GM Redevelopment Plan? Taxpayers Beware.

June 21, 2010

When a county commissioner talks about spreading “risk” and “cost,” taxpayers should run in the other direction.

Those words were quoted from a recent edition of the DeKalb Neighbor (click for link) in which Commissioner Jeff Rader talked about the potential redevelopment of the Doraville GM plant: “We … need to spread risk and cost of this to other stakeholders. [Otherwise] the county will have to service the debt and use taxpayer funds to pay back that money.”

The GM redevelopment is a project that taxpayers need to be watching closely. Very closely.

New Broad Street, the developer of Florida’s Celebration community (click for link), is proposing a partnership with DeKalb County where the developer and the county will acquire the GM site and build a supersized mixed-use center with condos, apartments, retail stores, office space, and hotels. The county is proposing to use a special allocation of federal stimulus bonds known as recovery zone bonds to help finance the redevelopment of the GM site. The “benefit” of using these bonds is that the federal government subsidizes 45 percent of the interest.

However, the remaining principal and interest on the bonds would have to be paid out of the county treasury. That’s our tax dollars the county is gambling with. Whenever you read news stories that the county is thinking about shutting down recreation facilities and judges are reading the Riot Act to the CEO and county commissioners about the judicial budget (click for links), you have to wonder what the county is thinking when they consider using the very same tax dollars for risky development projects.

Some officials in the county government are going so far as to talk about increasing our property taxes to help pay for the bonds to redevelop the GM site. That should be a complete non-starter.

When Commissioner Rader was talking about spreading “risk” and “cost,” he was talking about the county’s efforts to shake down the Doraville City Council to use the city’s funds to help pay for the project, because the GM plant is located inside the City of Doraville. That’s still using tax dollars. It’s robbing from Peter to pay Paul. Doraville would be right to say no.

The DeKalb County Development Authority would be responsible for issuing the bonds to help pay for the New Broad Street project. Generally speaking, in DeKalb County, the use of our tax dollars to support the projects of a quasi-governmental authority requires a voter referendum. This referendum requirement is the result of a law I authored in 2007. As part of this year’s House Bill 203 (click for link), however, the General Assembly granted the county a one-time exemption for the stimulus bonds now being proposed for the GM site.

The reason for the exemption is that the stimulus bonds had a June 30th “use them or lose them” deadline. It would have been impossible to hold a referendum under this time constraint. The consequence of not meeting the deadline would be that DeKalb’s allocation of stimulus bonds would be reallocated to other local governments in Georgia. Those local governments would then be able to use the bonds for infrastructure projects like improvements to roads and sewers. Infrastructure is the real purpose of these particular stimulus bonds, not risky development projects. DeKalb either has obtained or is attempting to obtain an extension of the June 30th deadline.

Furthermore, I considered it an important safeguard that the county commission would have to conduct an open public vote on an intergovernmental agreement to spend our tax dollars to repay the stimulus bonds. This safeguard exists whether or not the referendum requirement applies to these bonds. The county commission has not yet voted on an intergovernmental agreement to use our tax dollars to repay stimulus bonds for the New Broad Street project at the GM site. In addition, the commission would have to vote to approve any property tax hike that is proposed for this purpose.

The commissioners absolutely should oppose such an agreement or tax increase. The county is in no position to bear the “risk” and “cost” of a supersized development project using our tax dollars. In a recent article in the Dunwoody Crier (click for link), Commissioner Elaine Boyer appeared to suggest that a majority of the county commission is prepared to reject a tax increase for the GM redevelopment plan.

To make sure this happens, your county commissioners need to hear directly from you. You can find their contact information at web.co.dekalb.ga.us/boc/contact.html if you would like to voice your opposition.


Sample Ballots for the Primary Election

June 21, 2010

DeKalb County has released the Republican and Democratic sample ballots for the 2010 primary election. Click on the links to view each party’s ballot. You can also click here to retrieve a sample ballot that is specific to your polling location.

Early voting for the primary election is already underway. You can cast your ballot any Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections headquarters located at 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032, near the Memorial Drive exit on I-285. Beginning on July 12th, additional advance voting locations will be opened, including one at the Chamblee Civic Center.

If you would like to have the county mail you an absentee ballot, please click here for the application you’ll need to fill out and mail in Your completed application should be mailed to: DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032.

Please note that the above links include PDF files.


Appeal Deadline Extended to June 10th

June 7, 2010

I have just received word from a constituent and have confirmed with the DeKalb County Tax Assessors’ office that the deadline to postmark or hand deliver your property assessment appeal letter has been extended through Thursday, June 10. Apparently this is due to some reassessment notices that were mailed out late. Scroll down for more information on how to appeal your reassessment notice.


Update on Assessment Appeals

June 4, 2010

As an addendum to my posts over the past couple of weeks about filing an appeal to your reassessment notice, in addition to appealing to the board of equalization or binding arbitration, you also have the right to choose non-binding arbitration.

There are significant differences between non-binding and binding arbitration. In binding arbitration, if you lose, you can’t appeal to the superior court and you must pay for the arbitrator. If you win, the county pays for the arbitrator. In binding arbitration, you’ll also need to get a formal property appraisal from a certified property appraiser.

Non-binding arbitration works differently. You can appeal the arbitrator’s decision to the superior court and you and the county will share in the costs of the arbitrator, regardless of who prevails.

The board of equalization process is at no cost to the taxpayer.

Remember, your appeal letter must be postmarked or hand delivered no later than June 7. You should only file an appeal if you received a reassessment notice in May.


June 7th Assessment Appeal Deadline

June 3, 2010

I have recorded this YouTube public service announcement (PSA) about appealing your property assessment. The DeKalb County Tax Assessors mailed out reassessment notices toward the beginning of May. If you received a reassessment notice and wish to appeal it, your appeal letter must be postmarked or hand delivered no later than Monday, June 7.

Please click here to read an article that I posted last week about the appeal process.

If you find this PSA helpful, please consider forwarding it along to your neighbors. They might find it useful as well.


Early Voting Begins June 7th

June 3, 2010

Early voting for the 2010 primary election that will be held on July 20 begins this Monday, June 7, at the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections headquarters located at 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032, near the Memorial Drive exit on I-285.

Voting is available every Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Beginning on July 12, additional advance voting locations will be opened, including one at the Chamblee Civic Center. Starting this Monday, however, you can go to the county election headquarters and cast your ballot early without needing an excuse to do so.

If you would like to have the county mail an absentee ballot to you, please click here for the application that you will need to fill out and mail in. This is a PDF file that you’ll need Adobe Reader to view. Your completed application should be mailed to: DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032.


“Race Cars and Airplanes”

June 3, 2010

…are what my kids are looking forward to this weekend.

The race cars will be at the Dunwoody Soap Box Derby, which begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 5, at the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, near the intersection of North Peachtree Road and Cotillion Drive. Please visit www.dunwoodysoapboxderby.org for more information.

The airplanes will be at the PDK Good Neighbor Day and Airshow from noon to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 5. Admission is free, but parking is $5 a car. More information on this event can be found at www.pdkairport.org.

We hope to see you there!


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