With regrets, School Board supports annexation plan

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 17, 2014
The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education met on Dec. 17, 2014. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education met on Dec. 17, 2014. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education voted to support the city’s annexation plans, but that doesn’t mean board members have to like it.

School Board members met for an hour early Wednesday morning, Dec. 17, to approve a resolution backing up the city’s plan. It contained four provisions that board members got city leaders to agree to in exchange for their support.

The city agreed …

– To identify an area for a new school. School Board member Garrett Goebel said the wording is intentionally vague but said it would most likely be another elementary school.

– That the current city commission encourage future commissions to be cautious about rezoning commercial areas as residential areas.

– That the City Commission would put a General Obligation bond on the ballot in 2015 so the school system pay for expanding its facilities. During the meeting, board members said legislators have discussed the possibility of putting all annexation referendums on the ballot in July and the school board would push to have its General Obligation referendum in November. Board members said a November vote on a GO bond would bring out more parents to support it and also avoid tying it to the issue of annexation. The bond will be needed either way to pay for expanding CSD’s facilities, School Board members said.

– That CSD won’t provide educational services to the newly-annexed areas until 18 months after the effective annexation date.

Board member Annie Caiola tried to get her fellow board members to agree to a fifth condition: that CSD would work with neighboring communities, like the Medlock neighborhood, to ensure any annexation plans passed by the General Assembly are fair for everyone. Other board members appreciated the sentiment but rejected that idea, saying there were a lot of negotiations to get the city to agree to the four conditions in the resolution.

Decatur has discouraged Medlock from petitioning the city because it has about 1,400 homes.

Decatur City Commissioners on Monday, Dec. 15, approved the city’s annexation master plan contingent upon support of the School Board.

The School Board had the opportunity to pass a resolution in support of the plan on Dec. 9. But board members wanted more time to study the annexation proposal.

The Decatur schools system’s current enrollment is around 4,300 students. A 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. But the annexation plans include commercial areas like Suburban Plaza and don’t include the neighborhoods adjacent to them.

Members of the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association spoke at the meeting and asked board members to vote against the resolution.

“It’s real divisive that the city of Decatur has suddenly become our enemy, this sort of vulture taking things that are ours,” MANA treasurer Judy Perras said.

MANA secretary Tanya Myers said the commercial areas generate $5 million for the DeKalb County School District and will likely bring in more as they are redeveloped. An annexation of these areas could harm schools that that serve the Medlock community.

All board members said they were sorry they have to do any of this at all, but the push to incorporate new cities like LaVista Hills and Tucker is driving the process. These cities are seeking to leave DeKalb County’s dysfunctional government, but in the process it’s forcing other cities to stake their claims to properties that aren’t in the map of Tucker or LaVista Hills.

School Board Member Julie Rhame said she sympathized with the concerns raised by the Medlock neighborhood.

“If we took in 1,400 homes it would be the nail in the coffin,” Rhame said.

 

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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  • Alex

    So… when would the annexation officially take place is all was approved according to plan? I’m asking in particular about a tax hike on my soon to be annexed house.

    • That’s a few steps of ahead of the process. They have to get it on the ballot first, and to do that, they have to get a sponsor. Once it’s on the ballot, the terms of when it becomes effective will be made clear. Typically it has been January of the following calendar year, but that’s not necessarily going to be the case here. It’s not even clear that they’ll find a sponsor for this plan in the legislature.

      • Alex

        Thanks for clarification. I’ve been following it closely via you and DM, but still unsure how at the snap of a finger they can annex all the homes on Derrydown, but need to follow much stricter procedures for the “plan.”

