Most Residents at Meeting Unsure About Cityhood

By Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch
About 100 people showed up at Oak Grove United Methodist Church on Monday to listen to several local politicos talk about what it would take to start a city in DeKalb County.
The vast majority of residents at a Monday meeting to learn about cityhood in northern DeKalb County said they were unsure they wanted to be part of a new city.
And everyone was even less sure about where another new city might be.
In what was billed as an information-only session hosted by the Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, the vast majority of 100 or so residents raised their hands to indicate they were unsure about cityhood. Only a small number showed they favored or disliked the idea.
Fran Millar, DeKalb County’s sole Republican state senator; Tom Taylor, a DeKalb state represenatative, and Dan Weber, a former state senator in DeKalb, spent roughly 90 minutes talking with residents about cityhood in the county. They spoke about everything from the necessary $30,000 cost of a study to determine a future city’s feasability to the different services a city can offer. (Peachtree Corners, for instance, is “city-light,” which means it exists almost solely to give its residents control over code enforcement and zoning and doesn’t offer much in the way of tangible services.)
No boundaries for a city were discussed. After the meeting it wasn’t clear who wanted a city, where that movement might start and what communities it might include. It was obvious that Monday’s meeting was the very beginning of a difficult process that might seek to organize swaths of residents and communities into a collective enterprise. But, this area, the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area (or the Lakeside-Emory-Northlake area or whatever else you choose to call it), has existed for so long officially as unincorporated DeKalb County.
One resident, a marketing executive, said one of the most important questions that needs to be answered is, at its heart, about branding: “Where do we live right now?”
It’s a question that doesn’t appear to have vexed the many residents who have organized into nearby cities recently such as Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, areas that arguably had clearer identities before they became cities.
But Millar, of Dunwoody, said it was important to look at what residents could get out of cityhood.
“When I think of North Druid Hills, this area, I think of preservation. I think of zoning,” he said. “When something goes wrong, you’ve got someone down the street you can complain to.”
Millar, Taylor and Weber also sought to dispel assumptions about cityhood – things that might drive some residents to want it in the wrong way. For instance:

  • The chances of a city getting its own school district are almost nill, Taylor said. No matter what, most of your property taxes will still continue to go to the DeKalb County School System.
  • Starting a city doesn’t mean you’re seceding from the county. You will most likely continue to pay for some county services such as water and sewer and garbage collection. About 80 percent of tax revenues will continue to go to the county, Millar said: “When cities are created, people are still part of Dekalb County.”
  • It’s a difficult battle and a slog of a process. And if you can get cityhood approved by the legislature, the residents still have to vote in favor of it.

All of this is also separate from a movement to create a City of DeKalb, which is the subject of a study committee in the legislature. Millar said he thinks it’s nearly impossible that would happen, and no legislation proposing it would make it off the floor of the House or Senate.
A number of residents expressed frustration that the meeting had no one speaking against cityhood. Although Jeff Rader, DeKalb County’s District 2 commissioner who has spoken against cityhood before, was at the meeting, he left early before making any remarks.
“You have shown us quite simply that you’re all pro-city,” one  resident shouted as a woman explained that any new city needs a  significant amount of commercial or industrial property to finance a  city without over-taxing residents. “Let’s move on to another question.”
Kevin Levitas, a former DeKalb state represenative who represented Briarcliff Woods, said at the next meeting he organizes, speakers opposing cityhood would be invited to speak. He said he was shooting for Nov. 29 as a tentative date.
No packets or heavily detailed information about cityhood was handed out. Millar, Taylor and Weber offered mostly anecdotes and general reflections on what it took to get cities started in Dunwoody and Brookhaven. Millar, for instance, said Dunwoody had 90 days to organize a police force for the city, once voted approved it – a Georgia record, he said.
“Even when these cities are created, they still have warts, believe me,” he said.
Another resident said everyone in the room needed to consider the idea for themselves and not be pushed by state legislators.
“There’s a lot of great reasons to have a city. But if you want to start a city, the leadership needs to come from you, not from state legislators,” he said.
But that sort of leadership hasn’t emerged yet.
“We don’t need to know how to [become a city] until we know why to do it,” another resident said.
What is your take on this movement? Add your comment below.
For more information, check out these links:
http://northdruidhills.patch.com//articles/curious-residents-ponder-cityhood-in-oak-grove
http://northdekalbcity.blogspot.com/
http://theotherbrookhaven.blogspot.com/

Residents to get say on Brookhaven at Capitol

By  April Hunt
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Both opponents and supporters of carving a new city out of north-central DeKalb County will argue time is on their side when residents get their say for two hours under the Gold Dome on Tuesday.
A state House committee that must recommend whether the Legislature allows a vote this year on Brookhaven is holding its first of two hearings, to get general input on the idea.
Supporters, who want lower property taxes, will argue that the time is right for a vote this summer. Opponents, including those who have signed petitions against Brookhaven, are expected to ask for more time to thoroughly vet the city.
“Regardless of viewpoint, I want to ensure the process is open and allows for every viewpoint to be presented,” said Government Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming.
Members of the cityhood advocacy group, Brookhaven Yes, think they will have no trouble convincing their neighbors to vote for more local control.
Group president J. Max Davis II, an attorney and namesake son of a late conservative state representative who touted that he never voted for a tax increase, said many DeKalb residents already feel the county is too bloated.
Those in Brookhaven want to reinforce that idea by voting for cityhood, he said. But the first goal is convincing lawmakers to allow the July 31 referendum.
“Our motto is ‘better services, lower taxes,’ but before we can discuss why we think we can do a better job of spending our money than the county, we have to get the right to vote,” Davis said.
The DeKalb County government, meanwhile, is officially lobbying for any vote to be delayed, so that more time could be spent studying what losing Brookhaven would mean for county coffers.
The county lost $20 million in revenue when Dunwoody incorporated in 2008, and Brookhaven is expected to cost the county at least $22 million, according to county estimates.
More than 500 residents have signed petitions also asking to slow down a process they believe has been rushed. A group formally opposing the city, called Ashford Neighbors, circulated the petitions.
Eddie Ehlert is among the Ashford Park residents who plans to call for a delay, though he would prefer the idea be killed altogether.
Ehlert said there hasn’t been enough transparency about one goal he sees for the city: to undermine county control of a 63-acre tract of hardwoods just across Clairmont Road from the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
The land is now a runway protection zone owned by the Federal Aviation Administration and county, shielding residents from noise and fumes from airplanes in the area. Ehlert, who is political chairman of the Sierra Club Georiga, worries that developers supporting Brookhaven actually want that land for a big project.
“We cannot possibly support a police department without needing more taxable land, but there hasn’t been any notion that we’re going to leave that property alone,” he said. “There hasn’t been enough time to really look into that.”
Creating DeKalb’s second new city, and the sixth in the metro area since 2005, was first raised in the last days of the Legislature last year. State rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican who represents the area, said he filed a bill for the city after hearing from residents who wanted a local, not county, government.
A study by University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute for Government released in November concluded Brookhaven could provide services comparable to those provided by DeKalb, with no tax increase.
Even residents who liked the idea of a new city complained, though, that the study called for the same 6.39 mills that residents there now pay for county special district services.
Earlier this year, Jacobs revised the proposal for Brookhaven. He lowered the tax rate to 3.35 mills – or about the same rate residents paid before the county raised taxes last year.
“By rolling that back, we are able to deliver a property tax decrease from DeKalb’s tax increase and still end with a projected $261,000 surplus,” Jacobs said of the proposed $25 million budget for the city of about 50,000 people.
Whether the timing works remains to be seen. The hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday in room 341 of the state Capitol.