ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Many of the projects under discussion at this week’s Alpharetta City Council retreat can be funded through existing revenues the city receives in property taxes and fees. But, there remains a funding gap between some of the city’s greatest aspirations, especially traffic improvements, and the reality of construction costs.
To that end, some council members are proposing a bond referendum that would generate as much as $25 million in quick cash to pay for the projects. The matter was one of the final items discussed at the retreat on Monday.
One of the chief proponents of a bond is Councilman Jason Binder, who has also proposed an increase in the homestead exemption to defray the tax bite on residents.
“The number one issue that we hear from our residents is to provide traffic relief,” Binder said ahead of the retreat.
Binder said the city must act now to address current and future traffic problems, like those that will be created when the Georgia DOT installs an interchange for express lane traffic between Webb Bridge Road and Windward Parkway.
“This will help relieve traffic on 400 but add considerable congestion to the areas of North Point, Westside and Webb Bridge,” Binder said. “There is currently no plan at the local level to absorb the increased congestion to our neighborhood corridor of Webb Bridge.”
GDOT estimates it will complete the project by 2027.
“Seven years may seem like plenty of time to improve our corridors in tandem with their project,” Binder said. “However, the timing is critical when you consider that the Rucker Road project is in its seventh year and Kimball Bridge is approaching its fifth year from their conceptual stage.”
Not everyone is on board with the bond proposal, however.
“I’m not sure who has supposedly been promising residents funding for projects that aren’t already underway or in some early stage of design and planning, but it certainly hasn’t been me,” Mayor Jim Gilvin also said before the retreat. “The City of Alpharetta is spending more money now on road projects, park projects, public safety projects and quality of life projects than ever before.”
Gilvin said it may be too soon to initiate a bond because money continues to come in from the transportation sales tax, money needed to finish top priority projects outlined to voters when the sales tax passed in 2016. Also, the mayor added, negotiations are underway to extend the .75-cent sales tax for another term, which would bring in enough money to address some of the less urgent road projects the city would like to see accomplished.
The mayor said the bond issue itself is of less concern than the formula Binder and fellow Councilman Ben Burnett are proposing to pay for it: a property tax hike, coupled with an increased homestead exemption. In essence, he argued, what they are proposing is helping homeowners at the expense of businesses who also pay property taxes but are not entitled to homestead exemptions.
“Right now, councilmen Binder and Burnett are saying the city has too many unfunded projects, but they want to cut taxes for some property owners and increase taxes for others,” Gilvin said. “If you accept the idea that we have too many unfunded projects and have to increase taxes on some property owners to pay for them, I cannot understand the logic behind cutting taxes for others who would benefit without paying for it.”