Dear Decaturish – Taxes will be higher in LaVista Hills than in Dunwoody, Brookhaven

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 26, 2015


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Dear Decaturish,

The debate between the ‘LaVista Hills Alliance’ pro-city supporters and the ‘DeKalb Strong’ opponents of cityhood, has reached peak intensity.  Each side accuses the other of misleading and false statements.  Articles critical of the financial feasibility (Sept. 14, in AJC and have been dismissed by pro-city supporters.  Neighborhood blogs reveal that many people are confused about the property tax issues.  Robo-calls plague residents, flyers from both sides arrive weekly, and yard signs dot the landscape.

To better understand the issues myself, and to provide information for my neighbors, I have tried to be neutral as I examined the issues. The following observations on real property taxes, and city budget, are made:

The residential homeowner taxes in unincorporated DeKalb County increased from 2014 to 2015.  For a typical homeowner with a $300,000 market value, and no change in assessment, the increase in the total tax bill is 4.35 percent.  This is the result of changes in the millage rate and H.O.S.T. credit.  For cityhood, the focus is on lines 6 and 7 of the property tax bill, for Special services for the unincorporated tax district and Police.  These are the items that would switch to a new city.  Collectively, for these services, the residential properties with homestead exemptions pay about 20.4 percent more tax in 2015 than in 2014:  $6,032,000 compared to $5,012,000.  This is the result of the 11.99 percent value increase in the tax digest, and the increase in the effective millage rate (after H.O.S.T. credit) from 3.23 to 3.44.  Some of the 11.99 percent value increase undoubtedly is from new development, but much is from higher assessments.

If the estimates for revenues and expenditures prepared by the Carl Vinson Institute (CVI) for the proposed city of LaVista Hills (LVH) are reasonably accurate for 2012 and 2013, then with a modest increase in the tax digest, it should have been possible in 2015 to collect enough real property taxes for a balanced city budget.  This assumes an inflation adjustment of 3.3 percent for the 2.5 years time difference.  The millage rate needed to generate the same tax revenue as collected by the county in 2014, would have been 5, the limit in the LVH charter.  The homestead exemption formula in the charter would effectively make the rate 4.  The collected taxes for all homesteaded property would have been 36.4 percent greater in 2015 than in 2014:  $6,836,000 compared to $5,012,000.  The 2016 taxes should be more, with a tax digest increase based on new development (existing properties would have values frozen through 2017).

Under the same assumptions as above, if LVH had become a city, there would have been a shift in real property taxes from commercial/industrial property to residential property.  The homeowner would have lost the H.O.S.T. credit for lines 6 and 7 of the property tax bill (for the Special Services Tax District, and Police), so the effective millage rate would have increased from 3.44 in 2015 to 4.  Commercial and industrial properties would have paid less than they are now paying:  in 2014 they paid 7.64, in 2015 their rate is 6.14.  Commercial and industrial property owners, collectively, would have paid:  34.6 percent less than in 2014:  $3,466,000 compared to $5,297,000 in 2014; and 18.6 percent less than in 2015:  $3,882,000 compared to $4,767,000.

The difference between the taxes collected by the county in 2014 and those that could be collected by the city needs to be emphasized:  They are different tax collection methods.  Both the CVI and Mr. Russell Carleton are correct.  The CVI study presented taxes collected under rules for the county, while Mr. Carleton’s estimate (and mine) for LaVista Hills are based on a different set of rules, those which would apply to the city.  Evidently, the LVH supporters don’t understand this difference.  The criticism leveled at Mr. Carleton is totally unprofessional.  At a Sept. 16 meeting at the Mt. Zion AME Church, neither Alan Venet nor Don Broussard were unaware of the exemption formula, which is the sliding-scale method patterned after Dunwoody.  One might also ask why the CVI group, nor any of the pro-city supporters, didn’t ask the obvious question:  What millage rate is needed to generate the tax revenue collected by DeKalb in 2014?

The pro-city people have repeatedly mentioned that Dunwoody and Brookhaven, with a millage rate of 2.74 in 2015 have not raised their rates since incorporation.  Unless there is an awful lot of “fat” in the LVH expenditures budget that can be trimmed, the needed rate for LVH is about  5, effectively making it  4.  The per capita real property taxes for Dunwoody and Brookhaven are about $142 and $117, respectively.  For LVH, it is projected to be about $173.

Longer documents and spreadsheets are available via this link:

– Gunter Sharp

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • RAJ

    One statement is obviously incorrect that assessments are “frozen” for homesteaded property. This is only true for some home owners as my exemption came off “freeze” and my assessment went from 88K in 2014 to 206K in 2015……is it really a tax increase if my millage stayed the same?

    • Russell Carleton

      The charter contains a homestead property valuation freeze. (See Section 5.07).

      • RAJ

        RC…freeze only applies to tax years 2017-2019. and is inapplicable if the home is sold. As in my case when a home comes off “freeze” property values rise and total city revenue with it.

        • Russell Carleton

          That’s true, although the city would have to get through its first three incubator years with the freeze in place.

          • RAJ

            All new cities studied by CVI seem to have made it thru their first 2+ years and have much better quality of life than we have in unincorporated DeKalb.