        • Sure. They can’t do it at the snap of the finger. It has to have the support of voters first, but that requires a legislator willing to pass a bill to get it on the ballot. Decatur tried this a couple of years ago and the bill couldn’t find a sponsor. There’s also another problem: Medlock is an unincorporated island among all the maps and legislators have said repeatedly that they aren’t going to leave any unincorporated “islands” out there. Medlock is going somewhere if this process moves forward. Whether they have a say in it is a different story …

  • Marlbey

    The City of Decatur is blaming LaVista Hills (which doesn’t yet exist, and may never) for Decatur’s controversial, self-serving annexation of property? LaVista Hills is nowhere near these proposed annexations and has nothing to do with it. Decatur is annexing properties because it wants to enrich its own coffers, and it doesn’t care that this is at the expense of Medlock’s school children. I call “bull,” and I hope Georgia’s legislators do too.

  • Lisa

    Perhaps I’m a little simple minded, but I don’t get it. Decatur wants all the benefit (tax revenue) of the commercial areas but isn’t able/willing to take on the students in adjoining neighborhoods. Oh, not to mention the more affluent Decatur gets to capture tax revenue (school dollars) from DeKalb county, a school system that is inferior to Decatur’s in almost all academic and socio-economic measures (and therefore arguably in greater need of the school dollars). Why is this not a civil rights issue for the children of DeKalb county? Why is this OK for Decatur’s leadership and the citizens of Decatur? It’s not OK with me. The school overcrowding issue could be addressed in many more creative ways (policies that have an impact in keeping the city’s population down like helping older residents stay in their homes or NOT approving the building of tons of apartments, policies that make it unsavory to tear down small houses and replace them with McMansions, incentives that help attract larger-dollar commercial operations to existing Decatur commercial property (Trader Joe’s in Oakhurst, anyone))?
    Grow big and plunder our neighbors’ tax base are not policies I want to be a part of.

    • Marlbey

      You’re not simple minded, and you do get it. Privileged Decatur is, in fact, plundering the disadvantaged children of unincorporated DeKalb County. It’s like a Reverse Robin Hood.

      • Bill Jones

        Then MANA is the Sherriff of Nottingham, shopping things that don’t belong to them to try to enrich themselves in their home values.

        • Hold on a minute…

          Not sure about your logic, Bill. Are you saying that MANA is trying to enrich themselves by opposing Decatur’s plan to annex commercial property adjacent to the Medlock neighborhood without also annexing the residential? Walk me through your thinking.

    • PJ

      I’m sympathetic to Medlock’s unfortunate position, but can you explain the rationale they have to claim these commercial properties as theirs? Best I can tell, it’s because they are adjacent to their neighborhood. But these areas are also adjacent to City of Decatur. Don’t both have a reasonable claim to these areas?

      • Lisa

        It’s “theirs” right now because the revenue goes to DeKalb Co. I don’t care about the philosophical question “who’s should it be?” The fact is, revenue that today goes to Dekalb Co kids would, under the annexation plan, go to Decatur kids.

        • Bill Jones

          But if Medlock gets into Decatur, you will abandon your concern for all these “kids” and go along with it?

          • Marlbey

            It certainly would remove my objection. Decatur is surgically cutting away revenue generating properties from Unincorporated neighborhoods, for every dollar of revenue Decatur Public Schools gains, DeKalb County School District will lose. If Decatur were to annex in a comparable amount of residential, then it would be equitable for all. (By the way, Decatur’s annex proposal also takes every road and entryway into MANA and Clairmont Heights, so it will be impossible to access for County services to reach those neighborhoods without driving through Decatur.)

          • Lisa

            Look, here’s how I teach my (CSD educated) kids – with priveledge comes responsibility. While this sentiment could apply in many different ways to this situation, most simply – if Decatur leaders think they should have the privilege of counting the commercial tax dollars as their own, then they should have the reaponsibility to educate the kids that have historically relied on these tax dollars for their education. 1,400 kids is too many? I agree! So don’t annex Medlock but also don’t plunder the tax revenue this neighboring community relies on.

          • bill

            How much of the revenue from the proposed annexed property would go to the specific schools near Medlock? Any of it? 1%? Probably much less. Think of how big DeKalb is and think of all the property. It’s an emotional argument, not a logical one.

      • Marty

        No. It is Dekalb County.

