Posts filed under ‘Education’

Druid Hills Civic Association Sponsored Meeting for Neighborhoods to Discuss Annexation

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:

Schools

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

Taxes

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.

http://druidhills.org/cityhood-annexation-options/city-of-atlanta-annexation initiative/

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:

 

House Appraisal

40% Value

DeKalb Savings

CoA Savings

$200,000

$80,000

 

$173

$300,000

$120,000

$81

 

$400,000

$160,000

$336

 

$500,000

$200,000

$590

 

$600,000

$240,000

$844

 

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:

http://druidhills.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/annexation-briefing-paper-on-taxes.pdf

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.

Police

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

  1. Referendum:  Requires the state legislature to pass a referendum to annex a particular area. 50% of voters plus one would need to support the referendum in order for it to pass. This is the likely path the neighborhoods currently considering annexation would take.
  2. 100% Principal:  For 1 single owner to be annexed into an adjacent city.
  3. Petition Method:  This method requires a signed petition from 60% of landowners and residents and is therefore almost impossible in an area the size of Woodland Hills and LaVista Park.

Timing

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.

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August 29, 2014 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

DeKalb Cityhood vs. Annexation; Information to Educate LLCC Residents

July 27, 2014

Darian Bilski

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.

Current Status

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:

  1. Do LLCC community neighborhoods want to be included in a city? (Note that even if our residents do not currently want to be included in the city options currently on the table, it is likely that we will be pulled into some future city.)
  2. Which city do LLCC neighborhoods want to be a part of? Options for discussion include, Lakeside / Briarcliff, Atlanta / a future unincorporated DeKalb City initiative.If not included in Lakeside / Briarcliff, areas like Woodland Hills and LaVista Park risk being on an “island,” unable to be serviced by DeKalb financially efficiently without cutting through city of Atlanta or Lakeside / Briarcliff. One concerning issue is the length of time it could take DeKalb police to respond to Woodland Hills and LaVista Park calls and the increase in crime that would potentially result.Emory University has advised that they do not want to be a part of City of Briarcliff or City of Lakeside, mainly because they do not want their campus divided between jurisdictions. Emory is interested in a transportation plan that will include the Clifton Corridor Transit Line and they feel that with Atlanta’s recent grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the Atlanta Street Car, financing for the Clifton Corridor Line may come easier and more quickly with the City of Atlanta’s direct federal connections. Emory is currently weighing the possibility of being annexed by Atlanta.

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.”

  1. City of Briarcliff Imitative President Allen Venet read, “We are committed to working together because we agree on almost every issue except boundaries, and boundaries can be solved. As we refine our map, we are soliciting neighborhood input, and we will work with state, county and local elected representatives of both major parties and with the existing cities of DeKalb County.”
  2. Lakeside Yes Chairman Mary Kay Woodworth read, “Lakeside YES and The City of Briarcliff Initiative appreciate the invitation to present maps to the Operations Task Force. You have received our individual working maps, but we respectfully present this joint statement in lieu of focusing on a specific map.”
  3. For months both citizens and legislators have urged the two groups to communicate and work together more. Briarcliff and Lakeside have historically shared many overlapping views of cityhood, but have differed on proposed city borders. Both groups view cityhood as an opportunity to lift up the community and improve the strength of DeKalb County.
  4. Because Emory does not want to be included in a new DeKalb city, the Druid Hills neighborhood may also effectively be cut out of Lakeside / Briarcliff because without Emory, their neighborhood is no longer contiguous with the new city boundaries. Many people in Druid Hills have advised the City of Briarcliff initiative that after the DeKalb County Board of Education voted down the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, they are now considering what the City of Atlanta has to offer them. However, many Druid Hills neighbors are still interested in becoming a part of Lakeside / Briarcliff.
  5. There has been discussion of the possibility of Woodland Hills and LaVista Park being annexed into the City of Atlanta. The City of Atlanta is not obligated to annex either neighborhood, even if it is left as an isolated island within DeKalb County. There is also not an active push by our residents to be annexed by Atlanta. Therefore, if this option warrants serious consideration, immediate dialogue should be initiated. See the end of this document for a discussion of this option based on comments and research from Druid Hills’ residents.
  6. Interim CEO Lee May attended a Woodland Hills neighborhood meeting on July 24, 2014 and expressed his opinion that all of DeKalb County will be municipalized (no more unincorporated areas), having all areas flow into a new city, or be annexed into an existing city. He stated that while he was not necessarily an advocate of the cityhood movement, it is a reality and he would want all citizens to have a say in which city they join. There is already discussion of other cities being planned in the southern part of the county, which also has a lot of unincorporated land.

