What’s it to Utz? – LaVista Hills voters deserve better information

Posted by Decaturish.com October 5, 2015
Hans Utz

Hans Utz

Editor’s note: Hans Utz has lived in and around Atlanta for 25 years and formerly served as the Deputy COO of the City of Atlanta. We asked him to give us his take on recent stories that have called into question the financial viability of a proposed city of LaVista Hills

By Hans Utz, contributor

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen an interesting brouhaha foment over whether LaVista Hills would be a viable city, fueled by two competing analyses of the proposed city’s finances.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government routinely runs analyses to determine whether a proposed city would be capable of generating sufficient tax revenue to fund services. The Institute provides a respected and credible independent perspective.

DeKalb’s millage for the area of the proposed city of LaVista Hills at the time the CVI study was commissioned was 7.64 mills.

Now, it is important to note that a millage rate for a city and a millage rate for a county are not directly comparable even if they are set to the same rate. There are two primary reasons for this:

– First, the available exemptions between a county and a city may vary

– Second, because of the higher Homestead Option Sales Tax credit available to county rate payers.

We have discussed this in a previous column, but in effect taxpayers in the county receive a larger credit for the HOST collected by the county than city ratepayers do.

The difference can be substantial: on an average Decatur home in 2014, the HOST credit amounted to just over $850, whereas residents in unincorporated DeKalb received credits of over $1,670. In other words, the county gives back almost twice as much in credits to its average taxpayer as does Decatur.

So a county collects less tax per mill than a city because the county provides a larger credit for the HOST to their taxpayers. Or, put another way, for an equivalent millage rate, a city will collect more in tax revenue than a county.

All of this is normal. CVI used DeKalb’s millage rate of 7.64 to analyze the viability of LaVista Hills, and correctly calculated that LaVista Hills would collect more in revenue from that millage than DeKalb would.

Note to voters of LaVista Hills: that meant CVI assumed you would pay more in taxes to incorporate than you would remaining in unincorporated DeKalb because you would receive a smaller HOST credit.

Given these assumptions, it is perhaps not surprising that CVI determined LaVista Hills would run a surplus of approximately $1.7 million if LaVista Hills charged the same millage rate as unincorporated DeKalb.

But here’s the rub: LaVista Hills capped the millage rate at 5 mills in their charter, 2.64 mills lower than the rate used by CVI for the analysis.

Because the city can collect more tax per mill than the county, the city should be able to charge a lower millage rate and still generate the same amount of revenue.

But it does not appear that any official analysis was done to determine whether the 5 mill cap would generate enough revenue to cover the difference. Without the analysis, which is relatively simple to do, it is entirely possible the 5 mill cap would have left LaVista Hills in a deficit position.

A couple of points should be made here: first, the analysis by CVI is not flawed because of the difference in millage. The study is crystal clear that the analysis is not meant to be a replacement for a proper budget voted into effect by an elected body. Second, the 5 mill cap in the charter document is not set in stone, though adjusting it would require a charter referendum.

But it seems to me a glaring oversight that the feasibility report touted by LaVista Hills supporters does not agree with the initial cityhood charter. In effect, voters will be choosing to incorporate assuming a surplus that the charter explicitly curtails.

The worst case scenario is that LaVista Hills supporters have intentionally used the projected surplus to generate voter support knowing that the underlying analysis did not comply with the charter. At a minimum I would be concerned that LaVista Hills leadership has not been wholly transparent about the proper interpretation of the analysis.

In any case this is not an auspicious start.

Enter Mr. Russell Carleton, a baseball statistician and avowed supporter of DeKalb Strong. Unsurprisingly, DeKalb Strong takes a dim view of a potential LaVista Hills incorporation and has been quite vocal in opposition.

Mr. Carleton took it upon himself to recreate the CVI analysis, but this time using the charter millage rate of 5 mills. He determined that, rather than run a $1.7 million surplus, LaVista Hills would actually run a deficit of approximately $114,000. The AJC published the analysis in mid-September.

It is important to note that Mr. Carleton is not a municipal expert and has no background in municipal finance or city planning. However I have expertise in both, and I find his analysis credible. His math is correct, and where he makes assumptions I find them to be credible and defensible.

Rather than acknowledge what is (or was until a few weeks ago) a defensible set of assumptions, the LaVista Hills supporters have taken great pains to discredit Mr. Carleton and the AJC analysis. Ms. Mary Kay Woodworth, a member of the LaVista Hills Alliance, in written comments to this site actually said:

Mr. Carleton is a technical writer in the psychology profession and baseball statistician who apparently believes that his background makes him more of an expert than the actual experts at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

I find this commentary deeply disturbing. CVI ran an analysis on a reasonable set of assumptions at the time. Those underlying assumptions changed as the city neared incorporation, which is also entirely expected and reasonable. The changing assumptions would by their nature necessitate updating the analysis. In effect, Mr. Carleton did exactly that.

I find it informative that instead of clearly pointing all this out, Ms. Woodworth has attempted to discredit Mr. Carleton. Perhaps Ms. Woodworth needs to revisit her high-school math, since that is the maximum level of mathematical proficiency required to understand these basic numbers.

In lieu of that I might instead recommend that rather than attempting to disparage an unassailable set of mathematical facts, she should instead strive for a shred of credibility and explain to voters how the city will be managed to achieve the efficiencies that will balance the very small deficit.

I say “very small” deliberately. Both CVI and Mr. Carleton assumed LaVista Hills would require a $34.5 million budget annually. A deficit of $114,000 would thus be approximately 0.3 percent of the budget.