          • Russell Carleton

            In the sense that they still exist, you are correct. Quality of life is in the eye of the beholder, but of course, even if they all entered a state of rapture the minute their charters took effect, it’s not being a city that caused that. You can’t use magical thinking that cityhood suddenly solves all issues. You have to have a long, frankly very boring, and technical conversation with a spreadsheet to see whether what’s on offer is better or worse than what you have in these particular circumstances.

        • notapunk

          Take another look at your 2015 tax bill, RAJ. Your assessment freeze should still be there. It’s listed as “Base Assessment Freeze” on the right-hand column of the “Appraisal Values and Exemption Information” box. The DeKalb freeze was renewed by the legislature.

  • Kevin_Levitas

    With all due respect to Mr. Gunter, he is right about CVI but wrong about both his and Mr. Carleton’s conclusions. This is why expert projections about budgeting and local government financing are best left to those expert in the area, especially in this case where CVI has not once missed–or come close to missing–a determination of feasibility new cities, such as Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and others. For a fuller explanation, visit our website:

    With respect to the specifics of Mr. Gunter’s comments:

    1. As CVI points out on p. 3 of its study, its feasibility study is not a budget document. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the budget and government financing process, one to which Mr. Carleton’s analysis succumbs as well. Had the erroneous assumptions and calculations that you employ been applied to Dunwoody, then it should have posted a $1.4 million deficit instead of the actual $900,000 surplus it posted. It is worth mentioning that this surplus was over 4 times the CVI projection. This is because CVI intentionally assumes higher expenses and lower revenues to ensure that their projections reliable in terms of feasibility. To provide just one example, CVI projected a $24,000,000 budget for Brookhaven in its first year. The actual budget was $15.7 million.

    2. Both Mr. Gunter and Mr. Carleton fail to recognize that the CVI projections include $800,000 of contingency funds, which are “just in case” funds, added to the expense side of the ledger but not truly expenses. In other words, this is a cushion of funding.

    3. Mr. Gunter and Mr. Carleton ask the wrong question. The correct question is: how much revenue is needed to run local government efficiently? As each and every new city has proven, local governments do it better and cheaper. That is why cities like Dunwoody are posting annual surpluses on $1-2 million while keeping its effective millage rate at 1.74 mills. The whole point of local control is do something different than what DeKalb County is doing. Instead of trying to use greenspace money to buy a YMCA ( or giving away $12 million of taxpayer money to a billionaire without any review, public input or notice to the commissioners from the northern part of the county, cities instead focus on making our quality of life better. They do the things that they do best: making streets safer through community-dedicate policing, repairing long-neglected roads and parks, etc.

    • Russell Carleton

      CVI also projected $9.9 million for Brookhaven in property taxes (see page 5 here: To this day, Brookhaven’s budget only assumes $6 million. Indeed, Brookhaven’s initial budget was so low because their revenues for that year came in well below what CVI predicted for them. They had to cut spending to what they had on hand. LaVista Hills would have to do the same. If you’re fine with that, then that’s your prerogative. But you can’t at the same time hold up the CVI’s projections for spending and say “we can promise you all of this.” The more honest thing would be to say “We can get you most of this… we think.”

      The statement is commonly made that CVI assumes higher expenses and lower revenues. However, in its analysis for LaVista Hills, at no point did it use alternate models for revenues and pick the lower one. In fact, most estimates were based simply on a pro-rated percentage of what Dekalb County collected for similar taxes (for example, insurance premium tax revenue was assumed to be some percentage of what the county collected, based on population). I agree that for a good number of revenue streams this is a perfectly reasonable way to estimate things, but it is not a multiple calculation model. For expenses, most costs were based again on a single calculation. CVI averaged together the costs of Smyrna and Dunwoody for the relevant services and pro-rated that using some reasonable factor. Had they wanted to be conservative, they would have assumed the higher of the two cost estimates from the two cities on a department-by-department basis. (i.e., Smyrna spent more on X, Dunwoody spent more on Y, so let’s be safe and take Smyrna’s expenses for X and Dunwoody’s for Y.) Again, using an average of the comparison cities is reasonable, but not conservative. In addition, to be conservative they also should have applied a proper inflation factor to account for the fact that their budgeting data came from 2012 and 2013, but their estimates for revenue were in 2014 (and in a couple cases, 2015) dollars.

      The only cases where CVI did multiple estimates and took the greater were the police force and the amount of office space needed. Given that cityhood advocates have commonly proclaimed “104 officers” (actually, CVI messed that up… they mistook the number of employees in the police department for the number of officers… if you look at how many officers each comparison city had in their base year, LaVista Hills would have 104 employees, but 77 non-brass officers in that scenario), it appears that cityhood advocates would prefer the more expensive estimate. If you wanted to interpret that conservatively, you should have said “It’ll probably cost $9.9 million, but we’ll probably get something more in line with the number of officers (which would be a reduction in the number of available officers) in their alternate estimate.”

      Using the contingency fund as a stand-in for the surplus is irresponsible. If you believed that initially, I’m curious why proponents didn’t advertise a $2.5 million surplus rather than a $1.7 million surplus. Those funds are for unpredictable expenses. For example, since the city police force will have to rely on the county for specialty police services (helicopter, SWAT, etc.) the county will have to be reimbursed for those expenses. That sort of contingency is not in the CVI report, because there’s no way to know in advance whether something like that will happen, but it’s likely that _something_ will happen. So you keep some cash around, assuming that it will be spent on whatever that is. If not, you can put it in the bank and that’s great. But that’s not money that should be assumed to be divertible into the cash flow.