Additional Information from the Lakeside City Alliance Website: http://lakesidecityalliance.org/

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?

  1. A government closer to people and more responsive to their needs. 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.
  2. More control over land use (zoning) and development to decide on things like new subdivisions, teardowns, construction, nightclubs, apartments, strips malls and other uses.
  3. Mechanism to revitalize residential and commercial areas, parks and common areas.
  4. To efficiently manage our tax dollars.
  5. Tax equity. More local dollars spent locally.
  6. Improved community identity and quality of life.
  7. Advocates – elected officials and city staff — to improve quality of life. Many incorporated cities have a downtown development authority and economic development professionals on staff. Staff could work for the benefit of the city, including the collection of state and federal grants.
  8. Safer neighborhoods.

What are the risks to becoming a city?

  1. Requires a grassroots effort with a tremendous volunteer movement and popular support
  2. Must provide evidence to state legislature of financial feasibility, by funding a professional study, such as one written by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which can cost upwards of $30,000.
  3. No action leaves unincorporated area as is for the short term.
  4. County is currently experienced in providing services and new city would have no experience. Therefore there is risk that the services may not be provided more efficiently or better under a new city government.
  5. Without infrastructure, city would have to hire 3rd party, as Sandy Springs did, to take over services.
  6. Without cash in the bank, the new city would have to finance initial operations through startup financing.
  7. Unknown government entity (and officials)
  8. Budget and Revenue estimates are projected, not tested

What’s the process of becoming a city?

  1. Define our community. As some have asked, “who are we?”
  2. Define the boundaries of a proposed city boundary.
  3. Obtain community input and make adjustments to these definitions as necessary.
  4. Request that our elected officials introduce legislation (a placeholder bill in year one) to create a new city since only the General Assembly can provide authorization to create new cities.
  5. Commission a feasibility study of the defined area. Is there a sustainable balance of commercial and residential property to fund a city without raising property taxes?
  6. If it is economically feasible and the community desires to move forward, during legislative year two, legislators will discuss the bill and vote on it. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, hold a vote in our community on whether the new city should be formed.
  7. If voters approve the ballot, hold elections to seat government officials, and a transition committee would be appointed by the Governor to help the local government get up and running.
  8. The initial & ongoing operation of the local government on the date set in the bill creating the new city.There is a list of services mandated by Georgia law, and cities must provide provides at least three of the following services, either directly or by contract – O.C.G.A. § 36-30-7.1 (b)

What are the proposed services, what will it cost?

  1. Law enforcement;
  2. Fire protection (which may be furnished by a volunteer fire force) and fire safety;
  3. Road and street construction or maintenance;
  4. Solid waste management;
  5. Water supply or distribution or both;
  6. Waste-water treatment;
  7. Storm-water collection and disposal;
  8. Electric or gas utility services;
  9. Enforcement of building, housing, plumbing, and electrical codes and other similar codes;
  10. Planning and zoning; and 11. Recreational facilities.

Initially, the City of Lakeside proposed the following services, based on interest and feedback from the community:

  • Public Safety and Code Enforcement: Includes police services as well as zoning and land use violations (but not zoning or land use policy issues). Items such as creating an accredited police department and providing emergency services, traffic control, criminal investigation and public safety education and outreach are included.
  • Public works: Includes determining what services can be more efficiently and effectively provided, such as lighting, sidewalks, roadwork, street lights and drainage services.
  • Planning, Land Use and Zoning: Includes developing and enforcing regulations that govern how the city of Lakeside’s land is used.
  • Parks and Recreation: Includes inventorying current and potential parks and green spaces and creating a comprehensive development and maintenance plan.
  • All other services would continue to be provided by DeKalb County.

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?

