The city of Brookhaven on Jan. 22 sold $38,855,000 in bonds to fund parks upgrades – a bit less than the $40 million maximum approved by voters last year. And a citizens oversight committee was named the same day to review the spending on new and improved green space, including what improvements are made and when.
Securing the money “really kicks off the program, and we’ll be tearing down the road the next few years getting parks built,” Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman told the City Council.
City officials said a favorable overall interest rate of 3.41 percent allowed them to seek less money than expected to complete all of the parks projects promised to voters.
“It was a really great deal,” Mayor John Ernst said during the Jan. 22 council meeting. “We’re going to save some money that not taking the entire 40 [million].”
That rate means that the city will pay $26,038,735 in interest to bond-holders, according to a presentation Chapman gave to the council. The total debt-service costs to taxpayers as the bonds mature between 2020 and 2049, according to the presentation, will be $64,893,735.
That amount is in line with complaints from parks bond opponents last year that the city was advertising a $40 million bond without discussing a true cost that critics estimated at $65 million to $69 million.
To pay off the debt, the city will increase property taxes by half a mill. City officials say that increase will be offset by other tax changes. But Ernst has called for some mitigations for seniors and people with disabilities, and said he expects a staff proposal to come before the council in February.
City officials say the money will allow them to fast-track park upgrades, which are among the reasons the city was created in 2012. The city already has approved one of the project list items, invasive species removal.
“This is a bold, aggressive move,” said City Councilmember Joe Gebbia, adding that the money will help to replace parks funding lost in the elimination of a sales tax.
The five-member Parks Bond Citizens Oversight Committee that will oversee the bond-funded projects was nominated from 15 applicants by Ernst and affirmed by the council. All members are residents of the city, with three of them specifically chosen for technical expertise. According to the city, the members will advise the administration, review internal audits, recommend project phasing, look at designs, and consider “scope reductions or additions based on resources.”
The members include:
James Baugnon, a “developer of large, mixed-use communities” who is said to have “experience with the Trust for Public Land.”
Lori Gray, a resident of the city’s southern side.
Sean Pharr, an employee of the consulting firm AECOM Technical Services with experience in government contracts.
Deborah Proctor, a resident of the city’s northern side who is also a master gardener and a former historic preservation and open space planner for a county in the area of Greensboro, N.C.
Mickey O’Brien, who serves on the grounds and facilities committee of Roswell’s Chattahoochee Nature Center and reportedly managed design and construction of such major Atlanta parks as Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park.