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More than 15 unincorporated DeKalb neighborhoods and civic organizations were present. Most neighborhoods are still considering their options related to joining the City of BriarLake (new moniker for combined Lakeside and Briarcliff efforts), the City of Atlanta or remaining (at least for the time being) as unincorporated DeKalb. The purpose of this meeting was to begin to understand the City of Atlanta option. We thank Druid Hills Civic Association for including nearby neighborhoods in their discussions related to this option!
Alex Wan, District 6 City Council Member was present. He indicated that the City of Atlanta would welcome annexing neighborhoods in our area; however, they are not driving the initiative or pursuing annexation. Rather, each the neighborhood should poll residents and pursue options accordingly. One unfortunate fact is that if certain neighborhoods chose not to join Atlanta, other neighborhoods would not be able to join because they would not be contiguous thereto. The City would be gaining property tax revenue and incurring additional expense by adding to its boundaries. The financial implications are not significant nor a driving factor to the City of Atlanta. Rather, Atlanta is interested in growing in general to continue to have influence in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.
See the end of these notes for an important discussion of the timing required for our neighborhoods to have a voice in the cityhood process. City boundaries will be determined as early as November 2014 and it is critical that we make our voices heard over the coming months.
Specific Issues Discussed:
While many feel that schools are the most important factor in this decision, uncertainty remains on this issue. Historically, children annexed into the City of Atlanta schools have become Atlanta Public School (APS) students. The Atlanta schools that our children would attend are some of the best performing in the district. However, the schools in the area, Mary Lin Elementary, Morningside Elementary, Springdale Park Elementary, Inman Middle and Grady High, would not have enough capacity to absorb all of the neighborhoods considering Atlanta annexation. One potential and likely path is for our children to become APS students, but for Atlanta to contract with DeKalb County to educate them. This situation occurred with a portion of Hall County when it was annexed into Gainesville. Effectively, the status quo would remain. Over time, however, there is a possibility that some of the schools currently in DeKalb County could themselves move to the APS system. It is important to note however, that many more students attend the DeKalb schools in question than the children of the neighborhoods currently considering annexation into Atlanta. Further, school facilities are owned by the Board of Education and any proposed transfer of school property must be agree upon by the respective boards of education.
Questions regarding education will not be resolved prior to voting on new city boundaries.
Atlanta Financial Health
In 2009, the City of Atlanta was in a weak financial position. Cash reserves had dropped to $7 million. Since that time, the city has been increasing services and has actually had a slight reduction in property taxes. Yet cash reserves have increased to $130 million. The Atlanta government is now leaner and focused on fiscal prudence and performance management. Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s recently gave the City a 3 Level upgrade. A 3 level upgrade is extremely rare; typically, ratings are increased one level at a time.
The City is currently in the process of securing a $250 to $300 million bond to provide infrastructure enhancements. The focus will be on roads, bridges, sidewalks, and fire and police stations. Specific projects will be voted on in March of 2015. While neighborhoods currently considering annexation would not be included in the initial project list as annexation would not yet have occurred, up to another $50 million annually is being planned for infrastructure maintenance and new neighborhoods would be included in ongoing projects. The City is not raising taxes to cover the debt re-payments, but rather is finding savings in other areas, including pension changes, operational changes and competitive sourcing of contract bids.
Other top City of Atlanta priorities include transit and sewage improvements. See the following article discussing the City’s 13 year extension for making federally mandated sewage improvements. Many of the larger sewage projects have already been completed, but smaller ones remain. http://www.ajc.com/news/news/atlanta-gets-13-year-extension-for-mandatory-sewer/nSGRq/
While additional details were not discussed in this meeting, the following document provides more information on the City of Atlanta’s finances and focus. http://druidhills.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/atlanta-presentation-to-the-druid-hills-civic-association.pdf
See the following website and select the link named “tax-comparison-spreadsheet” for an interactive tool to estimate how a specific home’s taxes would be impacted by a move from unincorporated DeKalb to the City of Atlanta.