  • Forming a new city does not result in adding new taxes to your property tax bill. In fact, under the proposed city of Lakeside legislation (SB 270), property taxes would decrease for property owners compared with the taxes paid by residents living in unincorporated DeKalb County. The tax money used to provide services in the area of the proposed City of Lakeside comes from the taxes residents already pay to the county. The city of Lakeside proposes to provide services in a more cost-efficient and effective way for its residents with greater local control, using the funds which will be shifted from DeKalb County to the new city. Thus, instead of a new tax, a portion of your county property tax revenue simply is shifted from the county to the city. This shift would be reflected in two of the existing “line items” (or sources of revenue) which appear on your property tax bill. They are:
  • No, it would be a shift of certain responsibilities from the county government overseeing 700,000 to a local board representing 50-60 thousand people in this area. The resulting representation would be more direct with more accessible officials who live, work and play in our own community.
  • The city can elect to pick up additional services from the County at any time in the future. A vote from the city residents for additional services is not required except to the extent that providing additional services requires a millage rate increase, which the voters would have to approve. (This is true as of the currently proposed version of Lakeside City Charter.) County consent is not required for the city to provide additional services otherwise authorized by Georgia law.
  • People want more police officers and quicker response times in our area. They want the assurance that existing ordinances will be enforced in order to preserve neighborhood integrity, encourage community pride and protect the public’s health and well-being. They want greater control over zoning decisions so that development occurs in a thoughtful manner and so that development that does not fit with our community’s vision of itself does not materialize seemingly overnight as some nightclubs have. People also want to have well-developed and wellmaintained public spaces where people can walk, where kids can play and where pets can be outdoor. The goal would be to provide better and more efficient services in a more financially sound manner.
  1. The “Unincorporated Tax District” (listed as “UNIC TAXDIST” on your bill) and
  2. “Police Services” (“POLICE SERVC”). Together, these two items represent the bulk of what are known as “city services” and include activities such as public safety, parks and recreation, zoning, and land use, code enforcement, etc.
  3. The charge for the services listed above (and most others listed on your property tax bill) is determined by multiplying the assessed value of your home (40% of what the county estimates your home to be worth) times a fraction known as a millage rate. A mill equals 1/1000 (or .0001), so, for example, a charge of three mills equals 3/1000 or .003. DeKalb County currently charges 4.96 mills for the Police Services and Unincorporated Tax District line items. For a home valued at $250,000, this would amount to $496:
  • Home Value = $250,000.00
  • Assessed Value = $100,000.00 ($250,000 x 40%)
  • Charge for City Services + Police Services = $ 496.00 ($100,000 Assessed Value x .00496 millage rate)(Brookhaven) is capped at 3.35. On its face, DeKalb County’s rate is 48% higher than Brookhaven’s capped rate. The actual millage rate charged by Brookhaven’s government is even less, however, 2.85 mills, making DeKalb’s rate 74% higher. (In the case of Dunwoody, the County’s millage rate is over 80% greater than the city’s charge for the same services: 2.74 mills. It is worth noting that Dunwoody is running $1-2 million annual surpluses.)

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?

  • If DeKalb County is incorporated and becomes the “City of DeKalb”, it would prevent any community in the “City of DeKalb” from incorporating.
  • Currently, there is no relationship. A city’s boundaries have NO effect on the DeKalb County School System’s attendance districts. Attendance districts will change only if DeKalb County School System redistricts. At present, our State Constitution provides that no new school system could be established in a newly created city. It is possible, however, that this could change in the future. It goes without saying, however, that no city school system could be created in our area unless a new city is formed. Note: Decatur and Marietta school systems were created before this was added to the Constitution, and therefore were grandfathered in.
  • No city should increase property taxes as long as a sustainable mix of commercial and residential property exists. Dunwoody has not raised property taxes and has still created budget surpluses of $2-3 million annually. In the view of the Lakeside Alliance, the city charter would include a provision that property taxes could not be raised without the approval of voters in a referendum. Taxes could decrease if there was a budget surplus, but it could be that taxes will simply remain at current levels. That would be a decision for the local government and voters to decide. Please see the information under “Presentations” for information about the cost of services.
  • Perhaps the most important fact to note, though, is that DeKalb can raise its millage rate simply through approval by the County Commission. By contrast, under SB 270, raising the city millage rate would require not only a vote of the city council, but also ratification by a majority of voting city residents. Thus, the creation of the City of Lakeside could yield local control over the provision of some services as well as an opportunity to target services locally to residents and business owners. It could also provide an opportunity to cap property tax rates UNLESS city of Lakeside residents vote to change them.
  • For example, the millage rate for these same services for the most recently incorporated city in DeKalb

