I am pleased to report some success in the ongoing fight to require DeKalb County to ask for your vote before spending your tax dollars to repay the principal and interest on new bonds for expensive new county facilities.
Judge Daniel M. Coursey, Jr. of the Superior Court of DeKalb County has ruled that legislation I passed in 2007, House Bill 181 (click for more information), complies with the Georgia Constitution and does indeed require a referendum for the $4.3 million in additional bonded debt that the DeKalb County Government and the DeKalb County Development Authority were planning to issue to cover the over-budget construction costs for a new performing arts center on Rainbow Drive in South DeKalb.
The cost of the performing arts center has jumped from $11 million to $18 million in the past year. That’s $18 million of your tax dollars, plus interest, just to build the facility. The county isn’t sure how it is going to fund the ongoing operations of this facility once it opens its doors.
To finance the amount this project has exceeded its original construction budget, the county was seeking to use a clever bond financing scheme. They proposed to have the DeKalb Development Authority (a quasi-governmental entity not accountable to voters or taxpayers) float $4.3 million in new bonds. After construction, the Development Authority would own the arts center, lease it to the county, and the county would use our tax dollars to repay the principal and interest on the bonds as rent payments to the Development Authority.
House Bill 181 subjects this type of bond financing scheme to a referendum requirement. Rather than using one of the election dates that have come and gone in 2008 to propose a ballot question and ask for your permission to issue these bonds, the county government and the Development Authority decided to disregard your right to vote on the bonds and challenge HB 181 in the courts. As an attorney, I have been donating my legal services to make sure this law is upheld.
I anticipate that the Development Authority and its high-priced lawyers from a major Atlanta law firm will appeal Judge Coursey’s decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. I will be making an open records request to find out exactly how much the Development Authority is paying its lawyers to challenge HB 181 and from what source these pricey legal fees are being paid.
It would be both ironic and appalling if the county is spending your tax dollars to deny your right to vote on how your tax dollars are spent.