple hundred dollars more a year for an improved quality of life for us and our children. And I believe these improvements (if done right), will improve the city and make it even more desirable to live in.
I hope the city is looking at a vacant/bank owned property on Happy Hollow at Dunwoody Club. This would be a GREAT place for a neighborhood park!

jag9244 said...

Enough with the taxes and tax collectors. Who runs this city???This is not Europe, this is Dunwoody, USA baby.
We have enough of this garbage from the federal level, chipping away at rights to privacy and property. I'm tired of it.

While our codes being rewritten by unelected officials to strip property rights and freedoms from the citizenry, our progressive Council is cheering.

Are we still paying into the hundreds of thousands to a New York State consulting company to hire and install these local UN agenda 21 policies?

I thought Dunwoody was a freedom loving, capitalist community with good schools when I decided to move here. What I am finding out is quite contrary. Let's turn this things around and kick these usurpers out of office.

When is the next vote for a pay raise?

jag9244 said...

Enough with the taxes and tax collectors. Who runs this city???This is not Europe, this is Dunwoody, USA baby.

We have enough of this garbage from the federal level, chipping away at rights to privacy and property. I'm tired of it.

While our codes being rewritten by unelected officials to set up a control grid, strip property rights and freedoms from the citizenry - our progressive Council is cheering.

Are we still paying into the hundreds of thousands to a New York State consulting company to hire and install these local UN agenda 21 policies?

I thought Dunwoody was a freedom loving, capitalist community with good schools when I decided to move here. What I am finding out is quite contrary. It's time to kick these usurpers to the sidewalk, so we have enough money to build sidewalks.

So when is the vote for the next pay raise?

Mom99 said...

Jonathan LaCour-I agree with you 100%. It's time to increase taxes and improve our city. This No Tax attitude needs to change if we want to move forward.

Elroy said...

I'll be voting yes.

And if I thought for a second the "no votes" who claim "now is not the right time" would ever think there IS a right time, I might consider their opinion. But those people won't ever say yes.

Do any of you actually think how a Dunwoody with better roads, parks and overall quality of life would do to your property values? Did you ever consider that your property values would be better protected from market fluctuations, perhaps even be relatively recession proof-- if this was a more desirable place to live? Look at Chatain, Buckhead, Virginia Highlands-- their prop values have not dropped nearly as much as ours.

Maybe you should think about what constitutes smart INVESTMENTS.