Additional Information Primarily from the Druid Hills Association Website: http://druidhills.org/

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:

  • Atlanta has a very vibrant and diverse tax base—corporate, commercial, and residential.
  • Atlanta is home to a world-class international airport, and—to date—the busiest in the world.
  • Atlanta has, and is continuing to develop, a neighborhood feel that is very much in line with Druid Hills. This includes park and the ever-expanding Beltline—places to be outdoors, active and fostering a sense of community.
  • Druid Hills is an activist community, and taking our role as citizens of Atlanta would give us a chance to influence the emerging development of this vibrant city.
  • Last year, Atlanta had $1.5 billion in development—mixed use properties, in town housing, and business, commercial and retail. This approached pre-2008 levels, and indicates lots of optimism about the City’s future. It also grows the tax base. It is predicted that by next year, more than $2.1 billion more in investment will occur, which would be a record for the City.
  • Atlanta has a police force over double the size of DeKalb County’s force—and over a much smaller geographic area.
  • Atlanta has worked hard on its finances under Mayor Reed, and has positive and stable credit outlooks from the rating agencies.
  • Atlanta has a very good relationship with the Atlanta business community, and the latter is very involved in the directions the city is taking.
  • Atlanta and Mayor Reed have a good working relationship with state officials, including the Governor.
  • Atlanta has been effective in garnering federal dollars to help with its development.

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.)

  • Schools
  • Perception
  • Corruption
  • Potential Immediate Tax Increase (though as indicated herein, DeKalb Co taxes could also increase.)

Additional Resources:

August 10, 2014 at 11:10 am 8 comments

We Owe It to Ourselves

Henry R. Batten, LLCC President & CEO

ILLCC300x96’m usually not very good at writing stuff like this, but after a post on Facebook today from a friend from high school in Raleigh, I feel compelled to put these thoughts into writing.

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.

May 18, 2014 at 10:31 am 1 comment

Suburbs Secede from Atlanta

‘Detroit of the South’ bludgeoned by troubles

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/suburbs-secede-from-atlanta/#a2GLrG5Hub4sDTJG.99
By John T. Bennett

As Detroit – beset by violence, debt and social woes – prepares to  undergo a historic takeover by the Michigan state government, the city of  Atlanta could be sliding toward a similar fate.

Some are quietly wondering whether Atlanta is in danger of becoming “the  Detroit of the South.”

The city has experienced an ongoing succession of government scandals,  ranging from a massive cheating racket to corruption, bribery, school-board  incompetence and now the potential loss of accreditation for the local DeKalb  County school system.

For several years, problems of this sort have fueled political reforms,  including the creation of new cities in northern Atlanta suburbs. Due to the  intensification of corruption scandals in DeKalb, some state-level reform  proposals could become national news very soon.

‘Super-white majority’ cities

As a result of the unsavory politics in urban Atlanta, northern suburban  communities acted to distance themselves. Beginning in 2005, many communities  began the process of incorporating into cities.

Thus far, Milton, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, Chattahoochee Hills  and Johns Creek have done so.

These cities, after breaking away politically from urban Atlanta, have become  so successful that a libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation, has featured  Sandy Springs as a model of effective government. The  Economist has also applauded the northern Atlanta cities for solving the  problem of unfunded government pension liability and avoiding the bankruptcy  that looms over some urban areas. The new cities may soon be able to create  their own school districts, which would free them even further from the  issues besetting Atlanta.

While incorporation has been popular with residents of the new cities, not  all of Atlanta is as satisfied. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a  lawsuit in 2011 to dissolve the new cities, claiming  they were a “super-white majority” and diluting the voting power of  minorities.

A key leader in the black community and a driving force in support of the  lawsuit, who wishes to remain anonymous, bemoaned the “disturbing tendency of  black electorates to not elect the smartest and brightest, or even the  cleverest.”

Nonetheless, he believes that there is a social contract between the northern  and southern parts of the county.

