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Most Residents at Meeting Unsure About Cityhood

About 100 people showed up at Oak Grove United Methodist Church on Monday to listen to several local politicos talk about what it would take to start a city in DeKalb County

The vast majority of residents at a Monday meeting to learn about cityhood in northern DeKalb County said they were unsure they wanted to be part of a new city.

And everyone was even less sure about where another new city might be.

In what was billed as an information-only session hosted by the Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, the vast majority of 100 or so residents raised their hands to indicate they were unsure about cityhood. Only a small number showed they favored or disliked the idea.

Fran Millar, DeKalb County's sole Republican state senator; Tom Taylor, a DeKalb state represenatative, and Dan Weber, a former state senator in DeKalb, spent roughly 90 minutes talking with residents about cityhood in the county. They spoke about everything from the necessary $30,000 cost of a study to determine a future city's feasability to the different services a city can offer. (Peachtree Corners, for instance, is "city-light," which means it exists almost solely to give its residents control over code enforcement and zoning and doesn't offer much in the way of tangible services.)

No boundaries for a city were discussed. After the meeting it wasn't clear who wanted a city, where that movement might start and what communities it might include. It was obvious that Monday's meeting was the very beginning of a difficult process that might seek to organize swaths of residents and communities into a collective enterprise. But, this area, the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area (or the Lakeside-Emory-Northlake area or whatever else you choose to call it), has existed for so long officially as unincorporated DeKalb County.

One resident, a marketing executive, said one of the most important questions that needs to be answered is, at its heart, about branding: "Where do we live right now?"

It's a question that doesn't appear to have vexed the many residents who have organized into nearby cities recently such as Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, areas that arguably had clearer identities before they became cities.

But Millar, of Dunwoody, said it was important to look at what residents could get out of cityhood.

"When I think of North Druid Hills, this area, I think of preservation. I think of zoning," he said. "When something goes wrong, you've got someone down the street you can complain to."

Millar, Taylor and Weber also sought to dispel assumptions about cityhood – things that might drive some residents to want it in the wrong way. For instance:

  • The chances of a city getting its own school district are almost nill, Taylor said. No matter what, most of your property taxes will still continue to go to the DeKalb County School System.
  • Starting a city doesn't mean you're seceding from the county. You will most likely continue to pay for some county services such as water and sewer and garbage collection. About 80 percent of tax revenues will continue to go to the county, Millar said: "When cities are created, people are still part of Dekalb County."
  • It's a difficult battle and a slog of a process. And if you can get cityhood approved by the legislature, the residents still have to vote in favor of it.

All of this is also separate from a movement to create a City of DeKalb, which is the subject of a study committee in the legislature. Millar said he thinks it's nearly impossible that would happen, and no legislation proposing it would make it off the floor of the House or Senate.

A number of residents expressed frustration that the meeting had no one speaking against cityhood. Although Jeff Rader, DeKalb County's District 2 commissioner who has spoken against cityhood before, was at the meeting, he left early before making any remarks.

"You have shown us quite simply that you're all pro-city," one resident shouted as a woman explained that any new city needs a significant amount of commercial or industrial property to finance a city without over-taxing residents. "Let's move on to another question."

Kevin Levitas, a former DeKalb state represenative who represented Briarcliff Woods, said at the next meeting he organizes, speakers opposing cityhood would be invited to speak. He said he was shooting for Nov. 29 as a tentative date.

No packets or heavily detailed information about cityhood was handed out. Millar, Taylor and Weber offered mostly anecdotes and general reflections on what it took to get cities started in Dunwoody and Brookhaven. Millar, for instance, said Dunwoody had 90 days to organize a police force for the city, once voted approved it – a Georgia record, he said.

"Even when these cities are created, they still have warts, believe me," he said.

Another resident said everyone in the room needed to consider the idea for themselves and not be pushed by state legislators.

"There's a lot of great reasons to have a city. But if you want to start a city, the leadership needs to come from you, not from state legislators," he said.

But that sort of leadership hasn't emerged yet.

"We don't need to know how to [become a city] until we know why to do it," another resident said.

Cheryl Miller November 21, 2012 at 05:59 AM
Tom is right on the money on this one.
Cheryl Miller May 19, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Thank you Kestrel. We are living out your prediction here in Tucker and not loving it one bit. What a terrible thing to do when our schools need our support and unity. Communities are more fractured than ever right when we were finally all working together for the common good of the entire county. People are popping up everywhere that I have never heard of and talking like programmed robots for cityhood. These faux groups need to work a little harder on their acting skills because it's pretty apparent they are not even in touch with the communities they say they are trying to represent. One question for you, Kestrel, was the Brookhaven vote a countywide vote last November? Or was it only for those inside the proposed city limits of Brookhaven? Because I like in Tucker and my husband and I BOTH recall voting on the Brookhaven incorporation question here. Did they ask us the question but not count our answers? What's going on with that??
Cheryl Miller May 19, 2013 at 10:39 PM
Great advice, E. I just recently suggested on the Facebook Page for Save Tucker! (www.facebook.com/SaveTuckerFromLakesideCity) that we try to find a different feasibility study vendor. As the former Research Manager for CNN News Services, we would have never selected a research firm that was currently working with, let's say, Fox News, for example. There are too many trade secrets to trust that a third party could potentially reveal and the vendor already has an existing relationship with the competition so you don't know if they are truly loyal to "them" or you. When I re-read the law on city formation, it said that there are two study vendors who are "pre-approved," but that does not mean that we cannot find our own suitable firm and ask for them to be approved as well. There is something that just doesn't feel right when you are walking down the path that you know is only there because someone else laid it out for you.... like pigs being led to a slaughter.
Cheryl Miller May 19, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Estimates are 30% for an increase in commercial tax for either a city of Lakeside or Tucker. That will push many of our mom and pop shops out of business. Problem is - these are actually OUR Moms and OUR pops that will be out of business. That's far too close to home in my opinion. Why do they want zoning control? You wouldn't want to select it unless you plan to change things. I'm happy with things the way they are.
Cheryl Miller May 19, 2013 at 11:11 PM
May 21 for Tucker Together at St. Andrews on Lavista, next to the Tucker Rec. Center.

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