JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – All roads at Mayor Mike Bodker’s Dec. 3 town hall meeting led to – well roads.
The 50-plus residents who attended the meeting first heard a report of upcoming roads projects, but when it came down to the question-and-answer-session, they wanted to get specific.
Bodker quoted public safety statistics so that he had some good news to report. Emergency responses are quicker now that the city is on the Chattcom System with Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. Accidents and traffic fatalities have been reduced. Fatalities are down from an average of 12 annually before cityhood to one a year.
“Speeding and DUIs get our No. 1 priority on the streets,” Bodker said. “But we don’t write excessive tickets. We issue a lot of warnings also. Traffic tickets are not seen as a source of revenue.”
Bumper-to-bumper accidents have gone down from 400 annually to 147 since the Johns Creek Police Department was formed. The average time a vehicle is dispatched from Chattcom is 60 seconds, and total response time has been reduced by two minutes, 30 seconds.
The city has budgeted $2.5 million to Public Works, but Bodker noted the city still has a $38 million backlog in road repairs – with some of the worst roads inside city subdivisions.
The City Council is considering some options to raise more revenue to close the “roads gap.” One solution under consideration is to apply for a $5 million loan from GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority), a state authority that has funds available for cities and counties.
That money would then be repaid from the annual capital funds that would normally go to road improvements.
“The loan would allow us to do more work more quickly,” said Bodker. “But we are not even sure yet if we qualify for such a loan.”
Other cities would normally put the issue up for a referendum on a bond issue, so that residents could vote the repairs up or down. It would likely mean increasing the millage rate. However, that is a moot point unless the state Legislature acts on the recommendations of the city’s independent Charter Commission.
Perhaps the key change is that of the language in the City Charter concerning the need for a vote of a majority of registered voters to agree to raise the millage cap.
“All other cities and counties in Georgia call for a majority of the votes cast. It is a virtual impossibility to ever have a majority of the [registered] voters cast their ballots for anything. It effectively means there would never be any projects approved,” he said.
Another option for road improvements that has been suggested is a proposed neighborhood infrastructure bank. In this scenario, subdivisions contribute money to a fund that would be matched by the city to repair interior subdivision roads.
The drawback to that idea would be the creation of a “haves and have nots” situation.
“My fear is that some neighborhoods with no homeowner associations or on streets with only a few houses would get left out. And these might be some of the oldest – and therefore neediest – streets in the city,” Bodker said.
Another questioner asked if more apartments were planned for the city. Bodker replied that they are taken on a case-by-case basis.
“We have no set limits on [multi-family housing],” the mayor said. “We’re taking them as they come, and have denied some and approved others. We need a healthy mix really.”
He said it is a way to allow people who want to work in the city to live in the city. However, the rental rates commanded by apartments in the city are on a par with a mortgage, he said.
“Johns Creek leads the metro area in new housing starts, but what is hot with developers are apartments and senior living. Unfortunately, developers don’t have to plan for 50 years down the road,” Bodker said.