“So when you allow powerful groups of citizens to opt out of a social  contract, and form their own, it may benefit the group opting out, but it hurts  the larger collective,” he said.

The lawsuit would have canceled incorporation and tied the cities back into  the very county that they purposefully left.

State Rep. Lynne Riley, a Republican who represents one of the new cities,   called the lawsuit “frivilous” and “disrespectful to the citizens of these  cities who are most satisfied with their government.”

The federal trial court rejected the lawsuit, and the court of appeals  affirmed the dismissal. However, an attorney for the Black Caucus plans to file  an   amended lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the same concerns that spurred incorporation continue to  mount.

Failing schools

DeKalb  County contributed to what the  New York Times called “the biggest standardized test cheating scandal in the  country’s history” in 2011.

Now, the county is faced with losing its regional accreditation. Losing  regional accreditation is, by any objective measure, a devastating indictment of  a school board, with severe consequences for students and families within the  district.

When nearby Clayton County, Ga., lost its regional accreditation in 2008, it  was the  first school system in the country to do so in 40 years.

The result in Clayton, according  to the Pew Foundation, was that thousands of students left county schools,  the district lost millions of dollars and hundreds of teachers were fired.

In response to the Clayton County crisis, after witnessing the fallout and  the harm to the state’s reputation, the legislature acted to prevent a repeat.  In 2011, the Georgia legislature essentially gave the governor authority to  remove board of education members when a district was placed on probation by the  accreditation agency.

Last December, DeKalb was placed on probation. Then, in January, the governor  of Georgia used his new authority and removed six members of the nine-member  DeKalb Board of Education.

This year, well after the accreditation issue broke open, DeKalb school board  elections were held. Four of nine board members were up for reelection.    Voters in one of the four districts returned their incumbent board member  for another term, despite knowing that accreditation was at risk.

This week, a federal judge sided with the governor and agreed that the six  suspended board members can be replaced. The decision places the dispute into  the Georgia Supreme Court’s purview.

As the issue looms, the mere mention of losing accreditation has impacted the  housing market in DeKalb, with at  least one potential buyer directing his realtor not to search for homes in the  county.

School leadership

Recently, at the helm of the DeKalb school system stood Crawford Lewis. The  former superintendent has been   indicted on racketeering charges.

Along with several of his associates, Lewis is accused by the DeKalb DA of  fraud, theft by a government employee, bribery and a web of racketeering. The  charges arose out of Lewis’ practice of steering lucrative government contracts  toward favored companies.

According  to the indictment, Lewis also used government funds to pay for a hotel room,  which he used as the venue for an affair. Lewis had this affair with a person  who held the position of “Executive Director of the Office of School  Improvement.”

One of the numerous complaints about the DeKalb school board was that it  voted to pay for Lewis’ legal defense. There had been a $100,000 cap on the  costs allowed for legal defense, but the school board waived it for Lewis’ benefit.

The CEO in charge

At the very top, the head of DeKalb’s government is the position of CEO. The  current CEO, Burrell Ellis, is being investigated for a list of concerns,  including alleged bid rigging. Police searched Ellis’s home and office recently,  and local  news outlets report that while no charges have been filed, search  warrants are reportedly aimed  toward potential extortion, bribery, theft, conspiracy, and wire fraud in  connection with private vendors who contract with the county.

Most recently, Ellis sought approval from the county ethics board to  establish a legal defense fund to benefit himself. The board  rebuffed the request.

A corrupt school board becomes a civil rights issue

Instead of being treated as a story about rampant, inexcusable corruption,  the school board fiasco has morphed into a civil rights issue. Atlanta’s NBC  affiliate reports that the Georgia NAACP “accused Republican Governor Nathan  Deal of being part of an alleged conspiracy to get rid of black office holders  and deprive black voters of their rights.”

State Rep. Tyrone Books pointed out that criticism of the governor needed to  include a word about black politicians who supported the governor’s removal  authority.

“How can we complain about him when we have black folks standing there  embracing the removal of black officials?” asked Brooks, D-Atlanta.

The state legislature is trying  to prevent public funds from being used in the legal defense of the ousted board  members. Because the ousted board members see their positions as a civil  rights entitlement, the attorney’s fees required for their defense will quickly  rise, unless legislation puts an end to the entitlement.

