Hundreds turn out to hear pitch for new city of LaVista Hills

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 25, 2015
LaVista Hills supporters addressed a packed house at Briarcliff United Methodist Church on Aug. 24. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

LaVista Hills supporters addressed a packed house at Briarcliff United Methodist Church on Aug. 24. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Residents who could potentially be in a new city of LaVista Hills packed the pews at Briarcliff United Methodist Church on Aug. 24 to hear a pitch from supporters of the idea.

Opponents of new cities waited outside the church doors to hand out pamphlets rebutting some of the arguments for creating new cities in DeKalb County.

It was a quiet, respectful gathering. Mary Kay Woodworth with the LaVista Hills Alliance said more than 400 people attended the town hall meeting. These cityhood question will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.  If approved, the city of LaVista Hills would have a population of more than 65,000 people.

Speakers told the audience that a new city would bring lower taxes, better roads and better police services. But it wouldn’t sever the community’s ties with DeKalb County.

Ben Shackelford, who lives near Lakeside High, said the plan will redirect a portion of tax money from DeKalb to a local municipality that will be more responsive to residents.

“This is not a spaceship,” he said. “We’re not going to leave the county. LaVista Hills cannot blast off. We’re talking about 7 cents and we’re talking about providing five services with those 7 cents.”

The services would be public safety and code enforcement, public works, planning and zoning, permitting and licenses, and parks and recreation.

Matt Slappey, another presenter who lives in Oak Grove, said the county would still handle things like garbage, water and sewer infrastructure, and the county’s court system.

The biggest advantage, according to Slappey, is that there would be more accountability. Currently none of DeKalb County’s commissioners live within the LaVista Hills footprint, he said. He argued that a local City Council would be more responsive than a county commissioner.

“All decision makers would have to live with the impact of their decisions,” he said.

The speakers also said that the area that would become LaVista Hills gets shortchanged on services. The presenters claimed that the area provides 22.5 percent of the county’s assessed property value, but has less than 1 percent of park space, for example. A new city would also provide a more efficient and directed effort at paving local roads, the presenters said.

“Dunwoody paving 5 to 10 percent of its roads per year resulting in a 10 to 20 year replacement program,” Slappey said. “DeKalb County is paving approximately 2 to 4 percent of roads per year 25 to 50 year replacement program.”

DeKalb Strong, the lead group opposing new cities, handed out pamphlets saying the claims of cityhood supporters are not true. Better roads? Not going to happen, DeKalb Strong says.

“Existing new cities have had more money than unincorporated areas for infrastructure because of the structure of DeKalb’s sales tax, which give disproportionate funds to cities,” the pamphlet from DeKalb Strong says. “That formula has been fixed, and newer cities will no longer unfairly benefit.”

The group also disputes that taxes will be lower.

“A new layer of government isn’t free,” DeKalb Strong argues. “Fragmented government is less efficient and has significant costs. Cities must resort to additional new fees to help cover extra costs, and governments tend to grow over time.”

LaVista Hills may or may not be the answer to the problems with the county’s services, but no one denies that there are problems. The possibility of getting away from a troubled county government was appealing to some in the audience.

Pam Rosenberg, who lives in Briarmoor Manor, said there’s a pothole that’s been in the neighborhood for years. The county’s solution is “to put an increasingly larger cone into it,” she said.

Rosenberg said she wouldn’t care if her taxes were a little higher, if she could get better services.

“I think we would have some control over our destiny,” she said.

John Cashin said he hasn’t decided whether he’s for a new city or against it, but he thinks LaVista Hills supporters make a compelling case.

“I think they did a pretty good job,” he said.

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  • Mark Knowles

    No compelling case has been made to break up our police services in the area. We have worked as a whole community to build our local government services. The General Assembly’s decision to enable a subset of this group to simply withdraw their support seems not only unfair, but unconstitutional. As a group the area should be able to vote to enhance their service delivery or initiate service delivery not yet provided, but to withdraw support from the delivery of our community’s police force without a vote from all us leaves the rest of us in a lurch.

    • RAJ

      Same police will be on patrol in your neighborhood…..just more of them in different uniforms with better working conditions!

      • Suzie Lavista’s Neighbor

        RAJ we don’t have a crime problem here. Go visit some of our neighbors in other parts of the county. They have crime problems. You also must be drinking if you think a LVH police department would be patrolling the neighborhood. They certainly don’t in brookhaven. The only thing I ever see them doing over there is writing speeding tickets. In dunwoody crime is up with their new city police. So either they are not patrolling the neighborhoods, are and its doesn’t matter or they are busy writing speeding tickets like Brookhaven to notice the real criminals robbing people. Which one do you think it is?

    • Guest

      Someone needs training on the Constitution.