        • PJ

          The commercial properties in question are in unincorporated Dekalb County. The commercial tax revenue is distributed equally among all Dekalb schools and county services. Decatur annexing both the residential and commercial properties only solves the problem for residents of Medlock, not the disadvantaged ones in South Dekalb you seem so worried about. Decatur is an adjacent municpality. MANA is an adjacent residential neighborhood. Decatur’s annexation plan is no more “unreasonable” than MANA’s annexation plan.

          • Not so fast…

            I would love to hear what MANA’s annexation plan is! Please enlighten me.

          • PJ

            Your snarky sarcasm aside, they’re plan is to use these commercial properties as leverage to gain a better annexation option than they currently have.

            No one wants them now, so they think that they could entice Decatur, Atlanta, Lavista (whoever) to include their residential neighborhood if the adjacent commercial properties were part of the deal. While I do believe that their desire to maintain control over the Medline development partially drives this, this whole “think of the children!” argument is pure pretext.

            If they were really trying to protect the children of unincorporated Dekalb, they’d be against ALL incorporation, not just Decatur’s plan. Am I the only one who sees this?

          • Not so fast…

            Yes, you are the only who believes that.

          • Marty

            I AM against All incorporation. And yes, I am also very concerned for the children. And the tax revenues.

          • Marty

            Not sure you know, but Scottdale is adjacent to Decatur & Avondale. And neither one.wants Scottdale. I don’t feel its fair to lose our high school to Atlanta.(Druid Hills). And I wonder if my taxes will become very high, due to eeveryone bailing out of Dekalb Co.

    • Marty

      Thank you!

  • Bill Jones

    Nonsense MANA. You’re neighborhood is adjacent to one road of the annexation areas, and Decatur is “taking things that our ours”? Get over yourselves. You would trade these areas in a minute to Decatur if they would annex your neighborhood. You don’t care about DeKalb County.

    • Marty

      I live & own a business in Scottdale. NO ONE wants Scotdale. I do NOT want to be City of Decatur. But definitely dont feel like Decatur, or ANY other city, should be able to cherry.pick what land, commercial property, they should now consider their own. You moved to COD. Because you liked it .I have lived in Dekalb Co. Since 1969, because I like it. It needs work, improvements. But not just by.the litlle.islands that would be created.by the wealthy landgrabbers.We all deserve good schools.

      • Bill Jones

        I respect your opinion. If you are in unincorporated DeKalb and want to stay there, then it a reasonable debate. The problem I have with MANA is that they make your argument for blackmail purposes but don’t believe it and want to do the thing you object to.

        • Not so fast…

          Question, Bill: for what other reasons besides “nonsense” do you oppose the MANA folks? I’d love to hear some actual logic.

    • tribepride

      Actually, that’s a gross oversimplification. With several main entrances to the neighborhood included in Decatur’s annexation plans and with several more included in the Atlanta map, we’re being told that service delivery may be an issue if these maps stand unchallenged. Additionally, see my comments elsewhere regarding the Medline LCI long-term plan and it’s potential impacts on streets within the Medlock neighborhood. This has serious implications for the health of a vibrant neighborhood.

  • DHH

    If I understand the process correctly, the next steps are 1) get a sponsor 2) drop a bill in the GA 3) vote on bill 4) Governor signs bill 5) Referendum of the residents in the annexed areas. Here is where it gets weird. This is not an annexation of one piece of land, it is a proposal to annex 4 separate areas (A,B,C,D). Shouldn’t each of these areas be subjected to a separate bill and referendum? Neither of the areas are contiguous, so they shouldn’t be lumped together in a single bill. That would be like Atlanta trying to annex Druid Hills and S.Fulton, and putting all voters in those distinct areas on the same referendum (which also wouldn’t make sense).

    • I don’t know if can handle this thing getting even more complicated.