DeKalb Strong and other anti-incorporation supporters suggest that this should be used as a reason to vote against incorporation because the city would not be financially viable.

They are also utterly wrong.

It is vitally important to understand the limitations of this sort of analysis. This is, at best, an educated guess about the potential income of the city. It is not the same thing as a budget passed by an elected body and managed by professionals. A projected deficit of 0.3 percent is completely normal in any budget process and would be easily remedied by any competent city manager without impacting taxes or services.

For example, hire one less aide to the Mayor. Though, in this case, I would perhaps suggest ensuring the new leadership has a competent analyst on board. And while they are at it, they probably want to invest in improved communications.

Contrary to DeKalb Strong’s perspective, I would read Mr. Carleton’s analysis to suggest that LaVista Hills is financially viable and would achieve a balanced budget with relative ease.

Furthermore, the DeKalb Strong president Marjorie Snook has made the claim that the cityhood plan brings, among other things, increased taxes, increased traffic and fewer police.

This is patently false. The whole point of the study was to determine whether the city could afford the current service levels, including police, to which the answer appears to be a qualified ‘yes’ by Mr. Carleton himself.  So by DeKalb Strong’s own numbers it does not appear that the proposed city will need to reduce services or raise taxes.

Traffic has many sources, but this is the first time I’ve seen incorporation put to blame. It is true that people tend to want to live where there is quality governance, which explains much about why areas in the region with good governance are seeing an increase in residents and areas with bad governance are seeing declining populations. But let’s not conflate cause and effect: incorporation does not increase traffic. Good governance likely attracts residents, which can impact traffic.

Note that DeKalb Strong’s intent to fix county governance would have the same effect on the desirability to live in DeKalb County, and would thus potentially increase traffic. Is it then their view that maintaining a corrupt or bad government is a preferred solution to traffic? That seems insane.

In summary, DeKalb Strong hyperbolically overstates the drawbacks of incorporation. LaVista Hills looks to be a financially viable city with a balanced budget as long as there is competent leadership in place to manage it. LaVista Hills supporters’ inability to convey that competence and the reflexive attempts to kill the messenger give the distinct impression that the necessary leadership is in short supply.

The voters deserve better than what they’ve received to date.

About Decaturish.com

View all posts by Decaturish.com

  • Marty

    Hello Hans, enjoy your writing at Decaturish, thank you.

    “on an average Decatur home in 2014, the HOST credit amounted to just over $850”

    How does the possible formation of new cities affect Decatur’s HOST revenues, if at all? Are the primary alternate repayment sources increased taxes?

    • Hans

      I’d like to make this a simple answer, but it is actually a tad complex. The HOST performs two functions: 80% of it is used to offset the county portion of a tax bill, and the other 20% is used to provide for capital needs within the county including in the incorporated areas.

      Regarding the first 80% of the HOST, since incorporation means fewer people are receiving the full county credit, it likely means that the county portion of the taxes will receive a larger HOST credit. I.e., their net tax will decrease due to the higher credit.

      That will be of small impact to the incorporated areas and a (slightly) larger impact to the unincorporated part of the county. However, before the unincorporated residents rejoice, they will almost certainly have that credit offset by an increased millage to pay for the now less scalable services that are received. I could be wrong here, in fact I hope I am, but I’m hard pressed to see how to the County will make ends meet otherwise.

      Regarding the 20% of the HOST used for capital, each new incorporated area reduces the size of the pot for the remainder, and the distribution is relative to the property digest of the municipality in question. I’m not sure where we are in that distribution, but in any event it is unlikely to have a huge tax impact since most of the money is deployed in revenue bonds and bound by covenant to the HOST. For a better explanation, I’d actually refer you to the CVI report on LaVista Hills and direct you to page 14 and 15, which explains in better detail the impact of the capital allocation of the HOST:


      So that is a long winded way of saying “not much impact, I think”, but reserving the right for some variable that I have overlooked in this back-of-the-envelope answer to catch me by surprise.

      Hope that helps…

      • Marty

        Thanks for the information Hans. Read something today and remembered something you wrote previously at Decaturish:

        The City Commission is scheduled to vote tonight on removing the distance requirements “in relation to schools for licenses issued for a “Consumption on Premises” license issued to restaurants.” They will also take up removing the distance limitation “for a “Consumption Off Premises” license for beer and wine sold in a grocery store.”

        Sure enough, starting this budget year, Decatur will transfer one-half of net revenue related to the sale of alcohol to the City Schools of Decatur. In 2015-2016, the transfer is expected to be nearly $300,000. That is the largest portion of the anticipated revenue decrease.

        It is not just about drinking beer in downtown Decatur and supporting local businesses, but also supporting CSD. Sign me up.

        Thanks for the locally sourced news Dan.

      • Save Tucker!

        … and the HOST credit may be going away completely, I believe I heard one of our legislators say during the city hearings. What does not make sense, however, is that more cities mean more areas taking from the capital improvement HOST pie, right? So, why would a legislator like Fran Millar or Tom Taylor who represent Dunwoody want to waste their time with a bill to create more cities, when each new city would take away from the funds available to their own constituent bases?

  • Russell Carleton

    If cityhood advocates would like to say that their answer to the operational deficit is that they would save less for a rainy day, then that is their prerogative. In the past, the ability to keep a reasonable contingency fund has been considered part of what a city had to prove. Such is the place that we have come to. What is clear is that the proposed city has no surplus, and several other problems.