DeKalb County would continue to appraise homes even if the neighborhoods are annexed into Atlanta. While only an estimate, the calculation seems to reflect that an increase in taxes is not as extreme as many people have expected. Examples for property owners with a standard homestead exemption and the HOST credit follow:
The tax analysis incorporates the DeKalb HOST credit in its current state. There is a risk that the current HOST credit will need to be re-calibrated over time and that County taxes will increase as a result. The HOST credit is a 1% sales tax, at least 80% of which is designated to reducing property tax. The property tax reductions relate to the county portion of the tax bill, but not the school and city portions of property tax. Details of the HOST credit were not discussed in length at the meeting; however, the below additional insight is provided from the Druid Hill website at this link:
The reasons for the differences in costs (taxes) may be surprising. The difference is not because city residents pay a tax on top of what unincorporated residents pay. Nor does the slight variation millage rates explain the difference in costs. As you will see in the spreadsheet, the differences in taxes are directly related to
the HOST credit which is unique to DeKalb County. (HOST = Homestead Optional Sales Tax)
At this time the HOST credit keeps DeKalb’s effective tax rate competitive with other governments in metro Atlanta. However, HOST is fraught with problems. The distribution formula for capital projects among the County and cities is completely broken. Dunwoody receives $103 per capita for capital improvements, unincorporated DeKalb receives $21 per capita and Lithonia receives $1 per capita. HOST has not proven to be an adequate source of revenue for capital improvements and DeKalb is vastly underfunded for road resurfacing, sidewalk construction, intersection improvements and maintaining parks and libraries. Gwinnet and Cobb use 100% of their local sales tax penny for capital improvements but HOST only allows DeKalb to spend 20% on capital projects. The deferred maintenance of sidewalks, roads and public buildings continues to grow. There are over 400 miles of roads that need resurfacing in DeKalb, but only 40 miles will be resurfaced this year. In all likelihood, the General Assembly will need to rewrite the HOST legislation in the next few years to address the shortage of capital funding. There are no assurances that HOST will continue to provide the tax relief it currently offers.
Water and Sanitation
Atlanta has one of the highest water rates in the country. Households pay approximately $585 annually for sanitation while DeKalb county residents pay only $265. However, even if annexed into Atlanta, residents would continue to pay DeKalb County for sanitation rather than the City of Atlanta. The City and County could negotiate to change this, but the City of Atlanta would need to take on DeKalb sewage assets for this to happen. The City of Atlanta has no desire to own assets within the DeKalb’s water system, as it is currently under a federal consent decree to make needed improvements.
Atlanta has approximately 2,000 police and a population of approximately 440,000. DeKalb County has approximately 1,200 police and a population of 700,000.
Zoning and Representation
The Atlanta NPU (neighborhood planning unit) system was discussed. See previous LLCC article posted earlier in August on the topic.
Paths to Annexation
Time is of the essence! Alex Wan noted that most of the DeKalb city boundary issues would be made as early as November of this year. It is critical that the impacted neighborhoods quickly educate and poll its residents so that our voice is considered before the new city lines are drawn. In fact, on August 27th, State Rep Mike Jacobs R-Brookhaven and District 79 State Rep Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody with a directive from the State House Governmental Affairs Committee, met with Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker cityhood proponents. These representatives advised that the DeKalb cityhood proponents have until November 15th to come up with mutual agreement on city boundary lines or Committee Chairwoman Amy Carter will appoint a panel of five state House members to do so. To put it lightly, having two republican legislators who don’t represent any of the neighborhoods in question in the driver’s seat potentially making back door deals regarding our future is not ideal. See the press release related to this announcement here: http://neighbornewspapers.com/bookmark/25680419-House-committee-gives-instructions-to-DeKalb-cityhood-proponents
To get involved, please contact a board member of your neighborhood association.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles intended to provide information for those considering becoming part of a newly incorporated City of Lakeside or annexation into the City of Atlanta in west-central DeKalb County. Information presented herein in no way represents an endorsement of either scenario by Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition Inc.By Darian Bilski
As neighbors consider joining the City of Lakeside or the City of Atlanta, one issue to consider is the level of representation the citizens will have in each jurisdiction and the mechanism through which citizens make their voice heard.
