“Promises made, promises kept.” That is one of the key themes of Johns Creek’s 2019 budget, according to Mayor Mike Bodker. It is also a motto the council should keep in mind when it considers projects funded by the $40 million park bond.
As the designs for five new parks come into sharper focus, it has become clear that the city will not be able to afford all it hoped would come out of the park bond.
The council will have to decide which projects are the highest priorities. Some parks will be built in phases, and some of the pocket parks may be simpler than originally imagined even in their final stage.
I have only been a Johns Creek reporter for a few months, so I wasn’t around when the parks bond was passed. I have done my best to go back and watch the old city council meetings and read the articles written at the time, but I can’t fully understand the spirit of the debate leading up to that decision.
If I had been in Johns Creek at the time, I think I would have been skeptical of whether the council was promising more than it could deliver. I have heard Bodker and other city officials say that they knew they had $70 to 80 million worth of projects, but they only put forward a $40 million bond.
It seems like the decisions the council is facing now could have been avoided, or at least minimized, if they had been more conservative in their estimates back then.
But that is in the past, so what matters now is what the council will do with the projects moving forward. Many council members have indicated they want to scale back the pocket parks, in one way or another, to devote more funding to Cauley Creek. Some council members have even suggested going back to the drawing board on the pocket parks and starting from scratch with a minimalistic design.
I worry the council is so focused on the flashier regional park that they are underestimating the value of a simple neighborhood park. Yes, the larger park will be able to hold festivals, tournaments and races, but if I wanted to take a young child somewhere with a playset, or dogs somewhere they could run around, I would prefer a quiet park within walking distance of my home.
If these parks were capital projects funded through an annual budget, like the new fire station proposed under the 2019 budget, the council would have more control to adjust plans as more information comes to light.
However, these parks are funded by a bond that was approved by a referendum. As the council moves forward with the park plans, I would urge them to remember the 65.7 percent of voters who made the park bond possible.
Democracies are all about the will of the people, and nowhere is the will of the people more evident than through a referendum.
There are many Johns Creek residents who are not able to attend public input meetings or serve on citizen advisory boards but still take the time to vote in elections. Who is to say that for some of those residents, the pocket park at Bell and Boles wasn’t a deciding factor in their support for the parks bond?
Compromises will have to be made. Priorities will have to be set. I’m not saying the council should spend millions on each of the pocket parks, but I would ask the council to keep in mind what the citizens voted for and to do their best to execute that vision.