Where I Stand on Dunwoody, and Why

Senate Bill 82, the legislation to create the new City of Dunwoody, will come up for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives today.

While I don’t represent any areas inside the proposed City of Dunwoody, I do represent neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, Harts Mill Road, and Silver Lake, just south of I-285 and the proposed city.  In fact, I live in this area.  Some of my constituents are very supportive of cityhood, and some are very opposed.  Most don’t feel strongly either way.

The purpose of this column is to discuss my position on Dunwoody cityhood.  Before I do that, however, it is necessary to dispel a rumor that is floating around the unincorporated community south of Dunwoody.  This rumor claims that, if Dunwoody becomes a city, homeowners in unincorporated DeKalb County will lose our homestead exemption from the Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST), which serves to reduce our property tax bills.

That is not the case.  The rumor concerns legislation which passed the General Assembly last year aimed at allowing DeKalb’s cities such as Chamblee, Doraville, Decatur, and a new Dunwoody to share in the 20 percent of total HOST revenues that are allocated for infrastructure improvements.  The other 80 percent of total HOST revenues are the funds used to provide homestead exemptions in both the unincorporated and city portions of DeKalb County.

All consumers in DeKalb County, including those who shop outside and inside of DeKalb’s cities, pay the HOST penny sales tax on all taxable goods.  All homeowners in DeKalb County, including those who live outside and inside of DeKalb’s cities, receive a homestead exemption from the 80 percent of HOST that is used for property tax reduction.  However, DeKalb’s cities do not share in the 20 percent of HOST that is used for infrastructure.  City residents subsidize infrastructure projects in the unincorporated areas and receive no benefit from this 20 percent.

Simply put, last year’s legislation seeks to allow residents of DeKalb’s cities to receive their fair share of this 20 percent.  Will that legislation work?  It might not.  The original 1997 legislation that created HOST created it “for county purposes.”  The referendum that approved HOST also contained the limiting language “for county purposes.”  DeKalb County has vowed to file a lawsuit to prevent a new City of Dunwoody from sharing in HOST’s 20 percent infrastructure component.  That lawsuit, however, will not affect the 80 percent of HOST that is used for property tax reduction.  We will continue to receive our full HOST homestead exemption.

What makes me confident of that?  The 20 percent of HOST that is used for infrastructure already is the subject of litigation between DeKalb County and DeKalb’s existing cities.  While that lawsuit rages on, DeKalb homeowners continue to receive the full HOST exemption.

With respect to the upcoming House vote on the City of Dunwoody, I will vote yes.  Local citizens should be able to determine how they are governed at the local level for local services.  That is a principle in which I firmly believe, and I remain committed to it.

Some DeKalb residents and elected officials have objected to the inclusion of the DeKalb portion of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCID) north of I-285 in a new City of Dunwoody.  I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to how PCID north of 285 isn’t located in “Dunwoody.”  It is in Dunwoody, just as surely as the Sembler development adjacent to Oglethorpe University is in Brookhaven and Emory Village is in Druid Hills.  The Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association fights all the zoning battles in this part of PCID.

I actively opposed city limits proposed last year that would have brought the City of Dunwoody slightly south of I-285 to include the Perimeter Summit office complex, where the former HP tower is located.  That complex, which comprises the southernmost portion of PCID, is not in Dunwoody.  It is within the boundaries of the Ashford Alliance Community Association.  The proposed City of Dunwoody boundary was restored back to 285.

Our county commissioners work very hard and are good public servants.  Nevertheless, it is clear that DeKalb County suffers from what I call a “scale of representation” problem.  Each of the five regular district commissioners represents approximately 148,000 people.  That’s more than three times the size of my State House district, which stretches from I-285 all the way south to Toco Hills.  The two super district commissioners each represent approximately 370,000 people.  That’s more than eight times the size of my State House district.  The CEO, who controls the day-to-day administration of “local” services, represents all 740,000 DeKalb residents.

The vast majority of the DeKalb legislative delegation remains unwilling to reform the current DeKalb governance structure.  If local citizens in any part of DeKalb County want something different, and wish to form a city (or hopefully someday, a township) to choose truly “local” representatives who live in or near their neighborhoods, I am unwilling to tell them no.

A version of this post was published in the March 18 edition of the Dunwoody Crier.

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