      If the question is how much revenue is needed to run a local government efficiently, then I would encourage you to read the CVI report. It based almost all expenses on comparisons to Smyrna and Dunwoody, two local governments. If you believe that you can out-do them, then you would have to show evidence that you can operate more efficiently than Smyrna and Dunwoody and those two cities get to pay 2012-13 prices for their services.

      Appeals to Dunwoody’s tax rate are hollow. They completely ignore the fact that Dunwoody’s tax base is quite different than ours (and I’m guessing they won’t let us borrow it) and they are providing services to 20,000 fewer people than would the city of LaVista Hills. Had LaVista Hills tried to use Dunwoody’s tax rate in 2014, they would have ended up with a more than $6 million operational deficit. To even get near what CVI projects the city would need, LaVista Hills would have to tax at its maximum rate. Dunwoody is able to keep its rate low because, after looking at its own balance sheet, that’s the number that makes things work. Cities do not come pre-installed with a low rate. Every city has to run its own calculations.

      With the city stretched to the maximum rate that it can charge, there is no room at all to absorb even minor shocks to the budget. Added to that, residential property valuations are frozen until 2020, per the charter. That means that the city can’t even hope that housing values go up and increase the tax base that way. The max rate (5.00) would be a tax increase on residential properties (though a tax cut for commercial properties). There would be no room to do things like lower the business occupancy tax (which is separate from property taxes) to match neighbors like Dunwoody and Chamblee. CVI assumed Dekalb rates in its revenue projections, but those cities charge at 60 percent of Dekalb. It might be good policy to cut those and it may lead to growth, but in the short run, the city would have about $900,000 less in revenue to work with.

      Simple inflation (usually about 2 percent per year) would add about $700,000 to the budget each year. If the city can’t match that with some other revenue increase, it would need to go to a referendum just to deal with a basic force of economics. Or it could cut services. And these are the people who would be in charge of paying the police.

      If you want to punish the county for its bad behavior, by all means, go ahead. Vote the bums out. Investigate everything and if someone did something illegal, I know a lovely jail cell that has a nice view of a soccer field that they can have. But this isn’t the way to do it. Voting for incorporation means being handcuffed to this particular charter, and this particular charter has some big flaws in it that can’t simply be papered over.

      • Follow The Money


        Kevin is never going to respond because facts are not on his side. He throws some BS statement out there and never responds. I saw it on next door when someone called him out on his alleged involvement in getting us more parks. When the guy asked for specifics his access to nextdoor apparently was blocked because he never responded. He hides behind CVI and calls you a baseball statistician instead of proving you are wrong with real facts. SHOW US THE MATH KEVIN!

        While i was very open to the city idea he and MKW are the reasons I will vote no. I could write my own article outlining all the reasons but don’t have time. I’ll just say I trust them even less then I trust Lee May.

        • Kevin_Levitas

          In case you missed it, you can find the math here: The information has been publicly available for weeks.

          I don’t respond to personal attacks, and I believe that most folks seem sick and tired of reading them on sites like this and others). They seem more interested in the facts–the real facts, so I won’t dignify your baseless and misplaced comments here with a reply.

      • Kevin_Levitas

        Mr. Carleton, the last time that we heard from you about projections, it was regarding the spreadsheet that you submitted to the AJC erroneously projecting a deficit and providing false data to voters in our community. The spreadsheet used bogus numbers and false and invented data to reach a predetermined conclusion.

        One of the two major flaws in your analysis came from failing to use the actual tax data supplied by DeKalb, which is what CVI used in its calculations. So when you make a claim about what methodology CVI employed in its analysis, one has to question the basis for your claim. Did you verify the methodology CVI used with CVI?

        CVI has never once missed a prediction of feasibility, and it is right yet again with its assessment of LaVista Hills. New cities continue operate efficiently with lower tax rates while posting annual surpluses. Phony math and continued assaults on the CVI report will not change that.

        • Russell Carleton

          I used the numbers listed in the CVI report itself on the size of the property tax base. They are listed on page 9. Income estimates for other tax lines reliant on the property tax rate (personal property, motor vehicle, intangible) can be found on pages 7-8.

          CVI lists its own methodology on page 6 and 17, essentially that it used tax actuals from Dekalb, and assumed that the city would collect under the same structure as Dekalb, including the 7.64 rate. If the city could duplicate the county’s tax structure, then this would be a perfectly reasonable estimate, but we know that the two systems differ in very important ways, including the millage cap.

          CVI has stated that they used the assumptions that they did, because it was what they knew at the time, although on page 17 of their report, they point out that using the county millage doesn’t directly correspond to the city millage because of HOST credits and differing homestead exemptions.

          When I reached out to Ted Baggett personally, he said that he was aware of the mis-match but declined to pursue the matter further. If you’ve found a specific place where my math is errant, let me know.

      • notapunk

        CVI actually did TWO revenue projections for Brookhaven — both using DeKalb County millage rates: the 2010 rate of 3.5 and the 2011 rate of 6.39. The 3.5 rate projection showed Brookhaven would not be feasible, even though it’s operating just fine today.

