Cityhood Poll Results & Town Hall Meeting

March 27, 2011

Please join me, State Senator Fran Millar, and State Representative Tom Taylor for a town hall meeting on cityhood and annexation this Tuesday, March 29, at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Chamblee United Methodist Church, 4147 Chamblee Dunwoody Road.

I have received numerous questions regarding exactly what neighborhoods are being considered for incorporation into a new municipality or annexation into an existing one.

Click here to see a PDF map. The neighborhoods shaded in yellow are neighborhoods that could be annexed into Dunwoody or Chamblee, or could be joined with the neighborhoods shaded in green to form a new City of Brookhaven. If the neighborhoods shaded in yellow were to join Dunwoody or Chamblee, then the neighborhoods shaded in green nevertheless could form a City of Brookhaven.

Please keep in mind that none of the boundaries reflected on this map are etched in stone. I drew up the map to make it easier to discuss the neighborhoods that could be involved, but the map is subject to change to meet our community’s needs. I will discuss this map in greater detail at Tuesday’s meeting.

Recent discussion of the possibility of cityhood or annexation for the neighborhoods surrounding Murphey Candler Park, West Nancy Creek Drive, and Silver Lake prompted me to commission a reliable public opinion poll of registered voters in these neighborhoods.

The poll included 227 registered voters who vote at Montgomery Elementary School, Ashford Parkside, and St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church. Nobody was left out of the pool of registered voters that was sampled. Unlike the various computer surveys that are circulating around these neighborhoods, it was impossible to vote multiple times by deleting the “cookies” in a web browser.

The results of the poll reveal overwhelming support for legislation that would give Murphey Candler, West Nancy Creek, and Silver Lake residents the opportunity to choose whether or not to join a city.

When asked whether residents of these neighborhoods would favor or oppose legislation that would enable them to choose whether to annex into a neighboring city (Dunwoody or Chamblee) or create a new city, 63.5% responded that they would favor such legislation, 18.0% would oppose it, and 18.5% have no opinion.

When asked to choose between annexing into Dunwoody, annexing into Chamblee, creating a new City of Brookhaven, or remaining in unincorporated DeKalb County, residents in these neighborhoods gave an interesting response that merits further exploration: 30.8% prefer a new City of Brookhaven, 19.0% prefer to join Dunwoody, 10.3% prefer to join Chamblee, 21.6% prefer to remain unincorporated, and 18.3% have no opinion.

Two things are evident from these results: (1) approximately three-fifths of residents in the Murphey Candler, West Nancy Creek, and Silver Lake neighborhoods support further exploration of some kind of municipal solution, and (2) approximately one-fifth of residents oppose continuing this discussion and would prefer to remain in unincorporated DeKalb.

With the significant level of interest in a new City of Brookhaven, I am going to prepare a skeletal charter for such a city and introduce it prior to the conclusion of this year’s session of the General Assembly, which will end in less than a month.

This is important because it will enable us to comply with a rule of the House Governmental Affairs Committee which says that legislation to create a new municipality must be introduced in the first (odd-numbered) year of a two-year legislative term and cannot be passed until the second (even-numbered) year of the term. This will make the creation of a new City of Brookhaven a possibility for 2012 instead of having to wait three years until 2014.

Of course, the only way there will be a City of Brookhaven is if interest in cityhood exists south of Windsor Parkway in Historic Brookhaven and in neighborhoods east of Peachtree Road such as Brookhaven Heights, Brookhaven Fields, Ashford Park, and Drew Valley.

It is important to reiterate that living in a city does not add “more taxes” to your property tax bill. To the contrary, the existing “Unincorporated District Tax” line item would be transferred from the county to the new or annexing city. The city, in turn, likely would do a more efficient job of delivering services with these tax dollars. That has been the experience in both Chamblee and Dunwoody.

We deserve a choice. We don’t have to remain under the thumb of a county government that chooses to divert funds from providing crime scene investigators for burglaries and car break-ins so that the $150,000 salary of a do-nothing bureaucrat can be paid (follow the links for recent AJC articles). This $150,000 could be used to pay some police officers. Cities like Chamblee and Dunwoody routinely make decisions that avoid top-heavy administration and invest their tax dollars in ground-level resources that directly benefit local neighborhoods.