    But let’s take a look at what would remain in a city that has a millage rate of 5.00. Even if we allow that the operational deficit could simply be excused as a rounding error, a millage of 5.00 would be a tax increase on residents. In 2014, a house worth $300,000 would owe $354 in property taxes (using the county system) for the services that the city proposes to handle. In 2015, that tax bill is $378. Using the city’s tax system, which as Mr. Utz points out does not include HOST credits, the tax bill for city services would be $430.

    On top of that, within a city, the average house would pay an extra $35 in electricity franchise fees. Cities often raise franchise fees on cable bills and charge additional fees for landline phones. We don’t know whether the new city council would do that, but the CVI assumes that they will raise about $4.5 million in franchise fees. They have to get that revenue from somewhere.

    The city would be more expensive in taxes and franchise fees and would be at its statutory maximum for taxation. Any attempt to raise taxes would trigger the referendum provision in the charter. If the CVI’s estimates for costs come in low, then the city will find itself further behind the 8-ball. The city could adjust its expenses downward to compensate by reducing its service levels, but if we’re going to start off by having to play that game, then let’s be upfront about that.

    Given that the cost estimates in the CVI are based for the most part on inflation unadjusted budget data from 2012 and 2013, it is reasonable to think that the cost of providing the services listed in the report have gone up. Indeed, one need only look at the budgets for the two comparison cities in 2015 and 2016 to note that their costs have increased dramatically. It seems a little strange to believe that we would still be paying 2012 prices.

    Cityhood advocates also need to grapple with the fact that business and occupation taxes are also slated to bring in $2.3 million to the new city. These are charged on a schedule different from property taxes, but again, CVI assumed that the city would continue to collect at Dekalb rates. They could do this with no problem legally, though several neighboring cities charge rates that are well below the county’s rate (Dunwoody and Chamblee both charge at 60 percent of Dekalb rates). The city could choose to lower these rates, but in the short term, it would have to expect much less revenue. To match the rates in Dunwoody and Chamblee — and compete with them for new business — means foregoing about $900,000 in the short-run. It’s not clear where that money, either in replacement revenue or foregone expenses, would come from.

    The city would be more expensive, have several vulnerabilities, little financial room for error, and provide services about at level with what the county provides now.

    • Eva Shaw

      Thank you, Mr. Carlton, for the numbers. I can put a handle on numbers but throwing words at us is pure swill. It seems that the real magnitude of “cityhood” is finally coming to light. Keep those comments coming.

  • Samb

    “incorporation does not increase traffic”

    True as far as it goes. But incorporation adds an additional potential veto layer to regional traffic solutions, a problem which has plagued this particular area for a long time.

  • InsuranceGenius

    I normally look forward to your contributions, Hans, but this time you’ve really missed the boat. It’s as though you spent all your time analyzing the CVI study and decided to toss in some rash conclusions at the end because the Decaturish deadline was upon you. Since you didn’t understand it, I’d like to share why increased congestion will absolutely be a result of a new city of Lavista Hills, and what the debacle over the CVI study means to me.

    I’m not sure where the association between “good governance” and increased traffic came from. It’s actually the opposite of that. The problem is leaving the
    zoning decisions to small city politicians whose number one priority is to
    expand their tax base. Every government grows – Brookhaven has the Costco development and Executive Park, Sandy Springs has all the office buildings and Roswell Road commercial areas, and Dunwoody has Perimeter Mall and surrounding office buildings. These economic engines (all in place BEFORE the areas were incorporated) have allowed for city government expansion, but even with these established, thriving developments poring in the tax revenues – the politicians want more. And the new city zoning boards have given developers
    anything and everything they want.

    (A few examples: Although all the surrounding neighborhoods vehemently oppose the Mercedes headquarters project and ARC said it would create terrible infrastructure problems – Sandy Springs wants the taxes. Brookhaven changed the tree ordinance to favor rapid development that has resulted in clear cutting the tree canopy. Brookhaven may allow the development of CHOA and Executive Park without impact studies to traffic or input from neighbors. Dunwoody zooming has allowed for development on its borders, but is strongly opposed by residents in Brookhaven who would actually be impacted.)

    So what economic engines does Lavista Hills have? Toco Hills, North DeKalb Mall, and half of Northlake. Where will our new city have to turn to pay for its growth? Lavista Hills will zone to increase densities for residential and commercial areas. It’s the least painful method in the short-run (as opposed to changing the tax cap in the charter.) How much will increased commercial density affect the existing congestion on N. Druid Hills in front of Toco Hills? How will thousands of new, higher density residences clog up the two-lane Lavista and Briarcliff roads?

    It is logical to assume a new city of Lavista Hills will also follow this pattern
    of unbridled development. Small city zoning boards’ susceptibility to the
    influence of developers combined with politicians’ need to increase tax revenues
    will ultimately change our quality of life for the worse, and the most obvious
    impact will be increased traffic congestion.

    Hans, you did a pretty good job of explaining the minutia of the CVI controversy, but missed the forest for the trees. Regardless of the millage rate differences or the HOST credit allowances – my problem is the lack of integrity of the people pushing this city on us. When Mr. Carleton brought the matter to the attention of the Lavista Hills leadership, these very same people who are trying to justify the creation of an entirely new layer of government as some sort of punishment to DeKalb County for corruption problems – these very same people strategized a way to lie about it. “Pass it in November and we’ll fix it in January.” “The less we say about this the better.” And they are following their strategy to the letter – that is to attack Mr. Carleton and any journalist and anyone from DeKalb
    Strong who may question the city’s feasibility while touting the credentials of
    the CVI. Who are these amateurs to question “feasibility” once it has been pronounced by CVI?