The City of Atlanta has 12 districts each with its own city council member and three members at large. District Six, represented by Alex Wan, is closest to Woodland Hills, Druid Hills, LaVista Park and the other neighborhoods currently investigating cityhood in either Atlanta or Lakeside.
The City of Atlanta has a defined system, the Neighborhood Planning Units (“NPUs,”) through which residents express opinions on a variety of local issues. With respect to zoning and development, developers must start their development discussions at the NPU level prior to moving to the City Zoning stage of the process. While NPUs do not have final say on development and zoning issues, often, many issues are resolved at the NPU level in a manner that is approved by the neighborhoods.
The number of citizens represented per elected official in the City of Lakeside would be drastically reduced from the number of citizens represented per elected official in DeKalb County. This factor brings government closer to the people and results in more local control over city services than within current DeKalb County.
The City of Lakeside is evaluation the NPU system to determine if that system makes sense for its residents. Lakeside has zoning attorneys, city planners and experienced community members who have volunteered to explore options.
Note that because Atlanta is an established city, more information is readily available regarding this topic as well as most topics under consideration.
Additional information follows:
CITY OF LAKESIDE
The DeKalb County government oversees approximately 700,000 whereas a local Lakeside board would representing 50-60 thousand people in the area. Currently a DeKalb county commissioner represents approximately 130,000 people and 54 sq. miles. A city of approximately 60,000 residents could potentially have 5-6 commissioners, who live in the community and represent fewer citizens, thus bringing government closer to the people and resulting in more local control over city services.
One few related benefits of cityhood per the Lakeside City Alliance webpage follow:
CITY OF ATLANTA
What is a Neighborhood Planning Unit?
The City of Atlanta is divided into twenty-five Neighborhood Planning Units or NPUs, which are citizen advisory councils that make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council on zoning, land use, and other planning issues. The NPU system was established in 1974 to provide an opportunity for citizens to participate actively in the Comprehensive Development Plan, which is the city’s vision for the next five, ten, and fifteen years. It is also used as a way for citizens to receive information concerning all functions of city government. The system enables citizens to express ideas and comment on city plans and proposals while assisting the city in developing plans that best meet the needs of their communities.
The system was established in 1974 by Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson. His aim was to ensure that citizens, particularly those who had been historically disenfranchised, would be in a position to comment on the structure of their communities, and to ensure that the citizens would not have this ability stripped of them by politicians who found an involved and engaged public inconvenient. Mayor Jackson had the NPU System placed within the City Charter, which can only be changed by the Georgia Legislature. That same section of the Charter also contains the Office of the Mayor as well as the Atlanta City Council.
Structure and Operations
There are 25 NPUs, lettered from A to Z, except U. Each NPU represents the citizens in a specified geographic area. Each NPU meets once a month to review applications for rezoning properties, varying existing zoning ordinances for certain properties, applications for liquor licenses, applications for festivals and parades, any changes to fees charged by the City, any changes to the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan, and any amendments to the City’s Zoning Ordinances. Once an NPU has voted on an item, that vote is then submitted to the relevant body which makes the ultimate determination with regard to that issue as the official view of the community on a topic.
NPUs operate according to a varied set of guidelines. Each NPU is permitted to create its own bylaws and the only requirement is that once a year the bylaws are voted on and every resident and business owner is permitted to vote on those bylaws. Some NPUs permit anyone to vote while other NPUs operate in a representative governmental fashion with only elected representatives voting on the issues at hand. Given the variances of demography within the City of Atlanta, the idea that a one-size fits all system of community governance would successfully reflect each community’s view is unrealistic. Therefore, NPUs are permitted to operate as the citizens see fit.