I look forward to continuing this conversation and hope to see you on Tuesday.


Cityhood = Better Services, Same or Lower Taxes

March 14, 2011

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.


HB 428 Paves a Path to Possible Cityhood

March 8, 2011

As your State Representative, I am committed to increasing your voice in local government and to helping provide the highest quality governance at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. That is why I have introduced a piece of legislation, House Bill 428, that will create a path for the unincorporated neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, West Nancy Creek Drive, and Silver Lake to join one of our adjacent municipalities, either Chamblee or Dunwoody.

Presently, these neighborhoods exist as an “unincorporated peninsula” of land sandwiched between the City of Dunwoody to the north, the City of Chamblee to the east, and the City of Sandy Springs to the west. There is only one major arterial road into this area from the rest of unincorporated DeKalb: Ashford Dunwoody Road.

The purpose of HB 428 is to kick off a community conversation about possible avenues to the incorporation of our neighborhoods. Click here to read the version of HB 428 that will be presented on Tuesday to a subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee.

The version of the bill that was originally introduced only applied to Dunwoody, but that was based upon my own incorrect perception that Chamblee – having recently completed an annexation of Huntley Hills and other neighborhoods east of Chamblee Dunwoody Road – would not be interested in undertaking any further annexations any time soon. I had a productive conversation with Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson in which he made clear that it’s possible Chamblee could consider further annexation. So, the bill has been changed accordingly.

HB 428 will allow for adjacent municipalities to annex neighborhoods in an “unincorporated peninsula” (an unincorporated area that is 75% or more surrounded by cities) after the adoption of a city council resolution and the passage of a referendum by the citizens in the unincorporated area. In other words, there is absolutely no scenario in which your neighborhood would be annexed into a neighboring city before you receive all of the facts about the annexation and are given the opportunity to cast your vote at the ballot box.

The key annexation procedure that HB 428 does change is DeKalb County’s unilateral veto power over the ability of our neighborhoods to be annexed into Chamblee or Dunwoody via this simple “resolution and referendum” method.

As the Dunwoody Crier has noted, my interest in annexation is driven by “increasing discontent with DeKalb County Government: rising tax bills, fewer services, inefficient government, and a lack of confidence that things are going to get better at the county.”

Police response times in Chamblee and Dunwoody are far lower than those in unincorporated DeKalb. Dunwoody is planning major improvements to their local parks. Chamblee and Dunwoody are both conservatively managed and are experiencing budget surpluses. And in stark contrast to CEO Burrell Ellis’ constant drumbeat for higher property taxes, Chamblee is considering cutting its millage rate this year.

It simply is not true that incorporation into a city necessarily means that your property taxes will go up. Many cities are actually able to deliver better services and a lower tax burden than can be found in nearby unincorporated areas.

Another option that might be worth exploring is the incorporation of a new municipality altogether, perhaps a City of Brookhaven that could reach as far south as Buford Highway or even I-85. Of course, such an option would require interest from neighborhoods south of Windsor Parkway such as Historic Brookhaven, Ashford Park, Brookhaven Heights, Brookhaven Fields, and Drew Valley.

If citizens are interested, I’m willing to explore a broader City of Brookhaven. It would require a separate piece of legislation that cannot be passed until 2014 at the earliest, which would give us plenty of time to thoroughly explore this option.

HB 428 is not an actual annexation plan of any sort. No annexation of any neighborhoods by either Chamblee or Dunwoody is imminent.

The latest version of HB 428 will make it clear that any annexation cannot involve the “cherry picking” of large-scale commercial property such as the Perimeter Summit development on the south side of I-285, adjacent to Dunwoody. This is because another provision of law that is applicable to HB 428 requires any such annexation to include territory that “is subdivided into lots and tracts such that at least 60 percent of the total acreage consists of lots and tracts five acres or less in size and such that at least 60 percent of the total number of lots and tracts are one acre or less in size.”

HB 428 is a means of opening up our community’s options. Having options is never a bad thing.

Please forward this e-mail to your neighbors, particularly if you live in the neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, West Nancy Creek Drive, and Silver Lake. If citizens would like to stay informed about the prospect of annexation or a new city in North DeKalb and are not on my e-mail list, they should e-mail me at [email protected] and I will add them to my e-mail list. E-mail me, too, with your thoughts on this issue. I look forward to hearing from you.

