Cityhood = Better Services, Same or Lower Taxes

I received almost 100 e-mails in response to the message I sent out last week regarding House Bill 428 (click for more information), a bill that would create a “path to annexation” for the neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, West Nancy Creek Drive, and Silver Lake to join either Chamblee or Dunwoody. Such an annexation would require a resolution of the city council and a referendum of the voters who reside in the area proposed to be annexed.

Those e-mails expressed support by a margin of 3-to-1 in favor of exploring cityhood options for our community. A surprising number of residents also expressed interest in the creation of a new City of Brookhaven. I am open to this option, as well.

I am in the process of conducting a wider telephone survey and will publish those results next week.

HB 428 has accomplished its goal: to kick off a community conversation about the future of our North DeKalb neighborhoods. The bill passed the House Governmental Affairs Committee last week, but I plan to hold it until the 2012 legislative session so that we can continue the conversation that has been started. In the interim, the legislation will be fine-tuned to suit our community’s needs.

I wish to take this opportunity to correct a false perception that some citizens have regarding cityhood, namely that it is “another layer of government” which necessarily causes “higher taxes.”

Citizens in the City of Dunwoody have a slightly lower tax burden than those of us in unincorporated DeKalb, but receive better services. To quote Rick Callihan, the proprietor of the Dunwoody Talk Blog, in a column he wrote this week for the Dunwoody Reporter: “There was very little support from the West Nancy Creek or Murphey Candler areas to join Dunwoody a few years ago. People inside ‘285’ were concerned about the possibility of increased taxes and did not possess the same strong desire to be part of a city. Ironically, their taxes are now higher than what we pay as residents of Dunwoody.”

Taxes in the City of Chamblee are only slightly higher than in unincorporated DeKalb. If you’re over age 65 in Chamblee, you pay no property taxes whatsoever for city services. Chamblee is considering cutting its millage rate this year. Their services are better, too.

What do I mean by “better services”? Let’s consider community policing. First, there’s the anecdotal evidence. If you drive around the Murphey Candler, West Nancy Creek, and Silver Lake neighborhoods, it’s unlikely that you’ll run across a DeKalb County police cruiser. By contrast, it’s a rare day that you’ll drive around Dunwoody or Chamblee without seeing at least one police cruiser.

This anecdotal evidence is borne out by data. Prior to Dunwoody’s incorporation, the area within its current city limits contributed approximately $13.1 million of DeKalb County’s annual police budget. In return, DeKalb placed one or two active patrols in Dunwoody on any given shift. In the year after its incorporation, the new City of Dunwoody’s entire annual police budget was approximately $5.1 million. For this amount, they were able to run at least seven active patrols per shift.

Cities are not another layer of government. If a city provides a service, that service is not provided by the county. It’s an either-or situation. Sometimes a city will contract with the county for certain services, as is the case with sanitation in Dunwoody. However, a well-managed city will keep costs down by providing those services that it can furnish more efficiently than the county, while contracting for those services that the county provides more efficiently. It’s the best of both worlds.

Lastly, cityhood means that your elected representatives will live in or near your neighborhood, rather than clear across the county. The elected officials in your “local government” would be exactly that: local. It says something about the scale of our “local” DeKalb County Government that everyone in the Murphey Candler, West Nancy Creek, and Silver Lake neighborhoods lives closer to their State Representative (and State Senator, for that matter) than any county commissioner. A city would bring this to an end.

From now through the 2012 legislative session, I plan to continue this conversation, neighborhood by neighborhood. I already have scheduled two neighborhood meetings — with the Murphey Candler Homeowners Association and Byrnwyck Community Association — to discuss cityhood. Please let me know at [email protected] or (404) 441-0583 if you would like to schedule such a meeting.

In addition, I have organized a community-wide meeting on cityhood and annexation to be held on Tuesday, March 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Chamblee United Methodist Church, 4147 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. I hope to see you there.

Our neighboring cities are more efficient, furnish better services, and because they are conservatively managed, enjoy a similar or lower tax burden compared to what we pay. Citizens have made it clear that they’re interested in exploring municipal options for our community. I look forward to continuing this conversation.

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