    As you said, math is math and the error in the CVI study is legitimate. I think the take-away, however, has nothing to do with feasibility. I do not believe we need a new layer of government to manage 5 services, and I certainly do not want these people in charge of that city.

    • Hans

      you make a couple of points here, let me address them in turn:

      1. I stand by my statement: incorporation does not increase traffic. Bad governance does. Every example you provide of a small government folding under the pressure from developers is one of bad governance, not incorporation. I could cite examples of small local cities that have resisted developers and pushed a clear vision for the community…in other words, it is not uniformly the case that an incorporated entity will make bad development decisions, but rather that only *some* will, which makes it a governance question. This may feel like an esoteric point, but I’m a stickler for correlation versus causation arguments.

      2. Your second point is considerably more salient: what confidence do we have that the potential leadership of LaVista Hills will demonstrate the tenets of good governance versus bad? Here I suspect we are quite a bit more aligned. As an impartial observer with little skin in this game, it would appear to me the potential leaders lack expertise and compensate for it with hyper-sensitivity to criticism. Rather than deal with the content of questions that are raised, they tend toward a hand-wavy ‘all will be well’ defense and proceed to bully the questioner. I’m not a big fan of bullies, which is why I reserve my harshest judgment in the column for those who attacked Mr. Carleton.

      In general, the tone of leadership on both sides has tended toward the hyperbolic rather than fact-based, which is why I’m annoyed with both. Mr. Carleton has raised legitimate points, as you do above. I would be interested in a fact-based response from incorporation supporters beyond ‘DeKalb’s bad’ (as if this was in question). The ball is in their court.

    • HB

      To your points about development: First, Northlake, N. Dekalb are ripe for redevelopment, are zoned and situated for it, and modernizing them would be a great service to our community. Truly uncanny to hear anyone argue for keeping the status quo for those decaying relics.

      Second. Toco has very astute, hands on owners. They recently upgraded, and it’s silly to imply someone would force them to make changes to their property they arent inclined to make. If they want to build work/live, they could do that now.

      Third, the rest of LVH is already built out, 100%, overwhelmingingly with residential homes. Are you trying to create a fear factor that an evil city mayor is going to force out these residents and crush their homes in order to create room for some new density project? This chicken little hogwash.

      No one is going to force out residents, people. And most intelligent residents agree that updating those decrepit malls is a win for all.

      • Save Tucker

        The rezoning and redevelopment plans were long underway before any of the city plans were brought up. The county’s new zoning code update, the Tucker Northlake CID, all the backroom deals between Tucker and Lakeside and Briarcliff before certain portions of their maps were merged together should show everyone one thing…. there is a plan: They just aren’t taking the opinions of the actual people who live here into much account. They only need you for your vote. And then, it will be all about them and their real constituents, the developers and the Dunwoody legislators who are building a fiefdom and drowning in traffic from a less desirable element they want to house further away from their own city, but still close enough for them to get to work (in Dunwoody).

        • notapunk

          And just who is that “less desirable element” Cheryl?

          • Save Tucker

            The middle class, the working class, the poor. Those who cannot afford the mortgages in Dunwoody or the rents in their “edge city” of Perimeter.

          • notapunk

            “Middle class, working class, poor” — isn’t that who lives there now? What’s wrong with sprucing up the neighborhood?

          • Yes2LaVistaHills

            I resemble that remark.

          • guest

            Aren’t they talking about Northlake and Tucker? I’m confused.

          • notapunk

            Yes, Northlake and Tucker.

          • Save Tucker!

            Why would they shut down a Good WIll? They obviously plan on a lot more people living in this part of the county who will be needing affordable, high density, close to transit, housing with shopping that is “walkable” because they don’t have valid driver’s licenses and can only afford to shop at Thrift Stores. They’ll probably add a permit fee if you want to have a garage sale, too, so if you’re thinking about it… do it now while you’re still in DeKalb which is, in this case, too big to worry about having to nickel and dime you to death over something you want to do on your own private property. Cities, however, will even make you pay up and get a permit to change out your dishwasher or fix your own disposal. Great plan, huh? Pay more for the same services which will come pre-packaged with new ways to annoy you.

          • Save Tucker!

            For common courtesy, if you want to be on a first name basis, it’s polite to first introduce yourself.

      • Eva Shaw

        In this current economy, who has funds to rehab the drab Northlake and North DeKalb centers? With shrinking spending at the consumer level there will be NO added revenues, therefore LVH is in deep you know what!

        • notapunk

          Somebody most certainly has money. Have you been to Brighten Park? Or heard about the development under way on the ugly end of Northlake Parkway? How about the new owners of North DeKalb Mall? Don’t even get me started about the seven-figure homes going in and the townhomes in the $450k and up range.
          There’s money out there and some of it’s already being invested in the Northeast Corridor. http://northatlantabusinesspost.com/stories/Sterling-bullish-on-northern-suburbs-retail,715

          • Eva Shaw

            “If you build it who will come” ? The economy is in the toilet and everyone will be spending less. Macy’s might be pulling out of Northlake Mall.—-Then what?

          • Save Tucker!

            They are banking on refugees on government funded housing for the apartments to fill up and the Mercedes workers who can’t afford Sandy Springs to buy the housing stock here. Millar talks about it every chance he gets. We just don’t hear it because he doesn’t live here and doesn’t truly care about what happens to anyone here. He’s helping out his State Farm and Mercedes buddies and throwing a bone toward Rosetta Stone because they need more conservative politicians to keep their unethical, underhanded Robo business going.

          • notapunk

            Then maybe that REIT full of lower performing properties will sell Northlake Mall to someone with vision focused on more than squeezing out as much return as possible with no investment.

          • HB

            Not to mention the brand new Northlake Dicks/DSW development, Suburban Plaza and Decatur Crossing. Atlanta is growing fast. And, most important of all, with the new Norcross movie studios and GM/Assemly developments also being built very nearby, developers are going to eye these properties, with their prime intown locations and zoning, as a goldmine in no time.

    • Yes2LaVistaHills

      There is a lot more commercial in our footprint than just malls and
      strip shopping centers. Presidential Parkway is ripe for redevelopment.
      There is commercial and industrial property lining I-85 all the way from
      Shallowford Rd to Gwinnett County. We are indeed lucky to have the
      majority of our commercial properties adjoining the interstates, and not
      for the most part in the center of our residential areas. These aging
      areas can be upgraded thoughtfully with actual planning for the rest of
      the century instead of just growing willy-nilly. There is no need to rip
      out the residential guts of this area and replace them with high rise
      high density to achieve growth.

      Growth is here. We can’t stop it, but we can manage it. Perhaps you have not noticed that the last undeveloped land within the residential core is already being clear-cut for huge homes on tiny lots, or that there are rows of older homes being bought up and turned into subdivisions of those same huge homes selling for well over half a million dollars. What was once considered an “unbuildable” lot by the original developers is now worth six figures. Many of our neighbors have worked on smart solutions, such as the Residential Infill Overlay Districts, but the County is not enforcing the rules uniformly. Code enforcement is lax at best. We can do better.

      Tucker will also be voting on cityhood in November. DS has not targeted them as the evil empire that they portray LVH. There are two more cityhood bills that cover the southern part of the county waiting for the 2016 legislative session. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that DS was formed not to make DeKalb County strong, but to thwart cityhood, specifically LaVista Hills’ cityhood.

      If you don’t want “these people” in charge of “that city” who do you want
      to run “this county” – the same folks who are in there now? “These
      people” have not said they will run for office. Why don’t YOU step up
      and offer to run for office, Mr/Ms Genius?

      No one wants to announce that they plan to run for office at this point
      because that would divert the issue from choosing cityhood to choosing
      leaders for a city that still does not exist.

      We think our neighbors are much better equipped to run our area than those who don’t live here with the consequences of their actions. We think our neighbors can make sound budgetary decisions as our new city starts out. We think our neighbors have paid attention to the missteps of the other new cities and have learned from them. We think we can balance the desires of our residents with the realities of our finances. We know that our residents will keep a close eye on the new elected officials and their activities. We are confident that we can make a new city work to better all of our lives.

      • Save Tucker!

        Which neighbors? We’ve seen the way Mary Kay and crew treat ordinary citizens who have questions or neighboring communities. We’ve seen first hand the way “Lakeside” ran the school system for their own school’s benefit at the expense of nearly every other neighboring school community. Self-focused, living in a bubble, drooling over the chance to rub shoulders with the corporate elite. It’s clear that some of the group pushing for a city want to be the next Dunwoody. Drive to Dunwoody before rush hour sometime and see how much you would like to live there. It’s interesting that the closer they are to “victory,” the more the reasons behind the city become about redevelopment and the insults to the communities that will have to fund that same redevelopment become more frequent. Spoken like a true developer with disdain for what currently exists. If only there were more cow pasture or more white flight from the core of the metro, we would all be doing just fine and the builders wouldn’t have to try to redesign something that people already like just the way it is. Do we need ongoing upgrades and maintenance? Sure. Does paying for the administrative costs of a new layer of government help achieve any of those improvement goals? Nope. It diverts funds from the people by privatizing (read: profitizing) government without actually fixing anything.

    • Eva Shaw

      Well done and well said. Thank you

  • HB

    Utz article is on the money, across the board, from calling out DS’s silly fear mongering inaccuracies, to LVH’s over defensive leadership style. WORD TO THE WISE to Mary Kay and Venet, from someone who otherwise believes in the value of cityhood: Can the snark. Be more transparent and engage more with us voters. Stop coming off like entitled bullies. This city idea has merit, let that be the clarion call. Smart voters see the value, so stick to relaying facts. Better yet, Mary Kay and Venet, if you truly want cithhood for the good of the community, step aside and let others be the voice of the initiative from hereout. Venet, you in particular are intelligent and your replies are full of great facts, but your tone is more offputting than you may realize. The cause is great, and your efforts are appreciated, dont get me wrong. It’s just TIME to change your communication style if you want to win our hearts and minds. And you can. A little Tough love for LVH from a cityood supporter.

    • Save Tucker

      Have they announced who will be running for any office? Who will the “real” leaders be if your city is approved. Since they are the ones who will have to figure out this budget, shouldn’t you have some idea about who they might be expecting to step up and run for office?

      • notapunk

        I would hope that a variety of people will step up to run for office. We have a pretty sizable pool of smart, talented, innovative, hard-working people here. And most of them are not affiliated with the LaVista Hills Alliance or LaVista Hills YES in any way. At any rate, a referendum has to pass before there are any candidates.

        Who are you recruiting to run in Tucker?

      • HB

        No smart candidate is going to start a campaign unless the city gets voted in. And no one is restricting who can run, and what their agenda might be. And there will be regular turnover too. Since you’re so concerned about LVH, why don’t you run, Cheryl?

  • Marjorie Snook

    Mr. Utz, I appreciate your thoughtful article, and it is food for thought. But I would like to defend the arguments that we have been making.

    1) Taxes. There are many ways that taxes increase. A tax increase in the form of franchise fees is included as part of this proposal, from day one. But outside of that: city governments are very expensive (the CVI projects that simple city overhead, before any money is spent on services, will be $6.5 million a year, about 20% of their revenue).

    All the new city budgets have grown significantly beyond what was projected–Brookhaven, just three years after it’s study, is spending 30% over projections. When government gets more expensive, we have to pay for it. Sometimes that is going to be in the form of property taxes, but not always: in Dunwoody, property taxes are a mere 29% of their budget. The bottom line is: when the cost of government soars, taxes, in whatever form they come in, go up.

    2) Traffic. If we look to the experience of other cities, they have dealt with the desire to grow government by increasing density, to heck with the consequences. InsuranceGenius already covered some examples, and I see your reply that this traffic congestion is caused by bad governance, not cities. While I take your point, my response is that yes, it is caused by bad governance: a particular form of bad governance that has flourished in these new gerrymandered cities. And that should give us pause before creating more fertile ground for it.

    3) Police. The CVI study does not, in fact, evaluate if the city could provide ‘current service levels.’ It instead evaluates the small city police departments of Smyrna and Dunwoody–which has one of the smallest police departments in the metro area. The proposal for a 104 employee, ~70-officer police department is actually offering significantly less than what we currently get as DeKalb residents. The city police forces do not offer many of the capabilities of DKPD.

    Again, though, I really appreciate your thoughtful column and value your expertise.

    • Hans

      *This* is the fact-based substantive debate that I think has been missing to date. Thank you for engaging.

      I’m highly tempted to engage on Mr. Carleton’s point about taxes below and either confirm or refute his calculations…but I believe it is time for cityhood supporters to step in and show their grasp of the nuances and demonstrate how they plan to keep costs down or deliver better services for the money. I do believe it is important to grapple with the issues at the level of policy fluency demonstrated by his math which so far has been missing from the supporter side of the debate. CVI is not a substitute for understanding the detail yourself.

      A couple of points for DeKalb Strong to consider:

      1. There is no escaping the fact that the single-most critical issue that is driving the cityhood initiatives is the comparative collapse of ethical governance in DeKalb County. I know DeKalb Strong wants to fix this issue, but I have seen much more effort put into the anti-cityhood activities than I have seen put into the fix-DeKalb activities. Petitioning for resignations is easy. You need to be grooming candidates, building reform platforms, introducing legislation…in other words, the anti-cityhood efforts more or less hinge on the credibility of whether you can actually deliver a fixed County. Consider the appropriate level of focus there.

      2. Thus to some extent the debate about relatively minor tax differences may be moot. As a Decatur resident, I pay vastly more in tax than unincorporated residents and I think it is worth every penny. (well, maybe not *every* penny, Decatur commissioners…I’m still watching the budget.) The point being, it would appear from all that I have seen that local control may be worth the price to a sufficient number of supporters to achieve cityhood. I would be far more concerned with the fact that cityhood leaders do not seem to be able to engage with the details in a credible way, and thus what is currently a small dollar difference according to Mr. Carleton may in fact be quite a big one, with little or no corresponding increase in services. In other words, it is not the absolute dollar amount that should be the primary concern here, but what you are getting for it, and whether that is achievable with the current potential leadership.

      3. Growth in a city budget is not necessarily reflective of bad governance or of failed projections. You have to take into account the will of the constituency, and it is entirely possible that recent investment decisions made by the elected leadership are reflective of what the residents want. A budget that has grown 30% over the past 3 years, when we’ve seen 20% growth in digest value in just one year alone, does not immediately concern me. The more salient question is on what were those additional dollars spent? Is that reflective of the will of the constituents? Do you have confidence that LVH leadership would make similarly informed decisions?

      4. The conversation about development cannot be reasonably explored without recognizing the role of the State and the constitutional limitations placed on counties and municipalities to influence it. Placing all development decisions at the feet of local municipalities as simply “the desire to grow government” is irresponsible and not at all reflective of the complexity and nuance of governance. I’m not arguing that bad decisions are not made, though I would caution that the County hardly has the standing to offer itself as an alternative model. Clearly good development decisions are made routinely by local municipalities, and to HB’s point regarding some of the areas in need of redevelopment it is clear there is an opportunity to explore just that in LVH. The question comes down to, again, do we have confidence that the potential leadership has the expertise or grasp of detail to govern those decisions well?

      As I said before, the ball is in their court.

      • Russell Carleton

        Hans, if you like, I am happy to provide sources/citations for all of my statements below.

      • Marjorie Snook

        Here’s the issue, Mr. Utz: I work 40 – 50 hours a week, I have two small kids, I teach Sunday School, and I am currently trying to run a political campaign. I am 100% tapped out at the moment. Anything additional would have to come out of the time I take to eat and bathe.

        During the session, we worked very hard to make sure the three reform bills passed, and we are trying to get out the vote for the creation of an independent ethics board for DeKalb, which is on the ballot in November. But at the end of the day, time is extraordinarily finite. For instance, this week, I can’t go to the Lee May townhall. Because I already have three speaking engagements this week, and my daughters cry when I am not home to tuck them in. There’s only so much I can do.

        We will get back to reform, hopefully, after the referendum, when there will again be time and energy for it. Unfortunately, if a city is formed and we find ourselves having to recruit candidates for those races and engage in yet another campaign, I think county reform will stay on the back burner for us.

        And this is my big beef with the people who say that pouring all this massive energy into a new government won’t take away from county reform. Of course it will! It is an extra set of meetings to attend, an additional crop of politicians to hold to account. It makes more work for activists who are already pretty stretched.