Each NPU is assigned a City of Atlanta Planner who attends the monthly meetings. Planners are charged with recording official votes, responding to questions about issues of Land Use & Zoning, to present the various items that are sent by the City government for NPU review, and to assure that meetings are reasonably orderly and moderately democratic. The NPUs are staffed entirely by citizen volunteers who receive no compensation for their efforts. NPUs are not given any funding by the City for supplies or other needs.
Each NPU sends a representative to the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board, which is a city-wide entity that was created contemporaneously with the NPU System. The Board addresses issues of city-wide concern and sends its recommendations to the City Council and/or the Mayor depending on the issue being addressed. The Board makes various appointments to City Commissions and Boards on behalf of the citizens.
The Atlanta City Council Mission The City Council is the chief policy making body for the City of Atlanta. The Council’s mission is to ensure that Atlanta is led by a groundbreaking, strong, and capable group of leaders that work for the good of all citizens across the city. As a legislative body, the council’s main role is to make laws. In addition, the Council has oversight of multiple agencies, boards, and commissions. The Atlanta City Council is comprised of 15 members and is led by Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell. Each member of the Atlanta City Council tirelessly works to improve the lives of Atlanta’s citizens. Together, they work to ensure safer and cleaner streets, bolster Atlanta’s economy, and institute many community-based programs. Working hand in hand with Atlanta’s mayor and the members of the executive branch, the Council plays a key part in the budget process and financial wellbeing of Atlanta.
Making Laws for the City of Atlanta/ How City Council Works As the legislative branch, the Council is responsible for the creation of laws enacted to run the city government. Legislation can be introduced in two ways. The first way is that it be introduced on the floor of Council by a Councilmember. This is known as a personal paper. The other way is that the legislation can come through a committee. Here in the City of Atlanta, legislation takes two forms — ordinances and resolutions. An ordinance establishes a permanent rule of government. Every official act of the Council, operating with force and effect of law, must be an ordinance. Ordinances must be read before full Council at two regular meetings. Resolutions express intent or support of various projects and enterprises or establish legislative policy of a general nature. Resolutions, unlike ordinances, need be read only once and can be introduced and adopted at the same meeting. In some cases, the Council is required by law to hold a public hearing and must notify the public about the hearing.
Government Oversight In addition to legislation, the Atlanta City Council works hard to ensure that city government works for its citizens. Through the various Council Committees the council assesses various government programs and agencies. Each year, the Council is in charge of holding budget hearings in which the City’s budget, recommended by the Mayor, is strictly reviewed prior to being voted on by the Council.
July 27, 2014
Darian Bilski, Woodland Hills Resident
Editor’s Note: This article was recently circulated in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. With Darian Bilski’s permission, some of her original text has been edited to reflect the most recent developments in the rapidly changing issue.
During the 2014 legislative session three groups – Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker – pushed for incorporation of a new city in north DeKalb County. If the Legislature had approved those bills, the cityhood question would’ve been placed on the ballot in 2014. The bills for those cities didn’t pass because of a shorter-than-usual legislative session due to the new elections calendar. The maps for each of the cities overlapped, creating competition among the three groups. It would be easier to pass a bill for the combined cities of Briarcliff and Lakeside in 2015, assuming the two groups decide to stick together.(From http://www.decaturish.com/2014/07/briarclifflakeside-join-forces/)
According to the following Briarcliff and Lakeside Joint Statement issued July 3, 2014, the joint Briarcliff / Lakeside city would respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration. Therefore competing interests would be eliminated. Furthermore, if City of Briarcliff and Lakeside join forces, the bills would then have both republican (Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar) and democratic
(Representative Oliver) support. This fact also increases the likelihood that the joint city would pass the legislative hurdles.
There is no name yet for the combined Lakeside / Briarcliff City; however, a name change is possible. For purposes of this summary document, the new city will be called Lakeside / Briarcliff. The final map has not yet been defined as the cityhood initiatives are in the process of soliciting community input. The final city map will likely be larger than Lakeside’s final map, but smaller than Briarcliff’s final map.
