Decatur City Manager says more annexation ‘tweaks’ possible

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 23, 2014
Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss also recommended removing this portion of annexation area B, which is on the other side of Jordan Lane.

Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss also recommended removing this portion of annexation area B, which is on the other side of Jordan Lane.

Decatur recently spent several months crafting its annexation master plan. In August, the city awarded a $25,000 contract to the Sizemore Group for annexation master planning services, the same company used by the city schools of Decatur.

There were meetings, power point presentations, service delivery reports and exhausting amounts of discussion about a plan that, ultimately, didn’t change much from the draft that was initially released by the city.

On Dec. 15, City Commissioners approved that plan but at the last minute removed two portions of it: A section on the east side of Jordan Lane in annexation Area B and a small portion of annexation Area A, which has an Atlanta address.

Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss said that may not be the last change commissioners make to the plan they adopted on last Monday. The City Schools of Decatur passed a resolution in support of that annexation plan on Dec. 17. Now the city is looking for a legislator who will sponsor it in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said she would sponsor the bill on Decatur’s behalf.

“I expect that as we move through the process and get an exact survey, there may also be a limited number of other properties that may have to be deleted or added because of access or topographical features or for other specific service delivery reasons,” Merriss said. “The plan will likely be tweaked around the edges as we move forward.”

The properties east of Jordan Lane would remain in unincorporated DeKalb County. Merriss said the city faced service delivery issues for those properties.

“We’re looking at the most efficient service delivery and there were a limited number of properties on Jordan Lane that could not be accessed via DeKalb Industrial,” Merriss said. The issue first came to the city’s attention last week, Merriss said.

The decision to cut off a portion of Jordan Lane was confusing for some of the residents living along the road. The revised lines take in parts of the street, but not others.

Valerie Barry’s condo wasn’t in the original plan, but the plan does reach across U.S. 29 to take in commercial property, like Café Istanbul.

“You’re telling me half of our street is difficult to service but Café Istanbul is easy to service,” Barry said. “How do you tell us that?”

Meghan Ramsey, who lives off Arborcrest Drive on the east side of Jordan Lane, said the city appears to have “cherry-picked” some areas and excluded others.

“I don’t think you realize you split my neighborhood in half,” Ramsey said.

Cities and unincorporated communities in DeKalb County are scrambling ahead of the 2015 session to stake their claims to any part of the county that isn’t in a city. They’re responding to proposals for creating new cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker. A subcommittee of the state House Committee on Governmental Affairs recently approved a boundary for the two cities that divides the Northlake Mall area. But other portions of the maps for Tucker and, in particular, LaVista Hills are in dispute.

Decatur and Avondale have been mindful of each other’s plans as they’ve finalized their maps. Avondale has delayed approving its master plan until January as it works to resolve differences with commercial and residential property owners who have asked that they be left out of that plan.

Merriss said the tweaks to the plan aren’t going to affect the overall impact annexation will have on the city.

“It would be marginal,” Merriss said following the Dec. 15 meeting. “I think the estimates are still within a reasonable range.”

The goal of Decatur’s plan is to increase the city’s base of commercial tax revenue. The current ratio of residential to commercial property is 85 percent to 15 percent. The annexation plan, if approved by the voters, would change that ratio to 76 percent to 20 percent.

Decatur’s Annexation area A also overlaps with annexation map proposed by a group of Druid Hills residents who want to join the city of Atlanta. The group, known as Together in Atlanta, drew its lines based around the school attendance zones of Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary Schools. The group follows on the heels of an unsuccessful effort to turn all the schools that feed into Druid Hills High into a “charter cluster.” Decatur’s decision to remove that small section of A because it has an Atlanta address still leaves the two groups with overlapping maps on Decatur’s western border.

While Together in Atlanta members are looking to join a new school system, Decatur’s annexation agenda is all about creating more space and revenue for its schools. A consultant’s report said that taxes will go up without annexation, and the school system will have little room to grow.

The Decatur schools system’s current enrollment is around 4,300 students. The consultant’s report on enrollment estimates that the city’s school system will grow to 7,398 students by 2020 without annexation in a high-growth scenario.

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  • Mr. Noyb

    if Decatur combined with Together in Atlanta and annexed the proposed TIA area
    instead of Atlanta? Yes, Decatur would
    pick up a bunch of residents that would require services, but it would also
    pickup additional taxable commercial area and, perhaps more importantly,
    existing school facilities that could meet the needs both of the annexed additional
    residents and Decatur’s own burgeoning needs.
    Medlock Park could be included to make a more sane and serviceable geography.
    The math might not work, but this is an
    idea that would appeal to many of the folks living in the TIA and Medlock areas
    and meet Decatur’s pressing need for school buildings.

    • CH

      Um, this statement makes no sense:
      “Medlock Park could be included to make a more sane and serviceable geography.”
      There’s no reason for Decatur to annex Medlock Park. Lumping it in with a potential DH annexation doesn’t change things. LaVista Hills is happy to take Medlock, so Medlock should leave it at that. A Decatur annexation will not happen.

      • Mr. Noyb

        I do not live in Medlock, but my friends there claim a feeling of community with Decatur and certainly with the adjoining commercial areas that Decatur intends to annex. Medlock children also attend Druid Hills High School, which is included in the TIA area and would be a principal rationale for Decatur to consider a broader annexation of the Druid Hills/ Clairmont Heights neighborhoods. For these reasons, potentially including Medlock if Decatur were to annex the TIA area makes at least some sense. The ultimate answer would be in the $s. It is completely conceivable that the additional tax revenue and capital assets from a broader annexation would not be sufficient to cover costs for Decatur to deliver services to the annexed residents. If that is true, then it would not make economic sense for Decatur to annex Medlock.

        • Cheryl Willis Miller

          They do have Decatur in their addresses, after all. I know when I lived in the Toco Hills area, my address said “Decatur” so that was always the area that we identified with and supported with our purchases the entire time we lived there. The school board leadership has not been particularly kind to the Medlock area and since it has been led by Lakeside leaders for the past several decades, it is hard to conceive of forcing these residents into a city being led by those same folks. Just being close to the proposed boundaries doesn’t make you ‘like minded’ with them. Medlock residents who have been active in the efforts to rid the county of the corrupt. They have good reasons to want to stay out of the reach of LVH.

    • DHH

      What you suggest makes sense, and was floated as an idea in early 2013 by the DHCA. Decatur was not willing to take the blue pill at that time. As a result there haven’t been any polls taken as trial balloons. Based purely on anecdotal data, I think it would be well supported bilaterally. I don’t think the leadership in Decatur has the band-width to taking on something so ambitious, unfortunately.

  • Cheryl Willis Miller

    “The annexation plan, if approved by the voters, would change that ratio to 76 percent to 20 percent.” Okay… um…. I’ll bite… what happened to the other 4%?

  • Cheryl Willis Miller

    The entire map for Tucker, though it is nearly the same size as the one for LVH, only has 34,000 or so residents *half the amount reportedly in the LVH map*? Tucker 2015 reported the “overlap” area had 23,000. The entire Tucker zip code has 30,000 or more, according to the census. Is anyone else wondering where the boundary committee came up with these numbers?

  • jo

    I see Decatur on a path to unsustainablity. The proposed annexation will not pay the existing bonds, it will not pay for the expanded services or schools and it will not pay for the new bonds mentioned. Just my thoughts on some of the unmentioned; where’s the new fire station? The area contains a hospital, a large VA clinic, older apartments, older commercial, natural gas substations etc. All of this requires more expensive specialized equipment and reponse protocals. I doubt the county will cover these type expenses with mutual aid agreements. It will fall on Decatur. I believe an expanded Decatur will be more expensive for all of Decatur.I believe the cost of borrowing money will rise this year which make an expanded Decatur even more expensive resulting in some tough choices. The city manager has painted an idyllic future but has anyone asked city council or the school board the other question? What’s the plan if the annexation cost more than advertised? Does the city raise taxes? combine services with the county? deannex?

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