Central DeKalb: exploring cityhood or annexation

From: Central DeKalb [mailto:centraldekalb@gmail.com], Subject: cityhood & BOE - gauging interest in neighborhoods incorporating or being annexed.  Dear Members of the Druid Hills, Emory, Chelsea Heights, Clairmont Heights, and Medlock Neighborhoods, As you may be aware, there are two issues moving through the state legislature right now that will have a significant impact on our neighborhoods, our property taxes, our schools, and the responsiveness of our local governmental entities from here forward.  These issues are: (1) the trend toward segments of DeKalb incorporating into cities, and the resulting effect on the tax base in the remaining portions of unincorporated DeKalb; and (2) the reapportionment and redistricting of seats on the DeKalb County Board of Education.  The current intersection of these two issues presents an opportunity, unique to our city-adjacent neighborhoods, for discussion about what, as neighborhoods, we envision for the future.  It is a future that could see our neighborhoods, in whole or in part, in one of four ways:

  • still a part of unincorporated DeKalb County and included within the DeKalb County School System;
  •  annexed into the City of Decatur and becoming part of the City Schools of Decatur;
  • annexed into the City of Atlanta and becoming part of Atlanta Public Schools; or
  •  incorporated as a new city but still within the DeKalb County School System.


Background on the Incorporation Trend and Its Potential Effects

Many areas of DeKalb County have incorporated into cities, including Chamblee, Lithonia, and Stone Mountain, among others.  Most recently, effective in late 2008, Dunwoody became a city whose boundaries included large commercial districts such as Perimeter Center.  This past year, the area of DeKalb known as Brookhaven has pushed for incorporation, and the legislature has cleared a path for residents of that area to vote on incorporation this coming July.  The proposed City of Brookhaven (or, alternatively, it may be called the City of Ashford) likewise will include a substantial commercial tax base.  As a result, unincorporated DeKalb's tax base (both commercial and residential) has seen, and will continue to see, significant losses.  That reduction in tax base, coupled with today's ever-present budget shortfalls, make it a near certainty that property taxes in unincorporated DeKalb will continue to increase -- with our neighborhoods bearing some of the heaviest burdens -- and the differential between "not paying city taxes" and being taxed as within Decatur's or Atlanta's city limits will quickly vanish.

Status of Redrawing DeKalb County Board of Education Districts

At the same time, our county's House and Senate delegations are in the midst of redrawing the districts for the DeKalb County Board of Education, as required by the 10-year census and last year's Senate Bill 79 (which requires that the number of districts or seats on the Board be reduced to 7, from the current 9).  As many of you -- particularly in the Medlock area and the western area of Druid Hills -- are painfully aware, the past few years' experience with the Board of Education has been less than desirable, to say the least.  Many residents were counting on implementation of SB 79 to yield a better Board of Education that would be more closely attuned to, and supportive of, the particularized needs and challenges of the different high school clusters, and more supportive of good leadership in the Superintendent's seat.

However, initial maps for the new Board of Education put the neighborhoods of Druid Hills, Chelsea Heights, Clairmont Heights, and Medlock in an
equally bad, if not worse, situation than we've faced in recent years. Under the Senate delegation's map and the map that the House reapportionment committee approved (by a vote of 3-2), we would not be eligible to vote for the Board of Education until 2014, even though our last election was four years ago in 2008.  That is, under the maps currently supported by DeKalb delegation leadership, we will have been represented by Mr. Don McChesney (whose own residence and neighborhood is zoned for Lakeside High School) for the past four years, and -- without an election -- we will be represented for the next two years by Ms. Sarah Copelin-Woods.  With much respect to Ms. Copelin-Woods' many years of effort and dedication, many of her constituents and own colleagues concede that she currently is not an ideal fit for formulating policy.  Two of our representatives, Mary Margaret Oliver and Stephanie Benfield, formulated a 7-district map that does respect and promote the communities of interest we all have through our high school clusters, but the House reapportionment committee chose (3-2) to reject it.

These two challenges to central DeKalb neighborhoods bring us to this discussion.  Standing alone, the idea of incorporating or seeking annexation into Decatur or Atlanta merits serious consideration, but the direction in which our legislative delegation leadership is  headed, and the effect that direction will have on the Board of Education heightens the time-sensitivity of the discussion.  Here are some initial thoughts -- not at all intended to be exhaustive, but simply meant to start off a discussion:

1.    Potential and Actual Results of Remaining Unincorporated DeKalb

 

  •  Taxes could increase as portions of the tax base peel off into incorporated cities (example: Dunwoody, Brookhaven).
  • Neighborhoods remain within the DeKalb County School System.
  •  Other areas of DeKalb might seek incorporation and/or annexation and further diminish the tax base of which we are a part (example: if Chamblee or Brookhaven sought to include the commercial area known as Century Center/Century Plaza at Clairmont and I-85).
  •   All remaining of unincorporated DeKalb could be swept into a "City of DeKalb," which would preclude the ability to incorporate a smaller city or be annexed into Decatur or Atlanta.


2.    Potential Results of Seeking and Securing Annexation into City of Decatur or City of Atlanta (with the approximate annexed area bound at the west by the City of Atlanta boundary, at the south and southeast by the City of Atlanta and City of Decatur, and the north and northeast by the creek just north of Wesley Woods, over to the west side of Scott Boulevard).
 

  • If Decatur, theoretically a more responsive government, closer local control of matters such as the school system and zoning.
  • A more reliably viable tax base because when other sections of DeKalb incorporate, such as Brookhaven is about to do and Dunwoody has done, unincorporated DeKalb's tax base will be vastly diminished.
  • As compared with incorporating ourselves, it would not require replication of municipal administrative offices and services, which would be required if we were to pursue a "City of Druid Hills" or a "City of Central DeKalb."


Again, this is only the beginning of a discussion, but one that would be wise to have.  So that this discussion doesn't overwhelm recipients' email inboxes, if you are willing to take the time to share your thoughts, for the time being, please share those thoughts on the Facebook page entitled "Central DeKalb's Future" (which is classified as a community or cause page).  Also, please feel free to share this email and the Facebook page with your neighborhood lists.