Brookhaven city leaders said citizens sent a “clear mandate” Nov. 6 by approving a $40 million parks bond referendum with 60 percent of the vote. Work now begins to start construction of capital projects at six of the city’s parks, and the long-awaited purchase of the front portion of Brookhaven Park from DeKalb County is expected to be finalized.
“The residents of Brookhaven have delivered a clear mandate for us to follow through with our city founders’ vision of a top-notch park system that can be enjoyed in the near-term,” Mayor John Ernst said in a written statement. “With the funding in place, we can now make it happen.”
The City Council is expected to vote at its Nov. 13 meeting to issue a request for proposals for program management services to oversee the capital projects at all parks included in the parks bond. Funding perimeter fencing at Blackburn Park is expected to be approved. The city is also slated to finalize a $2 million agreement with DeKalb County to buy the 8 acres of the front portion of Brookhaven Park, according to a city spokesperson.
The city took official ownership of the 12 acres of the back portion of the park last year and paid the county $100 an acre. Negotiations for the front portion of Brookhaven Park where the DeKalb Services Center is located have been ongoing since the city’s incorporation in 2012. Since 1978, DeKalb Services Center has provided a day program setting for adults with severe developmental disabilities. The building is not part of the purchase and will remain.
A call for nominations for the Citizens Oversight Committee will also be made at the Nov. 13 meeting.
Nearly 21,000 people cast ballots in the parks bond vote, with more than 12,000 voting “yes” for 60 percent, and about 8,200 voting “no” for approximately 40 percent, according to unofficial results from the DeKalb County Registrations & Elections.
The City Council voted in July to put the parks bond on the ballot. City officials said after the loss of the homestead option sales tax this year, there was no funding to make improvements to city parks without debt financing.
Money from the parks bond will fund several parks master plan projects: Ashford Park, $1.94 million; Blackburn Park, $1.3 million; Briarwood Park, $7 million; Brookhaven Park, $6 million; Lynwood Park, $11 million; Murphey Candler Park, $8.98 million; and systemwide funding for security, maintenance and invasive plant removal, among other things, $3.47 million.
J.D. Clockadale, who co-chaired the Yes for Brookhaven Parks campaign with former mayor Rebecca Chase Williams, said in a written statement the capital project improvements will be “transformative investments that will benefit children, families and anyone who enjoys being outside.”
“We have full confidence in the city’s planning process and look forward to seeing the results come to life in the months and years to come,” Clockadale added.
The Yes for Brookhaven Parks campaign raised more than $27,000 and spent more than $13,000 to pay for a consultant, yard signs, mailers and other informational materials to urge voters to approve the bond, according to public disclosure reports filed with the city.
An opposition effort surfaced in the final days of the campaign, with an anonymous mailer sent to homeowners calling the parks bond a “boondoggle” and an anonymous website. The Yes for Brookhaven group raised the question of possible campaign finance law violations but said they have no plans to file an ethics complaint.
Sue Binkert, chair of the Parks and Recreation Coalition of Brookhaven, worked on an ad hoc funding task force with city administrators that resulted in the $40 million parks bond. She and three other members of the ad hoc task force eventually publicly opposed the bond, saying it was too costly and included projects not approved in the master planning process.
“The voters have made their decision and PARC will continue to advocate for the parks in Brookhaven,” she said. “We look forward to continuing a dialogue with the city for funding for our parks.”
After Nov. 13, city administrators will evaluate applications and recommend members to serve on the Citizens Oversight Committee to be approved by the council. The city plans to issue request for proposals for the Brookhaven Park/Peachtree Road entrance, following approval of the Brookhaven Park master plan that is expected to happen in December, according to a city spokesperson.
Also, in December, the city will go to DeKalb Superior Court to validate the bonds and in January the city expects to issue the bonds.
The parks bond will raise the city’s 2.74 millage rate by half a mill, or an average of $98.34 a year to the homeowner with a home assessed at about $466,000, according to city officials. The millage rate is used to determine local taxes and is the amount taxpayers pay per $1,000 of assessed value.
The parks bond will be paid off over 30 years.
Parks bond supporters said homeowners’ overall tax bills won’t go up due to other taxation changes this year. The city millage increase would be offset by this year’s new equalized homestead option sales tax. The EHOST dedicates 100 percent of its revenue to reduce property taxes for qualified homeowners, according to DeKalb officials.
And in 2021 when a DeKalb County parks bond expires and rolls off property taxes for Brookhaven homeowners, city officials are estimating an overall savings of about $514 for homeowners with $466,000 homes.