While the financial studies conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia (“The CVI”) analyzed the prior City of Lakeside and City of Briarcliff plans separately, there is general agreement that the combined city will also be financially viable without a need for an increase in property taxes. The CVI has a track record of reliable, conservative predictions for the studies it has performed for other cities. For example, CVI estimated that revenues for a city of Dunwoody would be $18,777,904. In its first full fiscal year in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual revenues turned out to be$18,394,942, or 2.0% less than CVI estimated. In the same study, CVI also predicted that Dunwoody’s total operating expenditures would be$15,571,573; in 2009, Dunwoody’s actual operating expenditures turned out to be $13,823,811, or 11% less than CVI estimated.
Local Neighborhood Issues and Decisions Residents Must Make
The questions that LLCC Residents Must Currently Consider are:
Briarcliff and Lakeside Present Joint Statement to DeKalb County Operations Task ForceAtlanta, GA (PRLog), July 3, 2014 — Two DeKalb County cityhood groups, The City of Briarcliff Initiative, and Lakeside Yes read a joint statement before the DeKalb County Operations Task Force (OTF) on Tuesday, July 2, at the Maloof Auditorium. The Operations Task Force was created by Interim CEO Lee May and is charged with making recommendations that can be forwarded to the Georgia General Assembly by December 2014.The prepared statement from the July 2nd meeting reads:She continues, “Both of our groups presented maps during the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. However, because our current maps overlap, Lakeside and Briarcliff have agreed to collaborate with the goal of creating a unified map free of overlapping areas and respecting existing city borders and future annexation plans. We respect the compromise map between Tucker and Lakeside as the starting point of this collaboration, and we respect the inclusive approach of the Briarcliff map. We will continue to work with our sponsors, Representative Jacobs and Senator Millar, residents and business owners in our community to reach the goal of local control and governance for this community. We invite the advocates of the city of Tucker to join with us so that we can present two cities with a clear path to cityhood prior to the 2015 session of the General Assembly.”He continues, “We seek to unite, rather than divide, to improve government operations not just in our region of DeKalb but in the entire county. The residents of unincorporated DeKalb deserve, and with respect we demand, the opportunity to form new cities that will become destinations where business and families can flourish. The time has come for us all to cooperate, north and south, inside the perimeter and outside, city advocates and county officials. We all share DeKalb County, and we all know the challenges we face. Cities are an important part of the solution.” He concludes, “We welcome your questions and your suggestions.”
Pros and cons of incorporation (cityhood) (Pros and cons of cityhood are considered herein; however, it is important to keep in mind that remaining unincorporated may only be a short term solution if all unincorporated areas become municipalized in the future.)
What are the benefits to becoming a city?
What are the risks to becoming a city?
What’s the process of becoming a city?
What are the proposed services, what will it cost?
Initially, the City of Lakeside proposed the following services, based on interest and feedback from the community:
After incorporation: Can the City pick up additional services from the CountyWouldn’t a new city just be another layer of government? Will my property taxes increase?
Dunwoody Tax Comparison / Additional Tax Considerations What is the relationship between a city and a county with regards to school districts and zoning? Will a new city have its own school district? What impact will the passage of the proposed City of DeKalb have?
City of Atlanta Annexation Option PROS (from Carl Larson, druidhills.org http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-atlanta-annexation-initiative/. Carl is a proponent of Druid Hills being annexed by Atlanta):Atlanta is a city that has reinvented and reinvigorated itself. Here are some key points regarding the positives to annexation with Atlanta:
City of Atlanta Annexation Option CONS: (See comments of John Frost Murlin: http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexationoptions/city-of-briarcliff-initiative/. John is a proponent of Druid Hills becoming a part of the new DeKalb City.)