        • Hans

          I hear you. Bluntly, you are grappling with a similarly exhausted sentiment of many others who have decided the effort to reform DeKalb requires a workload that would be better focused on hyper-local issues. Can you blame them?

          Fulton went through a similar set of challenges and nearly failed before real reform was possible. It may be the case, in fact I think it is very likely the case, that DeKalb will require the same level of existential crisis to drive reform. In effect that means a wave of incorporation that will greatly shrink the scope of County services.

          I know that is not what you want to hear, and in fact it is exactly what you are fighting against. But I’d have a contingency plan nonetheless. Activists can drive reform, yes. But it is far more work than when the economics force the reform as well. DeKalb is not quite there yet. They will be.

          • Marjorie Snook

            In Fulton, the poorest residents of the county–those who can afford it least–have had their taxes nearly doubled. I don’t see that as a policy victory, and I think we should fight to avoid that route.

            It is also worth pointing out that the most corrupt department in DeKalb is Watershed, and this plan doesn’t touch that massive department at all. A huge amount of money goes into water, so that is often where the corruption is the worst. Fulton has never had a single water department, largely just because of hydrology–they have a big river that runs through their cities and DeKalb doesn’t, allowing the county to have independent water supply. That one difference between the counties is huge.

          • Hans

            Fair, though I would say it is far more difficult for independent citizens to hold Watershed accountable than a set of local municipalities filing a class action suit. In my mind that is not a sufficient justification for incorporation, but as you move toward trying to fix the county you will want to use every tool at your disposal.

            The doubling of the taxes in Fulton is *exactly* what has motivated the drive for better and clearer leadership. Those numbers should come down as professional governance is put in place. In all likelihood it will result in better services as well: The City of Atlanta reduced their operational budget by 20% while nearly doubling the police force, reopening all recreation centers, and establishing an extensive after-school program called Centers of Hope for all disadvantaged students. In other words, taxes went *down* 20% and services were significantly increased. Fulton is going through the exact same process.

            There is virtually zero chance that taxes will not increase in DeKalb in the short term. Thus I suggest you look to the long term with your efforts to put good governance in place.

        • HB

          Marjorie, Marjorie: Different people can head up different groups. You can continue to work for county reform, and let OTHERS work for pro-active city design. No one is suggesting that county and city efforts have to be done by the same people, or same group. It’s not the all or nothing scneario you paint. There’s work for all.

          YES, we can allow new government to create positive change, and still fight corruption in the county. Both are needed.

          • laurelridger

            No, that’s not true. It would take ALL of us to split our time between both. Of course I’m sure a new city administration would love for opponents to go away, and I fully expect that to be their accusation, “Why isn’t DS working to reform the county instead of worrying about us? Trust us.”

            The fact is that in order for all those citizens who believe a new city will harm them to have a voice, they will need at least equal representation in any city administration.

            At this point in time, a much better solution to improve the use of our taxpayer money is for those contemplating city leadership roles to run for county positions.

          • HB

            It’s just ludicrous to suggest “everyone” has to work on “all” initiatives.

          • laurelridger

            HB, I guess you don’t follow state and federal issues as well as local ones? As citizens, we are obliged to be aware and involved in all government decisions that can affect us individually.

          • notapunk

            So, you are involved in ALL government decisions laurelridger? Or just the ones in which you’re interested? Most people follow the latter kind of, sort of, in a cursory way, maybe, sometimes –but not in any true depth.
            If you truly think “ALL” will get involved in any one thing, you’re in for an epic letdown.

          • laurelridger

            My answer was directed to the question of dividing time between county and city issues. Both county and proposed city decisions affect me pretty darn directly, so yeah, I have to watch both. I also pay attention to state and federal issues that affect me too.

            It’s pretty evident that a lot of people around here are realizing that they have to be interested and involved too.

      • Marjorie Snook

        And yes; there are a lot of legal limitations placed on cities and counties. They cannot simply do whatever they want (this criticism could be leveled at cityhood supporters as well, who have promised that having a city will allow them to decide what stores locate in our our area).

        The fact remains, though, that looking at Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, and Brookhaven, it is very hard to find examples of smart development, and evidence of a very careless approach to planning is evident.

        And as far as the huge increase in expenses, I encourage you to look at the budgets and see where those huge increases have occurred. The big excesses have occurred in overhead costs, such as city councilmember discretionary funds (aren’t huge discretionary funds a big issue with the county?), soaring legal costs, and the highest paid city manager in the state.

        At the end of the day, though, if the LVH supporters were saying that we should vote for a city so we can pay a premium on taxes in exchange for superior services, I would probably vote against the proposal but would not be leading the charge.

        However, that is NOT what they are saying. They are explicitly promising LOWER taxes, even going so far as to use head to head comparisons of city and county millage rates (which as you know, can’t be directly compared because of the loss of HOST credits) and saying residents will experience an ‘instant tax cut’ as soon as we incorporate.

        I see little evidence that Brookhaven residents desire a city manager with a $1 million a year budget, slush funds for the mayor to hand off to friends for ‘special projects’, and a lot of lawsuits. Evidence actually points to Brookhaven residents being pretty dissatisfied with the runaway costs. And I have a lot of confidence that LVH would follow the same pattern, because so many of the exact same individuals are involved.

        • Hans

          This criticism gets to the heart of my main issue with cityhood supporters as well: a hand-wavy “oh Brookhaven and Dunwoody did it so it’ll be easy for us”. It certainly will not be, and their unwillingness to show how they plan to govern is greatly concerning. If that does not come across clearly in the article then I have failed to convey my sentiment appropriately.

