Following the defeat of the controversial parks bond referendums, the Dunwoody City Council will go back to the drawing board to discuss what’s next for the city’s parks.
On Nov. 8, voters overwhelmingly voted against two referendums: one that would allow the city to borrow up to $33 million to acquire new park land, and another $33 million bond issue to fund parks improvements and development.
Sixty-seven percent voted against the acquisition bond, while 60 percent voted no on the improvements bond.
Mayor Ken Wright said providing residents with a voice in their local government is one of the main reasons Dunwoody became a city.
“Our localized democracy worked as it is set to; with the voters making the call based on information and various viewpoints presented. Six out of 10 voted no, four out of 10 voted yes. The no’s have the majority,” Wright said.
The council put the bonds on the ballot as a way to improve the city’s park system. The parks master plan found that the city’s 160 acres of parks were deficient in comparison to the national standard, 460 acres.
City Councilman Danny Ross said he was disappointed by the results of the vote. “I wanted to see this thing go through,” Ross said. “We’re not down, we’re not out, but we do have to regroup and figure out how we’re going to do this because the community badly needs it.”
Ross said he would like the city to explore public-private partnerships.
He has already proposed a partnership with an outside vendor to operate a tennis complex in Dunwoody. He is now thinking about ways to make the theater at Brook Run Park a reality.
“The good news is people had a chance to vote and spoke out loudly that this isn’t the time to do it and I respect that,” Ross said.
Councilman Denis Shortal, who in the past has voiced his concerns about the city taking on unnecessary debt, said he thinks there are several things the city could have done differently.
“I think we’ll have to start back and review the whole situation. That starts with reviewing the park plan itself,” Shortal said. “From that we’ll probably see what the next step is. I’m not sure if I’m the only one that wants to revisit park plan but I think that would be a logical step.”
He said he would like to sit down with the council and try to reach a consensus.
“I appreciate parks as much as any person alive,” Shortal said. “It just has to be financially feasible without putting a major tax burden on citizens of the city.”
One concern residents expressed about the bond issue was about the $66 million that the city would borrow. Many felt that was too much debt for taxpayers to shoulder. Others felt they did not know enough detail about how the money would be spent.
Cindra Siah said on Election Day, Nov. 8, that she cast her vote against the parks bonds because “they want to spend so much money for parks. We love the parks, but we don’t want to have too much debt.”
Ross said he would have liked to see the city take advantage of the poor real estate market to save in the long run.
“I just felt that with values of land we had today, to borrow money at very inexpensive rates … and be able to redevelop these sites with the unemployment situation and people looking for work,” Ross said. “I thought all those things were good. That’s the past, we’ll have to look toward the future to figure out a way to get this thing done.”
Should Dunwoody sell $33 million in bonds to buy land for parks?
Yes 3,080 33 percent
No 6,163 67 percent
Should Dunwoody sell $33 million in bonds to pay for parks improvements?
Yes 3,715 40 percent
No 5,531 60 percent
Source: DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections