Dear Decaturish – LaVista Hills supporter concerned about AJC reporting
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A few thoughts on the page one anti-city article published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I’m really concerned about the reporting here. I’ve met Mark Niesse several times, and he’s done a lot of important and good reporting for our area. But this article was not his finest work. I speak as someone who used to work for the AJC, and in that sense have a vested interest in its credibility.
1) The key value of the city is that our elected officials, who live in our neighborhoods, will be making decisions on how to spend our tax money. We think that we should have that right, and we can do a better job of prioritizing our needs in our area. There are no elected DeKalb officials who live in the footprint of LaVista Hills, Tucker, Doraville, Chamblee, Brookhaven, Clarkston or Stone Mountain. And we can tell from the results that the DeKalb elected officials do not have the same level of concern for our area that we have.
2) The article is terrible reporting and editorial placement. It’s simply a statement that an anti-city person thinks that a specific revenue source will be lower than CVI estimated. But there’s no basis for the specific statement, other than that he thinks CVI didn’t calculate property taxes correctly. Apparently he’s not aware that other revenue estimates may be overstated also; and some are understated. And this made page one above the fold!
3) Mr. Carleton’s analysis of the “error” in CVI’s report shows that CVI estimated property taxes of $13,435,685; his own analysis shows that the correct property tax revenue is $11,594,978. That results in his interpretation of a total error in the CVI report of $1,840,707. But he has incorrect numbers for the CVI report. The actual property tax revenue in the CVI report is $11,690,718, about $96,000 higher than Carleton’s estimate. So instead of deducting $1.8 million from the net of LaVista Hills, he should have deducted $96,000. You can see the actual CVI numbers by clicking here.
4) If there had been any legitimate expertise involved (or if he – or the writer – had read the CVI report carefully), they would have noticed many things about the CVI reports that are not intended as specific “accurate” estimates of what would happen. The report for the most part is simply an analysis of what two other cities have done. That analysis doesn’t intend to identify the specific revenue amounts or specific expenses that would actually occur. CVI’s revenue estimates are mostly based on figures provided by the DeKalb County government. You may have noticed from recent AJC articles that the DeKalb County government is opposed to the formation of new cities. You may have also noticed that not everything that is done in the DeKalb County government is completely straightforward. That could turn on a light bulb in someone’s mind that there might even be a bias downward in revenue estimates.
5) When the city is created, the city council will have to analyze ongoing revenues (which will be different every year) to determine how much money they can spend. For individual revenue sources that may be more, or it may be less than the CVI report indicated. When the city council has an estimate of revenue they will budget what they can spend. Their expenditure decisions may result in some higher and some lower expenditures. In no case will the total expenditures be greater than the total revenue. In no case could there be a “negative net income”.
6) I don’t know Russell Carleton personally. He may be a very knowledgeable and well-spoken person. He may in fact be a great guy. But absolutely nothing in his background gives any credence to his analysis. Neither education nor work experience shows any expertise in government, finance or forecasting. I would have thought that the AJC would have first considered whether an expert in baseball statistics and children’s mental health is the appropriate person to do a critique of the UGA report. You can find his resume and experience on his LinkedIn Profile.
– Herman Lorenz, LaVista Hills Yes