  • Marlbey

    Decatur is lovely, irrespective of its current, self serving government’s actions which are highly controversial both within the city and without. But to answer your question, Atlanta is threatening to annex Druid Hills, leaving Medlock without a high school, Decatur is threatening to annex the adjoining commercial property and roadways, which will defund Medlock’s county services and also compromise government access to the neighborhood. Medlock is completely caught in the middle as these two cities gut its resources. Joining Decatur was an attractive solution to most of the ills being forced on this charming community. And by the way, Medlock would have brought with it an elementary school building, so it had something that is attractive to Decatur. Decatur rejected Medlock without consideration. It’s reason is because Decatur doesn’t get any bigger; we’ll just take your commercial property, thank you very much.

    • Bill Jones

      Atlanta is “threatening to annex Druid Hills”? Druid Hill is begging Atlanta to take them. Decatur heard from Medlock several times and decided they didn’t want to annex the neighborhood.
      Medlock can go to Lavista Hills or Atlanta. It only need ask.

      • DHH

        Medlock should go with Atlanta. They can bring Suburban plaza with them. They will be better off in the long run and Atlanta has more room for positive growth than Decatur. Decatur is nice, but basically a small island that has a limited range of growth going forward. Basically, we have reached “peak-Decatur” already.

        • Not so fast…

          I agree.

      • Marlbey

        I should have said “threatening to annex Druid Hills High School”

      • Not so fast…

        Bill, once again, neither of the cityhood efforts can draw in Medlock because it would create an unincorporated island. Do some research, please.

  • caulfield

    To any informed reader out there: What are some reasons a state legislator would want to sponsor this? A need to support and preserve a highly successful school system in GA, perhaps? Or something not legit? Or both? And if the sky is falling on CSD, why have residential properties been annexed piecemeal over the last year or so (Derrydown, Parkwood, Conway…)?

  • gagirl

    Lavista Hills would look more appealing to Medlock if they knew which high school Medlock kids would attend. If they join Lavista Hills and Druid Hills joins Atlanta, then they have no idea where their kids would end up. If your kids were in that position, would you agree to anything with that uncertainty?

    • Bill Jones

      Medlock kids would attend the same schools whether they were unincoprated or joined Lavista Hills. Lavista Hills doesn’t have its own school system.

      • Druid Hills

        But if Atlanta annexes Druid Hills High, the Medlock kids (and others) will not be going there, but rather to some unknown other Dekalb County high school.

        • Bill Jones

          But that would be the case whether Medlock is in unincorporated DeKalb or Lavista Hills. How does that affect the decision to join Lavista Hills?

          • gagirl

            No, Medlock need to keep the option of joining Atlanta open in case Druid Hills takes the high school with them. There are a lot more moving pieces than most people realize.

          • Bill Jones

            Keeping options open as far as getting out of DeKalb? I thought MANA championed DeKalb and was upset about all the vultures hurting the schools there? Pssssst. You are supposed to hide the hypocrisy.

          • Not so fast…

            For a third time Bill (phew, this is getting tiring), do your homework. If DHHS goes to Atlanta, that would likely mean no DHHS for DeKalb County….and….Medlock is in DeKalb County. That leaves many, many kids without a high school.

  • MedlockMama

    All the Medlock residents? I moved to Medlock so that I would NOT be in Decatur and still have no interest in it. Kindly avoid generalizing our whole neighnorhood.

  • PJ

    I have to agree with Bill on this. By MANA’s rationale, all properties in Dekalb County outside of CoD (the only municipality with its own school district) are “theirs”. Just annexing Medlock residential properties along with the Medlock/Decatur border commercial properties would not solve the issue of diverted tax dollars. This is really just a neighborhood association upset about the annexation options currently available to them and hoping to use nearby commercial properties to leverage an annexation solution they like more.

    And it should be noted, none of this would even be an issue if Dekalb County government were not a corrupt cesspool. So if the option is for commercial tax revenue to go to good government in Decatur or to continue to fund the corrupt practices of Dekalb politicians then I’ll take the former rather than the latter.

