I am a solid NO vote in the Nov. 6 referendum on the Brookhaven Parks Bond because I believe it’s the wrong amount at the wrong time. This bond amount, the expected interest, and its servicing fees will impact Brookhaven property owners for the next 30 years.
Wrong amount. The overall projects are built on questionable estimates — this alone should require a more thorough process — and include components that are inflated, not vetted or not wanted. There are items that should be pulled and funded from different or more appropriate sources.
Also, there’s a 25 percent contingency used as a buffer. I cannot make financial decisions this way at home or work, and I don’t like it when it’s attempted by our city leaders.
Wrong time. The timing is off by a year. Pushing this park bond through this election cycle in this manner has created a crisis and a divisive atmosphere. Proponents say, “Vote YES for the bond or our park’s master plan does not get funded.” This all-or-nothing approach is at best misleading, since there are many ways to accomplish this, and at worst dividing our young city along founding battle lines:
One year ago, I was asked to represent the Murphey Candler Park Conservancy (MCPC) and participate with our city’s original, park advocates — Parks and Recreation Coalition (PARC) of Brookhaven on a funding task force created to find ways to initiate Brookhaven’s Parks Master Plan.
We held meetings with city leaders as they shared details on the background to this dilemma: tax revenue, budgets, millage rates, future estimates and outside impact, how we got here. I joined the team expecting that all ideas were on the table.
Along the way, it went off the rails. The subtle change began when the city’s focus shifted from finding workable solutions from many available sources to a pure, singular pursuit of justifying a bond.
We have a faulty premise based on the argument that Brookhaven has relied exclusively on HOST funds collected through the county to support parks capital improvements and that HOST has been replaced by SPLOST, a countywide tax that will not allow funding for parks. In reality, Brookhaven did not rely on HOST, and SPLOST allows for maintenance of existing city assets, transportation, multiuse trails, inter-connectivity and safety — even in parks.
During the first six years of cityhood, we received over $30 million of HOST revenues. We did not use the HOST funds to substantially improve or maintain our parks. HOST was used on other city priorities, and then leftover monies were allocated to individual park projects. By the end of calendar year 2017, only 11 percent of HOST dollars were used on city parks.
I also have deep concerns about cost increases that were quickly put together and that now include items that were not a part of the public vetting. Why would we allow such increases?
Proposed shelter costs went from $15,000 to $140,000 and $25,000 to $280,000. The price of planned bathrooms went from $120,000 to $390,000. These increases happened between 2016 and January 2018.
Lynwood Park went from a proposed $450,000 pool renovation and a new $800,000 all-season cover in the 2016 plan, then was downgraded to a $500,000 splash pad in January 2018 — but somehow has a $4.8 million lazy river, splash pad and lap pool in the July 2018 bond referendum. Where did that come from?
Murphey Candler — my home park — has a proposed boardwalk feature that jumped in price from $500,000 in 2016 to a $2.5 million estimate in January 2018. Something’s out of whack.
My NO vote is to force a better Plan B, while I ensure my tax dollars are not wasted on over-inflated costs and 25 percent contingencies. Let’s create a better bond-vetting process, while we create other means to compare our “wants” with the correct sources of funding.
Steve Peters is a member of the Parks and Recreation Coalition task force created by the city to study parks funding.