I will announce a community meeting about cityhood and annexation in the near future.


A Parks Bill for Everyone

July 10, 2010

You may have seen recently in the news that the City of Dunwoody obtained the parks within its boundaries from DeKalb County at minimal cost pursuant to state legislation.

The legislation that enabled this to happen was amended into a bill that I sponsored, House Bill 203 (click for more information), but not before I changed the language in ways that benefit all of us, whether or not we live in the City of Dunwoody.

The parks language in the bill does not just apply to Dunwoody. It applies to every city in DeKalb County. So, for example, if the City of Chamblee or City of Dunwoody were to annex the areas containing Murphey Candler Park or Blackburn Park, or both, that city would be able to obtain those parks from DeKalb County for the same low cost. Also, if citizens in Brookhaven ever decide that they want to form a new city, that city would get the same deal in obtaining Brookhaven Park on Peachtree Road and Ashford Park on Caldwell Drive.

This is not to say that any such incorporation or annexation is imminent. That’s a decision that will remain primarily in the hands of our neighborhoods, and also in the hands of any city governments which might become annexation partners. The bottom line is that proper maintenance of local parks is one of the reasons that local citizens choose to become part of a city.

Critics have suggested that this is stealing parks from DeKalb County and giving them to cities. I reject that notion. They’re not DeKalb County’s parks. They’re not any city’s parks. They’re public parks.

One of the provisions that I insisted on including in HB 203 is a provision that says citizens who live inside a city and those who live outside a city have to be charged the same fees, to the extent there are fees, for the use of any park that is acquired by a city pursuant to the legislation. Thus, a city can’t charge residents of unincorporated areas more for using “city” parks and recreation facilities.

Evan and I take our kids to the playground at Brook Run from time to time. We don’t live in the City of Dunwoody. After the incorporation of Dunwoody, I’ve seen firsthand how DeKalb County has allowed the park to deteriorate. It affects all of us. I am confident that the City of Dunwoody will be a much better steward of the park.

HB 203 also deals with parks bond funds. There are approximately $7.5 million dollars in general obligation bond funds (not tax funds from the county treasury) that the City of Dunwoody says were promised for improvements to Brook Run prior to the 2006 DeKalb County parks bond referendum, but DeKalb County is now holding back these funds and won’t use them for Brook Run.

HB 203 provides that, if a city can prove to the satisfaction of a Superior Court judge that county documents and the statements of county officials in the run-up to a bond referendum promised X amount of bond funds for particular projects at a particular park, and the county is holding back the funds, the city gets X dollars of the bond proceeds to use for those particular projects at that particular park.

The point is that county officials should be held to the promises they make to voters and taxpayers when seeking to win their votes in a bond referendum. This provision, too, is written to benefit other areas that may join DeKalb cities in the future.


Weekend Happenings

May 27, 2009

PDK’s “Good Neighbor Day” Open House and Air Show is this Saturday, May 30, from noon to 5:00 p.m. at DeKalb Peachtree Airport. Admission is free. Parking is $5 per car. Please click here for more information.

The Dunwoody/Northeast Georgia Soap Box Derby is this Saturday, May 30, at 9:00 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Atlanta at North Peachtree Road and I-285. Gates open at 8:15 a.m. Please visit www.dunwoodysoapboxderby.org for more information.

Also, in the Murphey Candler area, there are two upcoming outdoor movie screenings for kids:

Chamblee First United Methodist is hosting a family movie night for free on Friday, May 29, at 8:30 p.m. The movie is Fly Away Home and the entire community is invited. Feel free to bring a picnic and come and join your neighbors before the movie begins for a variety of family-friendly activities. In the event of rain, the movie will be moved inside to Fellowship Hall. For questions, please contact the church office at 770-457-2525.

DeKalb County is hosting a free Movie Night on Saturday, June 6, at the Murphey Candler Pool on Candler Lake West. They will be showing Surf’s Up and the movie will begin at 8:30 p.m. Feel free to bring a picnic and a lawn chair. You can swim while you watch the movie (lifeguards will be on duty). Entry to the pool is free for this event. For questions, please contact Jackie Swain at 404-371-2990.


Where I Stand on Dunwoody, and Why

March 19, 2008

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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