    • Not so fast…

      You appear to be taking this rationale wayyyy past where any reasonable person in MANA would take it. Its just silly to say all properties outside of CoD belong to anyone. Think about this one for a moment: The MANA community has nurtured the commercial properties near them for many years, helping build sustainable, locally sensitive options. Decatur has ignored Medlock for their efforts and would now like to capitalize on these large developments going up. Now imagine you live in Medlock. Would it make you upset that CoD is pilfering both your commercial tax dollars and development efforts?

  • Thisten

    Recently, Dan ran an excellent piece about Brookhaven’s annexation of Executive Park and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Did this not also remove tax revenue and school dollars from DeKalb County? I guess I don’t quite understand MANA’s focus on Decatur, while seemingly ignoring the annexation of other commercial areas in DeKalb County. Does it matter where in DeKalb County these annexations occur? Are locally generated tax dollars from commercial areas (like Suburban Plaza) distributed more to the DeKalb County schools in the area near Decatur? It seems to me that ANY removal of commercial property from DeKalb County by annexation (no matter where in DeKalb County it occurs) removes tax dollars from the DeKalb County school system. I understand that these areas are right next door to Medlock, but MANA might want to pay attention to what Brookhaven is doing as well if they truly are interested in the “sort of vulture taking things” going on in DeKalb County.

    • tribepride

      The big difference is that Brookhaven has no independent school system, so there’s no diversion of school revenues out of DCSD to a different system. Annexations by cities with existing schools systems, such as Atlanta and Decatur, are different – and it’s a key point in why we feel so strongly about Decatur’s over-reaching annexation plan. Decaturish has covered this issue fairly extensively, and you should be able to find additional information under the Annexation page. Also, see my response regarding why MANA feels so connected to the properties under discussion.

      • Thisten

        Thank you for the reply and information.

      • underscorex

        >”The big difference is that Brookhaven has no independent school system”

        Yet.

        I am completely serious when I say I expect a Constitutional amendment allowing new cities to start their own school districts, either independently or in conjunction with neighboring cities, on the ballot by 2020.

  • WM

    What makes Decatur’s children more worthy than their neighbor’s children? Outright thieves.

  • tribepride

    I can understand why you might question Medlock’s feeling of “ownership” for Suburban Plaza and the Scott Blvd. Baptist church areas of development, especially if you’re unaware of (or perhaps willing to ignore) how many hours have been voluntarily spent by Medlock residents on trying to bring positive, community-friendly development to a corner of both Decatur and Medlock’s borders. We can argue back and forth about whether a Walmart is desirable there. But the reality is that without the influence of folks in and around Medlock to have community input and constructive discussions, that development would have been far less desirable than it will be now.

    Compound that with the significant investment of time that Medlock folks put into attending community sessions associated with the Medline LCI study – not to mention the excitement that we might some long-term planning aimed at a more walkable, bikeable environment. That Medline LCI study, by the way, had some proposals that would be very high impact on the edge of the Medlock community to the benefit of Decatur – and funny how Decatur included these very portions of our neighborhood in their annexation plans. If annexation is successful, we’d be completely disenfranchised from input into how those areas are developed.

  • tribepride

    That might have been the case a month or two ago. But as LaVista Hills faces shrinking borders and fights to retain a reduced base of commercial properties, it’s going to be far harder for them to absorb another swathe of exclusively residential property (which is what we’re left with if Decatur’s plans stand).

  • gxhampton

    Can you all be happy. You are getting more kids. It will be 10,000
    kids by 2020 but by 2025 it will be 20,000 kids. The revenue earned from
    commercial property will only last for two years then taxes will have
    to raised. Yeah!!!!

    There is a loop hole. Vote NO to any bond referendum that aids the schools. This will stop annexation, may be.

  • Own This

    Medlock doesn’t own the adjacent commercial property any more than they own any other parts of Dekalb County. It isn’t even a municipality, and has no viable plan to become one. Decatur however *is*. These vulture comments are nothing more than sour grapes because Decatur can’t, won’t and doesn’t want to annex 1400 homes. And according to some Medlock posters here, doesn’t even want to be in the COD. (yea, right..) MANA is just opposing the plan out of spite because they won’t get what the really want, annexed into the COD.