One of the suspended board members, Eugene Walker, responded  to the judge’s ruling with a familiar appeal: “Minorities should not feel  secure if contrived allegations from anonymous sources with hidden agendas can  go to private agencies and to have their civil rights stolen away.”

DeKalb has changed from majority white to majority black over the last  several decades. As  the Atlanta Journal Constitution gingerly put it: “The county’s transition  from majority white to majority minority was politically rocky .”

Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/suburbs-secede-from-atlanta/#a2GLrG5Hub4sDTJG.99

March 11, 2013 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Local Cityhood Movements to Hold Joint Meeting

The Lakeside City Alliance and the North Druid Hills Study Group on March 19.

By Jonathan Cribbs for North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch

Two groups investigating the creation of a new city in the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area will hold a joint meeting later this month.

The Lakeside City Alliance and the North Druid Hills Study Group will answer questions from residents of the Sagamore Hills and Briarcliff Woods civic associations regarding their proposed city plans.

From the Briarcliff Woods Civic Association:

  • The  Briarcliff Woods Civic Association is joining with Sagamore Hills Civic  Association to hold a joint information session where residents may  address their questions to the two separate groups who are working toward a city in North DeKalb County.
  • Both  the Lakeside Alliance Group and the North Druid Hills Study Group will  be present to answer questions on their proposals for cityhood.
  • The  meeting will be held at Sagamore Hills Elementary School at 1865  Alderbrook Road, Atlanta, GA 30345 starting at 7 PM on Tuesday, March  19.
  • Prior to the meeting, please send your questions to briarcliffwoods@gmail.com and  we will compile them for the meeting. The Board of Directors has  formed a sub-committee to collect questions and focus on this important  topic.

March 8, 2013 at 9:21 am Leave a comment

My Response to Town Hall Meeting with Marshall Orson, DeKalb County School Board Member

Matt Huey

Matt Huey

By Matt Huey – What I know about DeKalb Schools and our Board of Education stem from my involvement in Briar Vista Elementary, the school that will touch every student and tax payer who live along LaVista, Houston Mill, Mason Mill roads and much of Briarcliff Road. Since 2009 I have fought budget changes that threatened the school’s Montessori teaching program, ultimately losing the fight this school year. I spent 2 years as Parent Teacher Organization’s president advocating for better education for the children at our school.  Along the way I met many good people in the DeKalb School System and many that I wouldn’t offer a ride if they were standing in the pouring rain. What I learned about county educational politics can be summed up in 3 points:

  1. The DeKalb school system is more about money and property values than education.
  2. Your school either has influence or it does not.
  3. Your school is either on the inside or the outside of the DCSS and the DeKalb Board Of Education.

DCSSDeKalb schools have been so poorly run, so mismanaged that last week the state board recommended that every board member not serving their first term be removed citing a sustained “culture of poor governance”. This culture stems from misappropriation of tax funds, nepotism, favoritism, cronyism and politicking of an institution that has one function…providing a quality education for our children. While I cannot cite many of the past indiscretions I can raise awareness of one in the works: The planned replacement of Fernbank Elementary School.

Along with Avondale, Briar Vista, Laurel Ridge and McLendon Elementary schools, Fernbank is in the Druid Hills High School “cluster”. These elementary schools feel Druid Hills Middle which feeds Druid Hills High.  Since the entire cluster feeds the same middle and high school only elementary school districts exist within the cluster.  The entire county school system is composed of such clusters.

Currently the populations of the elementary schools in our cluster are as follows:

  • Avondale:  Capacity 686 seats, enrolment 525, 77% utilization (159 open seats)
  • Briar Vista:  Capacity 542, enrolment 439, 81% utilization  (103 open seats)
  • Fernbank:  Capacity 578, enrolment 675, 117% utilization (97 over capacity)
  • Laurel Ridge:  Capacity 443, enrolment 446, 101% utilization (3 over capacity)
  • McLendon:  Capacity 559, enrolment 490, 88% utilization (69 open seats)

We have a total of 331 open seats in our cluster, more than enough to accommodate all of our students now and in the future.  When the 900 seat Fernbank is built another 322 seats will be added bring the total open seats to over 653, the equivalent of a new, empty school. To justify this new school the county plans to redistrict 65 students from Laurel Ridge and 17 students from Briar Vista.  Below are the county’s own 2016-2017 utilization forecasts:

  • Avondale:  Capacity 686 seats, enrolment 527, 77% utilization (157 open seats)
  • Briar Vista:  Capacity 542, enrolment 423 , 78% utilization  (119 open seats)
  • Fernbank:  Capacity 900, enrolment 758 , 84% % utilization (142 open seats)
  • Laurel Ridge:  Capacity 443, enrolment 343 , 77% utilization (100 open seats)
  • McLendon:  Capacity 559, enrolment 491, 88% utilization (68 open seats)

Don’t believe me? Check the below link from the DCSS website.

http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/splost-iv/proposed-organization-facilities-presentation-and-binder-(2012-12-10).pdf

Briar Vista Elementary School

Briar Vista Elementary School

In short we are spending tens of millions of tax payer dollars on new school that will decrease average facility utilization from the current 93% to 80%, all to accommodate 97 students in a school cluster with over 300 open seats.  Am I the only genius who sees the problem here? Wait…refer to the 3 points above. Who has influence? Who is on the inside? Who stands to gain financially?

Are there plans to close a school in the cluster to fill the new Fernbank? Not now and not likely.  Fernbank’ s stellar test scores are, in large part, due to the near absence of students with the Limited English skills and economic disadvantages, the two demographics that most negatively impact test scores. If a neighboring school were to close it would take some serious gerrymandering (like the Cross Keys cluster) to keep these demographics intact. Consider that the 82 students targeted for redistricting from Laurel Ridge and Briar Vista are all from single family residences, least likely to contain these demographics.

Conversely, will the county redistrict Fernbank students to relieve overcrowding and balance the cluster? History has shown that they will be in for the fight of their life if they try.

So why is county spending a large portion of the 2.2 billion tax payer dollars on a new school where it is clearly not justified? Who has influence? Who is on the inside? Who stands to gain financially?

And at whose expense? Around 60% of your county property taxes go to schools and the entire county will pay for SLPOST IV, the 1 cent tax that will be in place for the next 4 years. How much of this money will be spent in your neighborhood? Helping educate your children? Helping your property values?  For Briar Vista, our neighborhood school: no influence, no one on the inside, no one fighting for our interests.

If you are concerned you should be. Strike while the iron is hot!!  Write Governor Deal (http://gov.georgia.gov/contact-governor-domestic-form), representative Scott Holcomb (scott@repscottholcomb.com), interim school Superintendent Michael Thurmond (michael_l_thurmond@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us),Marshal Orson, our new Board of Education representative (marshall_orson@fc.dekalb.k12.ga.us) and voice your concerns. Tell them to not only remove the board, but to begin repairing the damage they have done. Share this with anyone who will listen. Ask questions and carefully listen to the answers. There may still be time to do something that will benefit all our children, not just a chosen few.

Matt Huey
Past President
Briar Vista Parent Teacher Organization

Editor’s Note: The above piece is the expressed opinion of the author and not policy of LLCC.

February 26, 2013 at 9:34 am Leave a comment

State Board of Education Recommends Removal of Six DeKalb Members

ByTimothy Darnell – North Druid Hills / Briarcliff Patch (patch.com)

The State Board of Education voted late Thursday night to recommend the removal of six members of the DeKalb School Board to Gov. Nathan Deal.

The board voted unanimously to recommend that Sarah Copelin-Wood, Donna Edler, Eugene Walker, Jay Cunningham, Nancy Jester and Pamela Speaks be removed from the DeKalb school board.

If Gov. Deal follows the board’s recommendation, Jim McMahan, Marshall Orson and Melvin Johnson would remain on the board as newly elected members.

The recommendation came after a meeting that began at 8 am and ended at 10:15 pm.

The meeting was the latest in the DeKalb school system’s ongoing battle to avoid losing its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools, which has already placed the system on probation.

DeKalb’s school board had to convince the State Board of Education that it was making progress toward retaining its accreditation. The State Board has the authority to recommend that Gov. Deal remove the board.

The DeKalb school board had sought a temporary injunction of this morning’s meeting as it challenges the law that gives the governor the authority to remove an entire school board. A judge ruled denied the request early Wednesday afternoon.

February 21, 2013 at 11:45 pm Leave a comment

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