Thursday, September 18, 2014

Notes from MANA community meeting with Councilman Alex Wan, Atlanta District 6

MANA community meeting with Councilman Alex Wan, Atlanta District 6, September 17, 2014

Announcements by Lynn Ganim, acting MANA president:

This meeting is part of a series of meetings where MANA is reaching out to public officials to better understand how our neighborhood may be impacted by annexations or by new cities that include us or happen close enough to impact us.

  • We have reached out to identify a County representative but have not been successful
  • To learn about Commissioner Gannon’s Blueprint for DeKalb, attend Sept 30 meeting 
  • The interim CEO has appointed an operations task force that meets weekly at the Maloof Bldg; citizens are welcome to attend
  • MANA’s Oct 7 meeting will feature Rep Mary Margaret Oliver, who has been closely involved with recent cityhood proposals and will explain the legislative process
  • MANA will conduct a survey (house to house) to better understand our residents’ concerns and preferences

Councilman Wan has represented ATL District 6 since 2010. He grew up on the area, and attended Clarkston High, GA Tech School of Engineering, and completed his MBA at U Penn. In addition to his Atlanta appointment, Mr. Wan also works as director of development for Emory University’s libraries. Mr. Wan clarified that at this meeting, he is representing the City of Atlanta and District 6 and that he is not part of the Emory governance team (that would handle any cityhood/annexation discussions). Extensive meeting notes follow.

Update from the Druid Hills Charter Cluster

An update was posted by the Druid Hills Charter Cluster initiative earlier this week. Although state law requires that the refiled petition be taken up by the DeKalb County school board for their vote on approval or non-approval, agendas for board has over the past several months have noticeably avoided this task.

So... what to do? DHCC advocates are suggesting that if you would like to see the process move forward to an affirmative vote, consider sending a handwritten note. The most effective folks to lobby are probably board members who voted not to approve the petition initially but who will be rolling off the board and may be more willing to shift their thinking on the refiled petition (Ms. Karen Carter, Mr. David Campbell, and Dr. Michael Erwin). E-mail is also OK but these tend to get lost in inboxes and handwritten correspondence may stand out more. You might also consider copying Superintendent Thurmond on your correspondence so that he can develop a sense of community support for the initiative.

Handwritten notes can be sent to:
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard
Stone Mountain, GA 30083

E-mail addresses for board members can be found here.


From DHCC:

As talk and organization around the concepts of new cities and annexation continue to grow, the Druid Hills Charter Cluster remains focused on one issue and one issue only: approval of the DHCC by the DeKalb Board of Education for the benefit of our seven cluster schools. It is true that approval or denial of the charter will have real implications for any cityhood or annexation efforts. In light of these growing discussions in our greater DHCC community, the DHCC would like all stakeholders and elected decision-makers to keep the following points in mind:
  • DHCC has the support of all seven school councils and the communities they serve.
  • DHCC represents the most diverse school population in DeKalb County.
  • DHCC's Petition meets all the requirements of a conversion charter petition, as noted by DCSD and the State of Georgia.
  • Charter clusters, such as the DHCC, keep all the local property tax dollars generated within a given high school zone in DeKalb County, and allow the value of those dollars to be allocated equally, on a per pupil basis, across DeKalb County. The creation of new school systems or the annexation of territory into an existing independent school system takes the local property tax dollars generated within that same high school zone out of the DeKalb County Board of Education's budget.
  • Failure to approve the DHCC could result in some portion of the cluster tax base being annexed into the City of Atlanta, the City of Decatur, and/or incorporated by one or more new cities expected to be approved for referendum by the General Assembly in early 2015.
  • DHCC provides a governance structure and petition commitment to improve the performance of ALL seven schools in the cluster.
  • DHCC accepts 100% of all cluster resident students and available capacity is open to ALL DeKalb students by lottery. DHCC has no ability to exclude any student within its attendance zone and no ability to exclude any student from any where in DeKalb whose enrollment is determined by random lottery.
  • DHCC includes new programs and enhancements to existing educational programs NOT available any where to current DeKalb students.
  • Truly empowering school-house level principals and teachers with the flexibility, autonomy, and authority to determine the instructional pacing, curriculum, assessment methods, enrichment programs, and even daily and yearly calendars that best serve their students will result in greater professional satisfaction for our teachers, increased accountability, and sustained improvements in achievement and growth for ALL students.
  • The cluster-level accountability that comes with flexibility and autonomy AND the expansion of school choice via the state-mandated, county-wide lottery that will be offered at each and every cluster school with capacity, will foster healthy and productive competition among our creative, dedicated principals and teachers, leading to better service to, and outcomes for, students throughout DeKalb County.
  • DHCC follows precisely the funding rubric outlined by state law and, as a result, drives a much greater percentage of per pupil funds to classrooms and teachers than the status quo.
The DHCC is a good idea for all students within DeKalb and approving it is the right thing for the DeKalb Board of Education to do for DeKalb County students. Share your voice and your opinion with every official elected by residents of DeKalb County.

