Thursday, November 6, 2014

That unreasonable Decatur annexation plan -- meeting report

On November 4, the Decatur City Commission conducted its Annexation Master Plan Work Session. DecaturMetro reports on it under the title Despite Petitions, No Additions To Decatur Annexation Map – and Other Annexation Meeting Notes (includes link to meeting video). The AJC reported on the meeting as well, noting that over 100 people attended and of the 31 who participated in the public comment session, 20 spoke against annexation.

Decaturish also covered the meeting (see here), and a comment by Mayor Baskett deserves follow-up:
After dealing with annexation a couple of years back, we weren’t anxious to get back into this annexation discussion,” Baskett said. “I for one certainly was not anxious to. We did not choose this. It was dropped on us. A bill was dropped for a city of Briarcliff that totally surrounded us to the north. So these people that were here tonight who live in some of those areas who were saying we want to stay in the county of DeKalb seem, to me, to be burying their heads in the sand.
As to the facts:

As of right now, Medlock Park and nearby neighborhoods are not known to be in any map other than the unincorporated DeKalb map. Thus, "these people's" heads are not "in the sand" but rather, held high as they call out City of Decatur's unreasonable annexation proposal... just like City of Decatur residents would be justified in calling foul if unincorporated DeKalb or a new city reached inside Decatur's existing borders to cherry-pick commercial property.

The idea that the Briarcliff proposal somehow snuck up and forced Decatur's hand is misleading. Unincorporated residents, at the time, asked to be included in a new city proposal, as is allowed by the state constitution. Are Decatur's ~20,000 residents somehow more deserving of this commercial property tax base than the ~93,000 citizens that were included in the Briarcliff proposal? More deserving than the ~500,000 residents of unincorporated DeKalb overall? Who made this judgment? We would really like to know.

Had City of Decatur had the foresight to annex Suburban Plaza and the Medline LCI area as recently as five years ago, it is doubtful that anyone would have strenuously opposed. Today, after business owners, community and county have worked so hard to improve the future of these commercial zones, it is a different story, one that does not reflect well on the City of Decatur.

Admitting you have a problem is a good first step. Another Decaturish item includes a statement that City of Decatur issued in advance of the November 3 meeting that finally gets to the issue:
"Another part of the analysis is the implications for adding to, and diversifying, the real property tax base. Both the City Schools of Decatur and the City of Decatur are reviewing the potential revenues and expenditures associated with the draft annexation master plan area. Opportunities to expand the tax base in the long term in order to stabilize and minimize potential future tax increases must be considered and annexation provides an opportunity for that possibility." [emphasis added]
During their meeting with MANA leadership, representatives from City of Decatur insisted that their annexation map is not about money, it is about protecting the city's "gateways" and being mindful of overburdening their school system. It is good to finally hear Decatur admit that it has concerns about its ability to sustain the quality of its brand, namely, the "value" they can deliver vs their tax rates. There is no shame in admitting to income worries: from individuals to corporations, everyone is familiar with the difficulty of balancing income vs expenses.  The important thing is to find solutions that are ethical and sustainable, even if they involve tightening the proverbial belt.

City of Decatur has certainly grown and made great progress in the last 30 years. This growth, unfortunately, has apparently outstripped its school capacity, and the City is also concerned about its ability to deliver expected services without raising taxes. We sympathize with the quandary but maintain that it is absolutely unreasonable for City of Decatur to try to solve its income and school capacity problems by walking on the backs of other county residents who are also trying to secure a good education for their children and protect their ability to live and age in place in their chosen neighborhoods. 

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UPDATE: Decaturish has just posted a summary of school attendance projections for City of Decatur and expected financial impact: Study: School taxes will go up without annexation