  • Russell Carleton

    ” For the past five years the City has been in a “triage response mode” with infrastructure upkeep to
    address critical infrastructure maintenance and repair issues which are tantamount to the community’s interests as well as City service delivery. In that time, the
    City has paved approximately 16 percent of the city’s 380 total lane-miles of roads and plans are in place for paving many more arterial and collector streets as well
    as neighborhood roads.” -Dunwoody’s own budget document, 2015, page 20

  • Suzie Lavista’s Neighbor

    Lavista Hills Alliance slogan should be. More Government. More Corruption. Just look at this quote from one of the speakers last night in response to their private $500 a head fundraiser for business from outside the community chomping at bit to get their hands on our tax money. “”It’s perfectly reasonable to ask them to invest in us before we invest in them.” WOW. If that had come from Lee May looking for donations he might find himself in jail next to Burrell Ellis.

  • Jan Atlanta

    The LaVista Hills advocates are not elected officials. They are required by law to disclose any donation over $100. Companies who contract with cities and other entities to provide services certainly will make donations – invest – to an organization in order to assist a get out the vote campaign. This does not mean that they have been promised anything. Levitas – who you are referring to – has no say in awarding contracts or bids. This is more of the same of the DeKalb Strong and anti-business and development crowd’s whining and conspiracy theory behavior.

  • MediateIt

    It truly blows my mind that so many people seem to be willing to take a leap into the unknown and invest in an entirely new layer of government because of potholes. Potholes.

  • Tom B. Doolittle

    One interesting thing is that a city can form on the basis of not increasing taxes when they are forming on the basis of the lowest hanging fruit (least expensive and easiest to segregate from county overhead costs). Exception is police, but again they are allowed to form a police force on the basis of the lowest overhead services.

    The effect of this modus operandi for selling c city is dramatic. It represents more soft cost than anything else–almost an externality. This can only be ameliorated by raising millage and more overhead is assumed–oR worse, giving away public responsibility to the private sector, most likely where it can charge fees (added to existing tax rates, not replacing them). Also, when new facilities are built, the private sector will develop them.

    Also, regional finance authorities will be formed to expand services (such combined fire and rescue among many cities)–or water/sewer. All come with overhead, not just potential for costs due to inexperience. (This however, is speculative–so the argument doesn’t make many points).

    The extreme in such an “authority” would be new city schools, but that discussion is off the table.

    These are facts–just economics. Just as other facts haven’t come to light, they shouldn’t necessarily cause “no” votes. The point is, people should vote KNOWING their taxes will go up and why–yes or no isn’t the point–education is.

    The “no tax” pledge will constrain new cities for at least a decade–a constraint that shouldn’t necessarily be there.

    • RAJ

      Sorry Tom….wrong again. We get three times the police patrols with a city, the SAME officers(better pay,working conditions & benefits)all new equipment AND a four minute response time for a first responder at your door step when you call 911, vs 22 minute response time with DeKalb County, all for the same price! Yes the” private sector” where most of us live will be a part of the competitive equation for most bang for the taxpayer buck. Water & Sewer and fire have NEVER been mentioned in any city hood discussion that I know of…just another “red herring” by a closet DeKalb Strong supporter. Sorry don’t need city schools with state charters….see Brookhaven report this afternoon!

      • Eva Shaw

        Dream on RAJ. At 100,000 dollars a pop per year per uniform the little ole city will go broke. My neighborhood is well guarded by the DeKalb County Police Department and a whole lot of very watchful citizens. We don’t need not stinking city.

        • ARH in Randolph Estates

          Right on Eva. They have conveniently omitted facts that police cost money, uniforms cost money, police cars cost money, insurance and benefits cost money, weapons cost money, radios cost money, training costs money, as do back up personnel: clerks, 91 operators An objective audit of their budget would sink their leaky boat.

        • HB

          This has not been borne out in the reality of other successful cities in the area. This is coming from fear, not facts. It’s understandable to fear change, but Dekalb is descending into blight, and stubbornly refusing necessary change has a FAR more fearsome outcome.

          We are already paying for police. Now, these same dollars will go toward a dedicated local force.

  • Tom B. Doolittle

    Apology accepted. I know you well enough to know you’re only acting like you misunderstood the point of my post.

  • Cities Are Bad

    The flyer that the lavista people put out at this meeting is not right. They show a bunch of numbers but that is not the whole story. They left off the addresses so we can see where the lower taxes are. On the DeKalb strong facebook site there is a doctor there that says the city is going to cost too much. It is there for all to see. There is no place to put new parks and they are a waste of money. Stone mountain has a good park and Roswell and Brook Run is nice to walk at. Just drive through the neighborhoods if you want to see nice yards. We don’t need a city to see green things, they are everywhere. Atlanta is a city in the forrest. Parks are not good spending of tax money. Dekalb county has it right with the way they are doing things. Keeping people employed with good jobs and pensions. Creating a city will hurt these people, and then where will they work? With all the Hispanics and Asians in the cities where will all of the county people work at? The other counties are not hiring and keeping people employed like dekalb is. Keep dekalb strong and vote against this bad idea. Cities are bad. Vote no and keep our area stong with jobs and regular people.

  • Park space in the county is for everyone, even when the city is funding its upkeep, it will still be for use by anyone in the public.

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