September views of the neighborhood

With the recent rains (and rains and rains), the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve pond actually gained some puddles....

And the mushroom season continues with plump, jolly mushrooms popping up everywhere. Prime real estate for smurfs!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Property tax scenarios for Medlock Park: it's complicated

As we all are well aware, our neighborhood sits in an area that is already seeing big changes. Commercial property development has really picked up in recent years (see our posts on Suburban Plaza, Scott Blvd Baptist Church and the Medline LCI study). We are made to understand that our unincorporated status likely will change as new cities are created or existing cities annex nearby areas.

We have been concerned about annexation plans for several years now, specifically about the lack of information about how annexations affect the County at large. Regardless of how many cities we have, the County is responsible for some services to cities, and for all services to unincorporated areas. When we think about a city having its own police force, we often forget that DeKalb County Police is still in the background, providing services such as aerial support, SWAT, and bomb units, among others. Local emergency planning may be in place, but the County Board of Health's comprehensive public health and emergency preparedness response infrastructure remains a necessity. New cities and annexations change all budgets but are discussed in terms of benefits to the smaller municipality: is this new city viable, does that existing city need this annexation to remain viable. We encourage DeKalb County to argue its case and explain how proposed cities and annexations impact the County's viability, too.

Property tax bills are of particular interest during periods of  incorporation and annexation activity.  When an area rescinds its unincorporated status (by annexing to an existing city or joining a newly formed city), there is a shift in which entities provide basic services. For unincorporated areas, all services are provided by the county. Cities, in turn, provide a subset of services and the formation of new cities is typically justified on those terms--the county is not doing well enough and local control will allow for better and more efficient services. When the responsibility for services shifts jurisdictions, the funds that support them must follow. Thus, when annexed, a property owner will go from having his or her property taxes levied by two entities (state and county) to three (state, county and city). If economies of scale apply, it may cost more for the smaller city to provide those services. However, if the quality of the services is (or is perceived to be) higher, the city may become more attractive relative to nearby unincorporated areas and property values will increase. Current and potential residents weigh the benefit of increased property values vs. increased property taxes (as well as other quality of life factors) to decide if the higher tax bill is worth it.

Change is the only constant when it comes to property taxes: home owners (who pay property taxes directly) and renters (who pay property taxes indirectly through their rents to landlords) must reconcile with this reality. Aggregate (total) property tax bills may change each year based on the interaction between
  • assessed property value and freezes, 
  • millage rates for different applicable jurisdictions (state, county and city millage rates are recalculated each year and may go up or down), 
  • applicable fees or service charges, 
  • tax credits (e.g. HOST) and 
  • potential exemptions that may vary by jurisdiction (e.g., owner occupancy, disability, senior, or veteran exemptions).  

Side-by-side comparisons of potential property tax scenarios are hard to come by.  The Medlock Park area faces three potential scenarios: remain unincorporated, join a new city or join an existing city. We cannot guess at the property tax scenario for a new city. Although the City of Briarcliff Vinson Feasibility study included Medlock Park and focused on whether the proposed city would be financially viable, it did not address what its millage rates or other fees might be.

We can, however, compare our unincorporated property tax bills to those for nearby Dekalb cities. Luckily for us, some helpful individuals have crunched Decatur and Atlanta numbers for us:
In trying to make sense of these comparisons, it is critical to understand that property tax bills are extremely specific to the individual. A commercial property is taxed differently from a residential property. Homestead exemptions are common and offer significant relief, but other individual exemptions can be difficult to calculate. Take for example senior exemptions: an individual may be eligible for several (county, city, sometimes both), individual income affects exemption eligibility, and each municipality calculates the exemption based on its own formulas (with exemptions applying to different parts of the municipality's budget). Individuals wishing to understand what senior exemption scenarios apply to them should first study applicable county/city websites. The next step would be to contact their property tax office, current tax bill AND projected income information in hand: property tax staff cannot provide an accurate estimate without this information.  In general, the older the person, the more individualized the calculation.

