Sunday, August 24, 2014

Annexation into Atlanta: emerging facts

via Lynn Ganim, acting MANA President

MANA will hold an informational meeting on this topic as soon as it can be arranged.  In the meantime, don’t forget the City of Briarcliff meeting on Thursday, August 28, at 7:00 at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. We still don’t know where our area stands with the proposals for new cities.

Annexation into Atlanta: More Information

Blue area shows neighborhoods represented at a meeting to explore
the idea of annexation to City of Atlanta. Atlanta is highlighted in green,
Brookhaven in grey and Decatur in pink. For entertainment purposes only.
 This map does not pretend to be comprehensive, final or pretty. 

Map via Google. Click to enlarge.
Last week MANA representatives, along with representatives of 15-20 other civic associations, attended a meeting hosted by the Druid Hills Civic Association to discuss the issues and questions surrounding possible annexation into the City of Atlanta. Except for a brief mention, the question of what happens to schools was not explored at this meeting.  What follows is a summary from notes of a very detailed discussion.

• Atlanta’s annexation stance. Alex Wan, Atlanta city councilman, stated that within the Atlanta City Council there is considerable interest in the possibility of annexing the represented areas.  He stated that Atlanta will not recruit, but it “welcomes any community.” He later explained that Atlanta wants to grow because having a larger population gives it more visibility and clout, as well as, of course, additional tax revenues. (Incidentally, he indicated that Atlanta does not need to annex additional businesses.)

• Public safety.  Atlanta, with a population of approximately 440,000, has 2000 police, while DeKalb County, with a population of approximately 700,000, has approximately 1200.

• Representation. Most likely the newly-annexed areas would be represented by existing council people.  Councilman Wan say that he now represents 33,000 people, which is a smaller number than that represented by DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader.

• Taxes. Studies have been done to show that, for houses valued at $200,000 or less, taxes are lower for those in Atlanta than in unincorporated DeKalb. For more expensive houses the rates are higher in Atlanta but not significantly. See spread sheet at  Many variables go into computing tax rates, so comparisons are not absolute. Some rates are higher in Atlanta than in DeKalb, but apparently the difference is not as large as many fear in most cases .

If an area is annexed into a city in the future, it remains in its current county; taxes are adjusted, depending on which services the city takes over from the county.

In addition, the HOST tax credit (a partial offset to a percentage of sales tax, enacted in the 1980’s), which has kept DeKalb County taxes lower than those in some other areas, has been adversely affected by the creation of new cities and will have to be recalculated at some point by the state legislature. When that happens, it will mean higher taxes for those left in unincorporated DeKalb. (See for link to an article discussing the impact of incorporations on the HOST credit and other issues involving taxation).

• Infrastructure.  Councilman Wan stated that city boundary moves will not change the provider of infrastructure, although that could be negotiated.  This means that water and sewer would continue to be provided to the annexed areas by DeKalb County.  That could be negotiated, but, according to Mr. Wan, is not likely. (This is an area about which we’re not completely clear.)

• Zoning.  Atlanta has Neighborhood Planning Units with actual power to affect zoning decisions, with much more power than our Community Council, which can only recommend.  The City also has a design unity structure which functions to maintain consistency in architecture and historic preservation.

• Process.  There are three paths to annexation in Georgia.  A single property owner may ask to be annexed into an adjacent city.  This clearly doesn’t apply here.  Second, 60% of landowners must petition the city and then 60% of registered voters must vote for annexation, which is virtually impossible to achieve in an area the size of which we’re discussing. Third, and most likely in this case, the state legislature would approve a referendum in a specific area, which would pass if 50%, plus one, of those who show up vote for annexation.

• How we would get to a referendum. Councilman Wan suggested that this most likely would happen if the legislature (as people expect) approves what is essentially Lakeside, then has this large swath of unincorporated DeKalb in the “borderlands” of incorporated cities.  In order to  “clean things up,” the legislature could then approve annexation of these left-out areas into Atlanta, since Decatur wants nothing to do with us, except to annex our businesses. Of course, none of this is definite.

• Schools. Representative Mary Margaret Oliver stated that much of what happens with the schools depends on what the Druid Hills Charter Cluster does next (litigation or some other approach).  This concern was only mentioned, not discussed in detail.  Also, Councilman Wan said it is likely that Atlanta could contract with DeKalb County for the County to continue educating the students who would then be ATL students. There obviously will be substantive discussions on this topic as time goes on.

As long and complex as this “summary” is, there are many additional details and unanswered questions, which is why we need to begin to educate ourselves now. It’s important that we take the time to study these options to understand the potential effects of different proposals on us individually and as a neighborhood.

The attendees at last week’s meeting emphasized the need to inform their neighborhoods in detail of the possibilities and then conduct surveys on preferences of residents.  This needs to be done quickly, with education and survey results completed by Thanksgiving, if at all possible.

MANA continues to research as much as we can about this and other vital cityhood/annexation issues affecting the Medlock area and will continue to report to you as we learn more. There is much to be done .  If you have questions or brief comments, please contact