When officials from the Briarcliff and Lakeside cityhood initiatives announced at the July 2 DeKalb Government Operations Task Force meeting that they were joining forces – “dating” (not married or engaged) in the words of Lakeside Chairwoman Mary Kay Woodworth – there was little detail about how the relationship would unfold. The couple’s first date was an awkward one as representatives from the merged cityhood movements spoke at the July 9 Lindbergh-LaVista Corridor Coalition (LLCC) meeting.
To carry the analogy further, it was basically The Breakfast Club – enemies thrown together in a social setting and warily talking out their differences to find common ground. Whether this will end with someone fist-pumping the air to “Don’t You Forget About Me” remains to be seen, but what is certain is that if the partnership between Briarcliff and Lakeside holds, those names will disappear and a new one will be chosen to represent the merged north DeKalb County territory. It also means going back to the drawing board and creating a new map.
Read more at Atlanta InTown:
By Mark Niesse
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
I feel extremely fortunate to live in what I believe to be one of the most culturally diverse communities in Metro Atlanta. Several years ago many of us got together to see how we could harness this diverse populace and its unusual energy to better the lives of everyone within our “borders”.
We established a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation called the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition. We then applied for and were awarded a $50,000 grant by The Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Tech to study the three neighborhoods that make up our coalition: LaVista Park, Lindridge-Martin Manor, and Woodland Hills.
During this study we discovered many things about ourselves that we didn’t know. The estimated population of this community was in excess of 10,000 people! That’s larger than many small towns in South Georgia.
About 20% of those people are Hispanic. We also discovered that within our local elementary school, there were 23 different languages being spoken. This Hispanic population was right under our noses, but since they were concentrated in two or three “pockets”, many of us overlooked them. We began to ask ourselves how could we reach out to this large segment of people and make them more a part of our community. We recognized that there were large cultural and language barriers.
With another grant from Edelman (a large multi-national PR firm), and with the financial, physical and volunteer assistance of Westminster Presbyterian Church (an LLCC member organization that contributed as much money to this effort as some churches in Raleigh did to deny people their rights), and the cooperation of the Mexican Consulate General (also located in our community), we established a Hispanic English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. In addition to teaching students to read and speak English, the local branch manager of Regions Bank (an LLCC member) came to instruct people how to use banks and write checks, local EMTs came to teach CPR, two local police precincts sent officers to talk about community policing, and dietitians came to talk about nutrition, health and cooking. One evening a week we sponsored soccer games on the athletic field at the church so the fathers could spend quality time with their families.
This Hispanic population was very timid at first, unsure of what our true motives were. They were particularly skeptical of the police officers. We knew that many of them were “illegals,” but we never asked that question of them. It was our goal to include these people in our community, not run them away.
When the school district within the city limits of Atlanta was planning a realignment of attendance zones that would have a tremendous impact of these folks, we hosted community meetings where folks could express their concerns and ask questions. Let me tell you, these people “truly care” about the education of their children! These meetings had the largest attendance of any meetings that we’ve had! It thrilled my heart to see this kind of participation from a once marginalized population.
There are those who say that we don’t owe illegals anything and that they don’t belong here. I disagree. Not only did we owe these people the opportunity to become part of our community, we owe it to ourselves. Otherwise, we would be cutting ourselves off from the vast amount of talent, energy and cultural heritage that makes our community so special.
The current proposal for Briarcliff and LaVista is at a standstill, the county is working on a concept to improve the intersection, but there are some objections by the commissioners to making the intersection any bigger.
Among the constraints, the church on the corner, Peachtree Baptist Church, is historic and cannot be altered, and the Whole Foods retaining wall is also immovable.
The commissioners inquired if the intersection could be converted to a roundabout, but the available space is not adequate for a large roundabout.
GDOT has set aside some money to improve the intersection, but the commissioners are not supportive of this current concept, so it is not moving forward.
The county would welcome any creative ideas for improvements that make the intersection flow better AND be more pedestrian friendly which Mr. Pelton believes is the commissioners’ point of view (hence the roundabout idea).
Click HERE to see the current concept drawing.