ATLANTA -- After being forced to cancel a referendum on a bond issue in March, Atlanta's Mayor Bill Campbell is once again seeking voter approval for about $150 million in city general obligation bonds.
Under a new proposal submitted Monday to the city council, a referendum would be set for July 19, the same day party primaries are held in Georgia, Campbell's spokesman Nick Gold said yesterday.
"The mayor feels that because of the importance of city infrastructure projects involved, the issue should be brought before voters on the earliest possible date," said Gold.
On March 8, Campbell abruptly canceled a $148.8 million GO referendum, acknowledging that his administration made errors in posting notice about the vote, which had been set for March 15.
City council committee meetings on the new measure, which was introduced by Councilwoman Davetta Johnson, could begin as early as this week, with a final vote likely by May 16, Gold said.
Although a schedule of the projects to be funded with the proceeds has not yet been completed, Gold said he expects it to be similar, if not identical, to a $148.8 million list drafted in February. That list allocated $78 million for roads, bridges, and viaducts; $54.8 million for stormwater drainage facilities; and $16 million for erosion and flood control.
Michael Bell, the city's chief financial officer, said yesterday that the proposed offering will not exceed $149.97 million in size, including issuance costs. He said that the bond issue is expected to fund about $148 million in projects.
Campbell's decision to cancel the March referendum followed a state court ruling that found in favor of a taxpayer's association that had filed suit challenging the financing. On March 3, Georgia Superior Court Judge George B. Culpepper 3d ruled that the city had violated state law by misstating facts about the proposed borrowing in printed notices announcing the vote.
Because of the violations, Culpepper said, Atlanta cannot sell the debt unless allowed to do so by a higher court. But the judge said he would permit the referendum to be held, pending appeal.
Campbell said at the time that he would appeal Culpepper's decision on the sale and proceed with the referendum.
However, shortly after the ruling, Campbell decided to cancel the referendum anyway. The mayor's decision followed revelations of yet another city error in filing for the referendum: The city had announced the debt would mature over a 35-year period, whereas Georgia law does not permit GO issues to extend beyond 30 years.
Robert Proctor, attorney for the plaintiffs in the taxpayers' lawsuit, said yesterday that he would continue to oppose the bond issue.
"I will be watching to see what the city does -- and if there are legal errors again, they will be pointed out," Proctor said. "As for the bond issue itself, I think the mayor will find that there is more opposition to it than he gives credit for."
Campbell originally proposed the borrowing plan in February, announcing that the city must find a way to fund renovation of the city's roads, bridges, and drainage facilities as it prepares to host the 1996 Summer Olympics. Two weeks later, the plan was reluctantly approved by the city council.
During hearings on the referendum, a number of council members voiced their displeasure with the prospect of higher property taxes to fund debt service. Neighborhood groups also questioned the debt plan, insisting that more time is needed to set a priority order of projects.
But in the final weeks before the project, Campbell had led a spirited campaign to bolster public support for the bonds. As part of the effort, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce raised about $120,000 to promote the referendum.