    • Not so fast…

      Wow, you certainly have a lofty opinion of your crazy high taxes and overflowing schools. Please understand that folks in the MANA area live OUTSIDE Decatur because they choose to. Despite your self absorbed view, not everyone in the Atlanta metroplex wants to be in the CoD.

      • Please refrain from personal attacks. We can all be civil about our disagreements

        • Not so fast…

          Sorry about that. Too much sarcasm, not enough substance.

      • Own This

        So you don’t want to be in the COD? Then you are getting what you want, and have no stake in the plan.

        But if any of your hate was true, then why did MANA petition and attend meetings pushing to join COD?

        Methinks your sour grapes give you away.

        And I do have a lofty opinion of Decatur’s great schools and city services, yes indeed. And the skyrocketing COD property values are a hint that I’m not the only one…

        It’s greater in Decatur, hater.

        • Not so fast…

          There is no hate here (or sour anything) only frustration in how MANA is being unfairly portrayed in this discussion. I’m uncertain of the purpose of trying to get MANA to admit to wanting into CoD. Sounds like a polite bashing campaign. Clearly MANA pursued the option but was rebuffed. I hear mostly annoyance that MANA would dare oppose the CoD annexation plans, and uninformed speculation on MANA’s motives. (And I like your little jingle at the end too.)

  • Marlbey

    In fact, it would be equitable for those of us outside of Medlock in unincorporated DeKalb (In fact, I am such a resident.) Here’s why: Unincorporated DeKalb would not be harmed by Decatur’s annexation of that commercial property IF Decatur took a commensurate amount of residential property as well. My (again, non-MANA) neighborhood is harmed if Decatur annexes Area B without Medlock because our tax burden increases while Decatur’s coffers are enriched. It would probably be a neutral/ no harm to me if Decatur annexes Area B WITH Medlock, because Decatur assumes the revenue from the commercial properties AND the expenses of providing services to MANA.
    Also, LaVista Hills is irrelevant, because it does not have its own school district. Area B would support MANA’s schools whether they are unincorporated or in LaVista Hills. So joining LaVista Hills doesn’t solve MANA’s problem of having its school revenues gutted by Decatur, and its high school taken away by Atlanta.

  • Not so fast…

    Quick point of fact, Bill: Neither LaVista Hills nor Briarcliff can put Medlock on their map because it would create an unincorporated island on the Medlock west side. The state legislature made this rule. There was no “refusal”.
    On your other point, does MANA want into Decatur? This is a moot point because Decatur has said on many occasions that they will not take Medlock. The real nonsense in all this is an annexation plan by Decatur to carve out commercial from a residential area that supports and is supported by said businesses. You may call this rationale any name you like, but it is fact that with the Decatur annexation proposal, taxes that once went to the education of DeKalb children would be diverted to City of Decatur children.

  • Hans

    lots of opinions here, some informed, some not. Thanks to Dan to stepping in where necessary. Because of the current conditions in Dekalb County, Decatur has been inundated with annexation requests. The job of an elected leader first and foremost is to protect the best interests of their current citizens, not seek to optimize a solution for potential citizens. Decatur has taken a very conservative stance due to school crowding. There is little undeveloped land left in Decatur of sufficient size to support a new school, and at current growth rates Decatur actually needs a new elementary, middle and high school in the next ten years. No wonder city leaders are concerned about more population without the space for schools. That said, in the long view it *greatly* harms Decatur to live inside an unstable and insolvent Dekalb county. Actions the city takes that increase the risk of insolvency, like annexing unincorporated commercial areas without taking some additional cost of education, hurt the city in the long run. So I encourage city leaders to think through the consequences of a short-term revenue grab that ultimately increases the chance of an insolvent constitutional entity surrounding us. As bad as Dekalb is right now, Decatur would be foolish to forget how badly it is needed. Simply stripping Dekalb of commercial areas and leaving them all the costs of residents is short-sighted.

  • Marty

    I dont think they are.

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