        So we see the Brookhaven CVI study did not use the capped millage rate in the Brookhaven Charter either. The question for CVI is: is it SOP for feasibility studies to not run the numbers using the max rate contained in the charters and to use only the county rate in effect at that time? (Brookhaven ended up with two projections using different tax rates because it was known that DeKalb was increasing tax rates for 2011.)

      • RAJ

        Residential property values are NOT frozen until 2020. Valuation changes every Saturday night at midnight depending on a number of factors including residential property being bought and sold and the value of residential rental property changing over time.

        • Russell Carleton

          The value which is subject to taxation is frozen.

          • RAJ

            My point is that normal turnover of homesteaded property and increased valuation of residential rental property(not homesteaded)will likely increase the city tax digest over time, freeze or not.

          • notapunk

            Actually, it’s not frozen until you reach your base assessment freeze amount. A number of property values dropped below the freeze amount in recent years and their taxable values have been floating around just under the cap. So the assessment freeze has done them absolutely no good at all and many will eventually (if not this year) be hit with a potentially very big tax hike.

            Plus, if you do any remodeling, you are subject to a new, higher valuation before a freeze kicks in.

          • RAJ

            True. but when my valuation went from $88K in 2014 to $206K in 2015 and my tax bill doubled my personal balance sheet(everyone should do this)looks much better, and I like to think my banker is happier also!

          • notapunk

            Was it due to your Homestead Assessment Freeze, or because your fair market value freeze due to an appeal ran out?

          • RAJ

            It was because my assessment freeze ran out and the same would be true under LVH Charter. Most people don’t know that when Briarcliff and Lakeside “merged” the Charter was rewritten by who knows who but everything did not come out exactly right(see LVH map), so along with map changes in the next legislative session the Charter will probably be revised. Being an “outlier” LVH supporter I can tell you this but the Alliance and Yes cannot. Soooo……I vote yes(holding my nose)and help with constructive changes next session. But I digress…..we (three neighbors)play a little game with the tax appraiser;share our assessments when they arrive, file multiple appeals and wait for the mail to arrive. We have done all of our research and we all reject the County offer of “compromise”, then go before the Board, sometimes on the same day, with our case. Most homes in my old neighborhood(50 year old brick ranches)require about $30K to be sellable. The tax appraiser,in many cases, is comparing apples with oranges in the computerized neighborhood assessments!

          • Russell Carleton

            If the charter is going to be revised, shouldn’t we talk about that in advance of the vote?

          • Russell Carleton

            In one way, you can look at the freeze as a hedge bet. If everyone’s house values plummeted as a result of incorporation, the city would still have the “old” values to work with in raising funds for a few years. However, I’m guessing that you don’t want to highlight that case.

            It’s also true that if I did some remodeling or I sell, the new assessment would kick in, but that’s only going to be a small portion of houses in the city. If property values generally go up for everyone, the city would only be able to reap some of that benefit. I don’t know off-hand what the average turnover rate is in the neighborhood (in terms of selling), but it is less than 100 percent.

          • notapunk

            It actually takes something catastrophic, such as the financial crisis and resulting crash in home prices, for values in our area to go down much. I would not expect “everyone’s house values” to plummet “as a result of incorporation.” And it doesn’t take the county appraiser’s office all that long to get in line when there is a crash, as illustrated by many tax bills from the Great Recession. It was about two years before they caught up to the perceived reduction in value i n the extremely stable, ITP neighborhoods. Then a year later, they tried to raise fair market values to such an unreasonable level, they had to pull back the assessments and freeze values for 3 years. The Homestead Freeze is a ceiling designed to protect homeowners in a rising market, not a floor to help municipalities in a falling market.

            As for turnover, rates vary by neighborhood, even by street. All real estate is local, as they say.

          • RAJ

            Increases in property values for the above reasons ARE subject to taxation by LVH.

      • RAJ

        Inflation has been almost ZERO for the last three years!

  • Keith Hanks

    What I’m not seeing is investigative journalism being done… Reporting on cityhood needs to go beyond running Letters to the Editor. The LaVista Hills feasibility study was completed by the University of Georgia. There are only two teams of authenticated experts on cityhood feasibility studies in Georgia: UGA and Georgia State.

    Whether it is the AJC, Decaturish, etc, everyone likes to put hypothesis questions out there about these studies, but no media person seems to have the follow through to have a dialogue with the University of Georgia or Georgia State. Why?

    • What specifically are you asking us to investigate? Studies are predictions. They aren’t certainties. Hans Utz, our government finance columnist, did an excellent write-up on this topic.

      • Keith Hanks

        @Dan what I’d like to see you do, is run less opinion pieces and go to the University of Georgia and Georgia State for comment. These are the two authenticated experts on cityhood feasibility studies. They have reputations to uphold. If there’s questions about the University of Georgia’s analysis, bring them to UGA — maybe also bring them to Georgia State as well for additional opinion.

        Same with Tucker’s feasibility study from Georgia State. Questions about Georgia State’s study should brought to Georgia State for comment, and then also brought to the University of Georgia. These two institutions are seen as the gold standard and should be capable to answer questions, audit work, and weigh in on variables that can impact a cities finances years from now.

        Net result, you’ve always had high standards and sought to be a leader on this topic. A topic such as cityhood feasibility finance DESERVES to be moved beyond Letters to the Editor opinion pieces and to be verifiable fact-based articles that you’ll stake your name and reputation on.

        • I believe that CVI has weighed in on this, and they said their study is a projection based on the information available to them. I think opinion pieces have a purpose as do news pieces. I try to do both, but I’m a one man show and can’t do everything.

          • Keith Hanks

            When was the last time the University of Georgia weighed in? Has Georgia State also been contacted for comment? It’s an extensive topic, I’ve got a MBA and roll up my sleeves to follow along. The questions being asked are similar to the questions that were asked two years ago when the studies where initially created, and are similar to the questions the Pro City Groups asked UGA and Georgia State six months ago. I’m confident in the work Georgia State has provided in the Tucker feasibility analysis and that The University of Georgia provided in the LaVista Hills study.

            What I’d like to see is comment from the University of Georgia and Georgia State that either reads “decline to comment,” “unavailable for comment” OR IDEALLY an explanation that is quotable and provides enough detail to educate a Decaturish reader of how their process works.

            When a person writes a Letter to the Editor they are writing an opinion. There is little ramification if they make a miscalculation, or fail to include a variable that authenticated experts like UGA or Georgia State utilize, because it’s just an opinion. After all they can always shrug their shoulders, mention they tried their best with the data they had and point to the fact The University of Georgia and Georgia State have more advanced software that they didn’t have access to. There’s also no ramification to the publisher of the opinion should the opinion miss details. Decaturish has a decision to make, do they want to be a source for cityhood gossip or a source for news? Does Decaturish need to spend more time talking to UGA & Georgia State? These are not inexpensive studies that you can pull together over the weekend and plug into an Excel spreadsheet. If there’s a flaw in these studies UGA and Georgia State either need to correct them, or should be comfortable enough to showcase why the Letters to the Editor that Decaturish is running are opinion pieces and have flawed conclusions.

          • Russell Carleton

            Keith, I would wholeheartedly support asking CVI to set the millage rate to 5.00 (the charter maximum) and re-running the numbers. If their calculations are different than mine, I will gladly defer to them.

          • Keith Hanks

            Russell, there’s a series of skilled people that can work with the data and feel confident in their work. People with accounting, finance, or actuarial mathematics folks come to mind. They are able to collect data, build a model and play with it in Excel spreadsheets and other analysis programs. It’s directional and it will allow the person to see the impact of various financial condidtions. There’s some humility that’s needed as well for those that seek to build out their own models that are not as comprehensive and don’t have access to the feasibility alogorithms that Georgia State and UGA use. If a citizen making his/her own models makes a miscalculation it’s no big deal… Now if someone INSIDE the the team of experts at UGA or Georgia State has a miscalculation it’s a BIG story. No one at the AJC or Decaturish have put their personal authorship name as reporters on the line running such a headline. Why?

          • Russell Carleton

            I’ve signed all my stuff. When Mark Niesse wrote the AJC article, he put his own by-line on it. Dan’s not exactly hiding here and he’s welcome to disclaim that he’s just providing space for the discussion. i applaud him for allowing anyone with a typewriter to write what they please on the subject.

            I am happy to hear from anyone who believes that there is either an error in my math or my logic, including CVI. I’m working from numbers in publicly available documents, mostly the CVI report itself.

            I’ll be happy to show my work but if someone shows where the error is, I will publicly retract. You mention that you have an MBA. Feel free.

          • I feel like I have to re-explain the whole concept of a Letter to the Editor. What’s amazing to me is that no one objects to anonymous keyboard rattlers posting insipid, uninformed comments, but when someone writes a Letter to the Editor it’s like someone committed a crime against nature. I’m going to be the first to admit that a lot of the principles and complexities of this are over my head. I’m a wordsmith, not a number cruncher, though I do try to have at least a basic understanding of it. I think what’s clear is that people can look at the same information and reach two dramatically different conclusions. I’m not here to tell you which conclusion is right or wrong. I’m just here to tell you what the conclusions are. Also on a related note, I’m going to be so happy when this election is over.

          • Keith Hanks

            Dan, hearing your say that you’re a worthsmith and not a number crunch is all I wanted to hear / confirm. I don’t expect you to personally be an expert on municipal feasibility studies and you’ve never branded yourself as one. What concerns me here is the editorial standards of accepting a Letter to the Editor that references calculations that you’re unable to confirm. The University of Georgia and Georgia State are conservative in their analysis and air on the side of caution. Under cautious calculations the city has been found to be feasible. To balance any Letters to the Editor flaws in unverified math the format to rebut seems to be to submit a Letter to the Editor and put in the HIGH end of what a city could look like. Talking really make the stars align, go aggressive and show how in that scenario large surpluses are possible. That seems irresponsible for someone to author such a Letter to the Editor and set such expectations.

            Remember DeKalb County is the entity that decides what your home is appraised at. The largest part, > 65% fund the county schools with the balance going to other services. Of that remaining percentage, a block of that is shifted from going to the county to going to a city (city folks proclaim DeKalb is reckless and inefficient with that $$$ and they can do a better delivering services). When DeKalb jacks up assessments cities can decide do they go along for the ride and provide expanded services / make infrastructure improvements sooner, or do they cut the mileage rates used to fund the city services.

            Why do I bring this up? With the increase in assessments from DeKalb if Georgia State or the University of Georgia were to run these studies again the surplus would be MUCH larger because of the increase in property tax assessments, and additional commercial development that exists today / is being constructed but was not available for the 2013 and 2014 tax digest. The Great Recession is fresh on many people’s mind and being more conservative in estimates gives some added reassurance and padding. No one wins if a city is created that is unable sustain itself. Thus far neither Georgia State or the University of Georgia have pivoted from the data they used analyzing Tucker and LaVista Hills.

          • Russell Carleton

            Property assessments are up, but if we’re going to use the most recent numbers, so are the budgets of Dunwoody and Smyrna (if we use 2015 and 2016 numbers from those cities, rather than 2012 and 2013, the cities had an average growth of a little more than 4 percent. Assuming 4 percent inflation of the bottom line, that’s another $1.4 million that LaVista Hills would have to cover. In addition, the county reports that HOST revenues are down, insurance premium tax revenue is down, the motor vehicle digest subject to ad valorem taxes is down (although that’s to be expected), and the personal property tax digest in the unincorprated area went down, all relative to 2014.

          • Follow The Money

            Keith so revenue would now be higher then what the study projects? What about expenses. Are they going to be the same or does that go up to? What has the history been in these new cities in terms of spending? Has spending remained level or have budgets bloated? i read somewhere recently Dunwoody has more crime then before and not enough resources to deal with it. Where is all this new tax money going over there?

          • HB

            The difference is that by the format you choose, you broadcast these opinion pieces as headlines. Studies show most people scan headlines only. Fewer read the article, and fewer get to the commentary. There is a BIG difference in, as you call it, “insipid” commentary on a piece, and syndicating headlines–which is exactly what is happening, tech wise. The spin goes with the headline.

            You have an editorial choice. As I’ve been suggesting, you can create a side column and allow commentary/letters to acrue there–with headlines. OR, you don’t publish the headline on the opinion piece itself, as that is more often than not propaganda. Headline scanning is proven to infect the conversation and impact influence. Want to publicize a new letter? You simply title it “Dear Decaturish: 10.27.15.” You cerrtainly don’t put it in your standard “news” RSS feed.

            Sorry we are holding you to these high journalistic standards, but during this most important time, these are media literacy issues you need to face, and stay above, if you are going to have a credible blog business.

          • I write the headline based on the content of the letters. I do this for every letter. Before you accuse me of being a propagandist, this is a common practice in newspapers. It’s very interesting how people only complain when I publish an anti-LaVista Hills letter. I’ve never had many complaints about my credibility for publishing a pro LaVista Hills letter. Published one today. Didn’t hear a peep. I’d love to add a separate opinion section, but it’s not something I can do with a magic wand. I have to pay someone to do that, and I spend most of my funds trying to cover my community. If you don’t find us credible, don’t read us. If you find another website providing our same level of coverage, let me know.

          • HB

            Oh no, no! You are not a propagandist! Not in the slightest. I mean, by the very nature of opinion pieces, the headline will more often than not be propaganda. Sorry if that was unclear. I have the utmost respect for your integrity. Trust, I’ve offered all the advice I have on this by way of work expertise. I won’t be chiming in again, I was just trying to offer some practical suggestions.

          • That’s great. Please respect my ability to make decisions about this site. I agree that we need to separate our news and editorial a bit better. I am working on that, but it is not happening until after this election. It will require someone with design skills I don’t have and will require a bit of an investment on my part. All of my resources are tied up trying to get this election covered. Please be patient and give me time to work it out. Deal?

          • RAJ

            OK Dan, but you need to expand your readership by opening your site to a larger footprint. Hope we can talk about this again some time.

          • Follow The Money

            Keith did they do the calculations using the correct mills rate or not? Simple question for LVH or CVI to answer. If they did not just run the numbers using the correct one and tell us what the numbers are. It almost like CVI and LVH people don’t want to know the answer because they might not like it. Why Keith are you and LVH so opposed to getting the correct information?

          • Marjorie Snook

            Yes they have. Mark Niesse ran a story looking into this for the AJC. He checked all the math, and reached out to the CVI for clarification, and found that their analysis was unsatisfying. What you are saying needs to be done has in fact been done.

          • RAJ

            That will be $15K please!!

          • DianneMedlockJoy

            so far, we can only see around $8000 paid to CVI posted on their financial statements from either Yes or Alliance. Not sure where $15k comes from.

          • RAJ

            Frequent shopper discount?

          • Marjorie Snook

            Keith, it seems like the CVI has been asked not to comment further on the study. They have not responded to the overtures of at least one of these independent researchers.

          • They were quoted in the story about Russell Carleton’s initial analysis in the AJC:


            The specific quote:

            “The university conducts financial studies for proposed cities based on known factors such as predetermined boundaries and existing revenue sources, said Shannon Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the UGA Carl Vinson Institute. At the time of LaVista Hills’ study, its legislation — including limits on property tax rates — hadn’t yet been signed into law.

            ‘Unknown factors would be similar to trying to hit a moving target,’ Ferguson said. ‘The institute’s study accurately reflects what we analyzed at the time the LaVista Hills study was completed for the client.’ ”

            I’m not sure what you want me to ask CVI? They’ve already defended their study. Letters to the Editor are equal opportunities for both sides to comment. You can write your own letter in response or write whatever you like on the topic. See my editor’s note at the top. I’m happy to provide a space for people to discuss the issues in question. There’s no litmus test for who can write letters to the editor, just like there’s no litmus test for who can leave a comment.

            I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: If you disagree with a letter, write your own letter. If you don’t want to, then don’t complain to me about it. I’m just providing a space for a discussion. I do what reporting I can with the resources I have available when I have the time to do it. There are currently elections going on in Avondale Estates, Decatur as well as the cityhood referendums in Tucker and LaVista Hills. There’s only one full time employee covering all of it: That would be me.

            The AJC has far more resources than I do and aren’t devoting nearly as much time to it as I am. I’m sure I come up short, but it sounds to me like your beef is with the letter writer and you’re trying to tell me I shouldn’t give people an opportunity to voice their opinions because someone might disagree with them. That’s not really the way it works.

          • Keith Hanks

            The AJC article is from a month ago. What I want to confirm is have you reached out to the University of Georgia (ex. had contact with Shannon Ferguson) OR reached out to Georgia State?

            If you’re constrained for resources I’m happy to help work with contacts. If there’s a massive flaw and a cover up where Georgia State or UGA are unwilling to defend their work and their reputation then there is likely grounds for the cost of these studies to be returned.

          • And ask them what? To respond to a Letter to the Editor?

          • Hans

            The CVI is not flawed. Decaturish has not labeled it flawed. My column specifically pointed out its not-flawedness. The study was wholly appropriate and based on the best and most accurate information at the time. No one should view CVI’s role in this askance.

            The underlying data changed as the vote neared, which is normal and expected. This is precisely what CVI means when they say their report is a projection and not meant to be a replacement for a proper budget.

            Ideally, LVH would have commissioned a new study when the millage was capped, but they did not. That is not a CVI failing. The latest analyses, with the current millage, still would appear to sufficiently fund a city, albeit without the same surplus in the initial study.

            So: not sure what you’d want CVI to say other than what they have said, which is that they ran a projection on a set of data that everyone acknowledges is subject to change. The CVI report itself lays out in quite exhaustive detail how they did their calculations, and anyone who reads it and can operate excel would be able to recreate it. What, exactly, would you ask CVI that hasn’t already been covered extensively and fairly in these pages?

          • RAJ

            Hans….you are correct. The CVI study is one guide for legislators in passing a city hood bill to send to the voters. It’s up to us to fill in the blanks of city budgets if we need that information to make our decision at the polls. The information and basis for this type of analysis is currently under development in the DeKalb County GIS Department. I would like to do some work in this area after the election, but am unsure how to finance the project. A guess is the cost may be in the range of a CVI city hood study.

          • Keith Hanks

            If the studies are flawed, don’t you think the University of Georgia or Georgia State would have corrected them? It’s their reputation on the line. Let’s put some closure on this. Either Decaturish takes on / takes down the University of Georgia (that would be a big story) or Decaturish concedes it’s publishing Letters to the Editor that are opinion pieces with potentially flawed unverified math…

      • Marjorie Snook

        Several people have reached out to the CVI, and it seemed they had been told not to discuss the study with anyone, other than to make very basic statements that they stand by it.

        • Keith Hanks

          So your theory is there’s a cover up at the University of Georgia? Specifically there is someone in a position of power at the University of Georgia that is telling the team that authored the CVI to stay quiet?

          If that’s the case then WHY hasn’t that been a big story in the AJC or Decaturish? Being 100% serious.

          • Marjorie Snook

            My statement was that efforts to ask for clarification from CVI have been met with stonewalling. Also, according to the emails obtained via open records request, covered in Decaturish, it looked like LVH organizers were asking CVI NOT to comment further, and that they discussed CVI releasing an official response or supplemental report and they decided that would not be advantageous.

            One of the reasons that the AJC decided to run the story they did on Mr. Carleton’s analysis was that they felt CVI was not very forthcoming or satisfying in their responses, but instead avoided directly addressing the issues. So there have been stories in the AJC on this.

            It’s also been clear from how the cityhood and annexation Senate and House meetings are going that CVI is looking to get out of the feasibility analysis game.

          • Keith Hanks

            @marjoriesnook:disqus the questions being asked today are the questions that the LVH organizers were asking 6-months ago to avoid confusion and ensure the data had the highest integrity. It’s the University of Georgia’s reputation on the line.

            There’s a witch hunt trying to happen and the media is more focused on taking the lazy approach of propagating rumors for clicks and page views instead of following through with Journalism 101…

            Journalism 101 = getting on the phone or driving to visit the source for an interview. Seems like that’s a pretty necessary source to push to get comment from and follow up comments as needed.

          • This is your first warning, sir. You keep taking pot shots at me and the work I do, and I’m going to ban you from commenting. Let me educate you on a few other facts. We’ll call it Journalism Business 101.

            I am a full time journalist and a full time dad. I have limited time and resources to cover everything about every issue. I’m not a bad or lazy journalist just because I didn’t cover something the way you wanted it covered. If you feel that strongly about it, start your own website.

            I respect that you disagree with the letter writer’s opinion but I take offense at your suggestion that it’s a reflection on me, my skills, or my work ethic. If you’ve read this site for any length of time you know I work my butt off and try to be fair to both sides. If you keep taking shots at me and my company, I’m going to tell you to get lost. If you don’t like the way I do things, start your own news website and do it yourself. It’s not as easy as it looks from your computer screen.

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          • Keith Hanks

            Dan I’ve got a lot of respect for you. Please take this as a criticism, and not an attack… On the topic of cityhood, regardless of where a person will vote, Decaturish has been one of the best go to sources for information. I think the coverage has been dramatically better than the AJC, all done with significantly less resources and leveraging those resources better. I’ve said this to you in person previously and I stick by it, This is why I’m also being a little harder than normal. I see some holes and missed opportunities in the coverage. Personally I suspect this is resource-based and not bias. The problem is the influence it can have. Bottom line, if there is a major hole in the type of analysis Georgia State and the University of Georgia are doing then it’s a storyline that needs to be told and you’d be the best person positioned to lead with it. If it’s unknown, then it might make sense for Letters to the Editor that involve calculations to also include an additional Editor’s note. Purpose of this would be to caveat that Decaturish has been unable to verify or disprove the calculations in the submitted Letter to the Editor.

            You raised the bar in what Decaturish is delivering. In turn the bar has raised for people’s expectations. I know you’re being pulled in a bunch of different directions with your audience. I hope this additional entry gives further context and is helpful.

          • Marjorie Snook

            Keith: The CVI has been asked for comment. They have been quoted on the matter. They have given nonresponsive answers, or simply not responded at all.

            Letters to the Editor do not require comment. Noone is stopping CVI from writing their own letter, which is the correct way to respond. Ask them if they want to. I doubt you will hear back from them.

    • Keith Hanks

      I don’t know many homeowners in in the proposed city of LaVista Hills that had a $300,000 market value home that saw NO increase in assessed value from 2014 to 2015. What I do know is most of these people are facing higher property tax bills next year and are frustrated that DeKalb is not behaving responsibly with their $$$

  • Maury

    What I see missing is the per capita real property tax figure for DeKalb County. I know Dunwoody and Brookhaven taxes are lower than DeKalb. So from the per capita numbers above, it doesn’t appear that my taxes would go up much, if at all, under LaVista Hills. Can someone provide the DeKalb per capita figure for the services a city would assume?

    • Gunter Sharp

      These are the values, per capita: Dunwoody $117, Brookhaven $142, LaVista Hills $173. Note his is not the same concept as tax per homeowner. See the longer document on the Dropbox web site at the end of the letter.
      Population figures for all three areas for the same year were not available, so the value for LaVista Hills could be different today.
      The main issue is not so much a tax increase, but rather the attitude of the pro-city folks: 1) Advertising the unincorporated millage rate as 6.14, when in fact it is 3.44 after HOST, 2) Not asking the question of what millage rate is needed.

      • Maury

        I’m sorry, Mr Sharp, but that doesn’t answer my question: What am I NOW paying DeKalb County per capita for the services that would be provided by a city? I am asking about Unincorporated DeKalb, not any city real or imagined. My thanks to anyone who can provide a straightforward answer.

        • Russell Carleton

          Maury, it depends on how much your house is worth. In the county right now, you take your home’s fair market value (the county determines this and would continue to do so in a new city). 40 percent of that is “assessed”. If your house is worth $300,000, then $120k is assessed.

          The county gives you $10,000 off of that (in our example above, we’re now at $110,000). Apply the millage rate which is 6.14 (multiply by .00614) and you get $675.40 and then apply the HOST tax credit which is 44 percent of your tax bill (44 percent of $675.40 is $297.18) and you come to a final tax bill of $378.22

          If the city sets its tax rate at 5.00 (and we’ve seen it’s probably gonna have to do that) then you start with the same assessed value ($120k), then in the city you get $10,000 off, plus the value of one mill (120k / 5 = $24k) for a total exemption of $34,000. The taxable value is $86,000. apply the rate of 5.00 (86k * .005), and you get a tax bill of $430.00. There are no HOST credits for city taxes.

          • Maury

            Thank you for taking the time to reply Mr Catleton, but that doesn’t answer my question. I am seeking an apples-to-apples comparison of unincorporated DeKalb’s PER CAPITA tax amount with the city values Mr Sharp cites in his opinion piece. As in Dunwoody $117, Brookhaven $142, LaVista Hills $173, Unincorporated DeKalb County $XXX.

            Can anyone fill in that blank?

          • Maury

            My apologies for the typo, Me. Carleton. Arthritic thumbs and tiny keyboards don’t always mix well.

        • Gunter Sharp

          In 2015, the average property tax per homesteaded parcel, for ‘city services’ would have been $376 in LaVista Hills, compared to $332 in unincorporated. More detailed analysis is contained in the documents on the Dropbox site:

  • DianneMedlockJoy

    Forget, for a minute, all these studies. Think for yourself. A city is a business venture. To me, I don’t see how it is going to improve what we have now with less money. It never happens. I do not want to invest my tax dollars in this business. It is a risky venture with my tax money, No thanks.

  • A Gok

    I feel like some abrasive Fox News reporter has invaded this discussion. I have 2 business degrees, a CPA, and a law degree. My job is to figure out the right answer to some very complicated questions. However, I didn’t have to use my specialized education to understand that the CVI study used the wrong millage rate.

  • RAJ

    So much for the public finance “amateur hour”…stay tuned. DB and I have found someone who can answer all these questions and much, much more….he does not work at that small school in Athens or that other school in the hood. Plenty of time after the election!

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