We are currently trying to refine the above information to share a side-by-side comparison using homestead exemptions (vs. none) across unincorporated DeKalb, City of Atlanta and City of Decatur.  Generally speaking, unincorporated DeKalb taxes are lowest, followed by City of Atlanta and then City of Decatur. We cannot know if these trends extend into the future without information from the County about how their millage rates may change due to proposed annexations and incorporations. 

Community Meeting re: annexation to Atlanta [Sept 17]


Just a reminder! To see the original announcement with more information, see http://www.medlockpark.org/2014/09/community-meeting-with-atlanta.html

Friday, September 12, 2014

AWARE (Wildlife Rescue) Art Auction [Oct 2]

Click to enlarge.
3rd Annual Art for Armadillos Art Auction

AWARE is the largest and only wildlife rehabilitation center in metro Atlanta that treats all native species of wildlife. Auction proceeds and your financial contributions allow this important work to continue.

Tickets:
http://awarewildlife.givezooks.com/events/2014-aware-art-auction

Location:
The Solarium at Historic Scottish Rite
321 West Hill Street
Decatur, GA 30030

Date/Time:
Thursday October 2nd, 2014​
7:00-9:00PM

Hosted by AWARE Wildlife Center
678-418-1111
http:www.awarewildlife.org/contact/

About the Event:
Enjoy an evening of live music, hors d'oeuvres, and bidding on fantastic local art while supporting the rehabilitation and education efforts of Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE). Each paid ticket also includes 2 raffle tickets for a chance at one of our door prizes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Blueprint for DeKalb" website now available [& Sept 30 info meeting]

Commissioner Gannon's Blueprint for DeKalb project has launched a website. The Blueprint identifies the need for comprehensive solutions and governmental transparency as critical in revitalizing the County's health and reputation. The Blueprint argues for fixing the County rather than fragmenting it. For an opportunity to learn about the Blueprint and ask questions, please attend the meeting scheduled for September 30th at 6:30 PM in the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur.  

The website includes position papers on ethics, internal audits, purchasing, elections, HOST and city hood. Thanks to Deanne for forwarding this information.


(From Commissioner Gannon's Office)

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  CONTACT: Davis Fox
404.371.6353

DeKalb Citizens Group Calls for Reforms
In the wake of swirling charges of corruption, a group of engaged DeKalb citizens is bringing forth recommendations to reform DeKalb County government. The diverse group of neighborhood leaders has been working since February to draft the Blueprint to Redefine DeKalb County. The Blueprint is a framework for reform - it addresses: procurement policies, ethics, inefficient operations and the stale political environment.   Today the Blueprints Leadership team called a public meeting and launched a website www.BlueprintsDeKalb.org

“The voices of citizens must be heard to change the direction of DeKalb County,” said Patricia Killingsworth, a member of the Blueprints Leadership Team. “We hope citizens from across DeKalb County – north, south, in cities or outside – will use this current crisis as an opportunity to press for meaningful reforms, and that our elected officials will engage and take their responsibility for promoting ethics and transparency in DeKalb County government seriously.”
“DeKalb needs comprehensive solutions that are as big as our problems,” said Gil Turman another member of the Blueprints Leadership Team. “Many levels of government must be involved and our business and private sector leaders must also press for change.”
www.BlueprintsDeKalb.org contains:
·       The original Blueprint showing the group’s principles
·       A progress report to the Operations Task Force
·       A survey to obtain feedback from the public
·       Draft position papers written by citizens
The position papers include recommendations to ensure more accountability, transparency and efficiency. Among the recommendations are:
·       An internal audit watchdog that reports to an independent body
·       Ethics reform, including removing Board of Ethics appointments from the CEO and Board of Commissioners
·       Greater transparency in purchasing, budgeting and operations to allow citizens to more carefully monitor County government
·       A straw poll to consider term limits and non-partisan elections

The Blueprints Leadership Team will review these reforms in a community meeting on September 30th at 6:30 PM in the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur.  

For more information contact BlueprintDekalb@gmail.com