Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Community meeting summary [Oct 27]

These are very informal notes so we can report on the meeting asap.

We had a great meeting and very well attended: around 135 people showed up to hear about our schools, zoning and yes, annexation.

Acting president Lynn Ganim acknowledged the many volunteers that worked on the annexation survey.

Schools Update (by Tanya Myers, MANA Schools Liaison): Brian McKinley, neighborhood resource coordinator at Laurel Ridge Elementary, gave a brief history and update from the school. Test scores have risen across the board from 2012-2013 in reading, science, math, and social studies. He also described a plan to set up a mini park/gathering area with a bunch of Little Libraries. Home Depot has donated materials for the libraries, benches, arbor and some landscaping material as well. Volunteers are welcome for grounds days (always the first weekend of the month, next one is Nov 8th from 9-1) and site prep day for the Little Libraries (Nov 15th from 9-1)! Laurel Ridge's Fall Festival is coming soon on November 15th.

Preliminary results: annexation survey
based on mid-afternoon, Oct 24, with 224 surveys in.

NOTE: THE SURVEY DEADLINE IS NOW EXTENDED TO OCTOBER 31. Same rules apply: complete online or mail in/drop off @ UPS store at Emory Commons (full info included in the newsletter/survey packet that MANA distributed door to door).

Preliminary survey results:
tiny so you can't read them  but
know we discussed them :) Full
report coming soon!
I. On the individual questions regarding whether the respondent would choose a certain option vs. remaining in unincorporated DeKalb County:

- Join City of Decatur ( 66%) vs Remain unincorporated ( ~34%)
- Join City of Atlanta (~45%) vs Remain incorporated (~55%)
- Join new city (Briarcliff/Lakeside) ( 60%) vs Remain unincorporated ( ~40%)
- Legislature decides now ( ~39%) vs. 1-year moratorium on all new cities and annexations ( ~61%)

II. On the question asking people to rank our various options, those options are listed below
1. Join City of Decatur [highest interest]
2. Join new city of Briarcliff/Lakeside
3. 1-year moratorium on new cities and annexations
4. Remain unincorporated
5. Join City of Atlanta [lowest interest]
Standing room only: House Representative Oliver addresses the audience. Around 135 people attended.
Guest speaker: Mary Margaret Oliver
(these are not complete notes nor a transcript)

Mary Margaret Oliver (no longer our rep, but still a member of the House of Representatives as well as Government Affairs Committee) and Elena Parent (our newest Senator, effective January 2015) were both at the meeting and answered questions about our concerns with annexation. It was a very informative session, thanks to both for attending.

It was a long meting but Ms. Oliver's message was strongly in favor of
1) deciding what we want
2) keeping on fighting for what we want, whatever that may be, by contacting the elected officials who stand to make decisions
Ms Oliver said our survey looked great and that other communities are doing surveys as well.

Ms Oliver answered questions about annexation to City of Decatur:

Q: How can we be talking about Decatur as an option if Decaur said they are not interested?
A: "it ain't over", do not accept defeat today

City of Decatur is likely to get commercial areas but there is an unspoken rule that commercial annexations should also include residents

We would need Representative Rahn Mayo to write legislation to propose that our neighborhood be annexed to City of Decatur. Even if the legislation is approved and a referendum is mandated, the Decatur Commission could still say no.

As to schools, Ms Oliver said that her personal opinion is that by refusing to vote on the highly supported Druid Hills Charter Cluster, DeKalb Schools have given the organizers a very good argument for approaching Atlanta. Atlanta sands to gain a new $79 million school (Fernbannk): if they get the kids, they get the school.

Q: What would happen to our neighborhood if we lose Druid Hills High School to Atlanta?
A: DeKalb Co Schools would reopen a closed middle school or high school to meet the need.

Ms Oliver offered that our neighborhood has desirable resources such as the Medlock Elementary site: is that something that City of Decatur might want for future use? What is valuable to Decatur that we have?

Ms Oliver briefly touched upon property taxes and who those might change due to annexation and she said that annexation to Atlanta or a new city would bring increases but nothing in the magnitude we can expect if we annexed to City of Decatur.

Q: What can we do to fight City of Decatur's annexation of commercial property?
A: Ms Oliver answered that this is a political rather than a legal battle. Last year, Decatur backed away based on strong arguments from commercial owners and voters.

Ms Oliver said the trend seems to be smaller government that is closer to the voter but that is also costlier in terms of property taxes. However, that because of inefficiencies within DeKalb County, it is possible that smaller local municipalities can provide the same services at a lower cost. On taxes, she said that very roughly speaking, there should not be huge changes except if annexed to Decatur. Each municipality has different senior exemptions, for example.

Regarding annexation to City of Decatur, Ms Oliver stressed that City of Decatur needs to hear from us: we need to make a financial case--what is in it for Decatur? We in the Medlock neighborhood have assets. The more folks speak out, the greater the leverage.

Q: How can we leverage the results of our survey?
A: Ms Oliver said that the key is is to be politically strategic and effective. We could put together a legal team, use the survey, make the arguments.

There were many questions from concerned seniors about how their property taxes may go up and create hardship.

Q: Why did the Briarcliff proposal team back away and allow City of Decatur to claim all this commercial property?
A: (Alan Venet answered) When the process began, the cityhood planners were given some rules. One was that they cannot draw maps that create islands. Another guideline, not a rule, was that they were advised to "politically respect reasonable annexation plans" in order to get a hearing for their plans.
Q: was Briarcliff told that they would not be heard at the legislature if they did not honor the "reasonable plan" that City of Decatur proposed?

Ms Oliver again stated that we have more leverage than we think.

At the end of her enjoyable back-and-forth with the audience, Ms Oliver asked for a show of hands as to how those present felt about the options available. The results (with 1 having the highest show of hands and 5 having the lowerst):
1. City of Briarcliff/Lakeside (amusingly referred to as Briarpatch throughout the meeting)
2. City of Decatur
3. moratorium/wait a year to decide what we want to become
4. City of Atlanta
There was a strong message, be the squeaky wheel. That means contacting the elected officials that represent us but also those who don't directly represent us but stand to make decisions that do affect us (e.g., City of Decatur council members, state legislators who sit in key committees such as the Government Affairs Committee). So hold the WD-40 folks, here we come!

To join Ms Oliver's e-newsletter, go here: http://marymargaretoliver.org/
To join Ms. Paren'ts e-newsletter, go here: http://www.elenaparent.com/about/

Zoning Report (from Theresa Same, MANA Zoning Chair): 
Walmart construction has begun. Moe's, hearing aid shop, Pizza Hut are staying; bowling alley not confirmed. Starbucks and LA Fitness confirmed, additional junior anchors should be announced soon. So, not too many updates since the last Medlock Matters newsletter, which you can read online