          • Marjorie Snook

            No, you conveyed everything well. I think the column is clear and you did a good job. I don’t think in the grand scheem of things we are all that far apart on the issue.

            I admit to being slightly sensitive to criticism because I really have tried very hard to have a ‘substance-based’ conversation. The first thing we did when the session ended was reach out to cityhood supporters and see if they would work with us to put together a series of pro/con events, but they have not been very cooperative. I do appreciate being challenged, though.

  • Cities Are Bad

    Yes another win article on the Dekalb strong side. More intelligent writers need to speak out against the loss of jobs and money to Dekalb county if the city is voted for. Dekalb strong has the leaders to keep things from changing and that is what is needed to bring the county back from the whole it has dug itself into. These city sellers have been lying to people about how much it costs to live in a city for years and years and years. There are also the issues with all of the different types of people that move into the cities because they think life is better there when it really is not. It is just what they are used to. Keep Dekalb strong and write more kind sir. You speak the truth better than most.

    • Hans

      You have misinterpreted the column. I’m not endorsing either point of view, but rather pointing out that the debate to date has focused on data-light claims. Which, to be brutally honest, you shamelessly repeat above.

      There is simply no factual support for your statement “issues with all of the different types of people that move into the
      cities because they think life is better there when it really is not”. That is, at best, a purely subjective opinion. I live in a city and love it, and worked for a city and loved it. Certainly I am sympathetic to the point of view that DeKalb is at present an ungovernable mess, it has been that way for quite some time, and that it will require years to fix.

      Incorporation is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. My column makes the case that LaVista Hills would actually be a viable city. The extreme caveat to that being that they will require strong leadership, which I have seen scant evidence of to date.

      I also sympathize with DeKalb Strong’s aims to fix county government. I would like to see more efforts in that direction. Bluntly, anti-incorporation is likely a boat that has sailed, even if this vote fails. The momentum behind support for anything other than county leadership is strong and growing.

      In many ways Fulton County may be a model for DeKalb Strong to examine. Fulton was plagued by years of poor governance, and the result was a strong and sustained wave of incorporation both in the northern population centers and in the southern ones. It absolutely impacted the County’s finances, and for a while it was unclear whether Fulton would survive the transition. But today Fulton is stronger than it has been in years, with better leadership and management. It is a little early to say that they are fully out of the woods, but for the first time in ages it looks like they have made the turn.

      It took close to twenty years for Fulton to make the change. DeKalb is in early days, yet. I suspect the leaders in DeKalb Strong and the leaders behind incorporation actually have far more in common regarding the path forward than they do differences. They are going to have to work together regardless of what happens with the vote. So perhaps the rhetoric should be tamped down a bit and instead everyone look to the facts.

      • Jan Atlanta

        Mr. Utz, the poster known as Cities are Bad thinks he/she is very clever and writes these moronic and inflammatory comments to draw out both the opponents and proponents wrath.

  • Save Tucker

    Incorporation may not directly cause more traffic, but cities are being started here a carbon copies of one another. Each city thus far has increased traffic because they have given free reign to a set of developers and builders chomping at the bit to turn every bit of land possible into a “multi-use” or “multi-family” development in the name of “economic development.” They actually talk about “high density” like it is something we all truly want – to live in smaller spaces right next to one another.

  • Save Tucker!

    Tucker 2015 ( which was nearly dissolved a few months ago for non payment of fees to the state) will hold a meeting about cityhood tonight, Oct. 6, at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Heffner Fellowship Hall, 4882 Lavista Road Tucker, 30084. They will hopefully explain how the surplus for a city of Tucker has taken a nose dive to under $800,000; and revenue from property tax is now estimated at only 408,000 but franchise fees are listed as $2.5 million. Meeting starts at 7 p.m. Rah Rah!

  • MediateIt

    Hans, I would also like to thank you for your generally thoughtful approach to the issue of city feasibility, and for your continuing engagement in the discussion. I would like to add a few comments of my own for your consideration..

    (1) With regard to the quality and integrity of governance one might expect in a new city of LVH, it is important to note that the same players behind the creation of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven, among other new cities, include: *current and former state legislators (most notably Fran Millar, Tom Taylor and Kevin Levitas), *legal representives (Coleman Talley, a Valdosta law firm that opened an Atlanta office when the initiatives for new cities began), * lobbyists (John Garst, who is registered as a lobbyist for CPS-Strategies, a conservative lobbying firm owned by his wife, as well as for Coleman Talley), and *political support services (Rosetta Stone Communications, which conducts surveys and initiates robocalls for conservative candidates and causes and has been fined by the FCC on more than one occasion for rule violations, and which is owned by John Garst and Steve Schultz, a member of the LVH Alliance board). When the Alliance is forced to release their list of contributors on October 19th, I will be stunned if it does not include the same developers and companies who are currently engaged in multiple developments and/or provide privatized services to Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven. Consequently, it makes sense to compare the overdevelopment through lax zoning and permitting, increased traffic congestion, and increases in the cost of franchise fees, fines and permits that residents of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven are experiencing to a future city of LaVista Hills. The lack of a code of ethics in the Brookhave charter, similar to that of LVH, and persisten ethical issues that have resulted in multiple resignations in those cities. Given the above, I would expect no less from LVH.

    (2) Based on the corrected CVI study, is it possible that LVH will be feasible? Yes, but only to the extent that it will be able to maintain a provision of services similar to that which residents now receive from the county. Not a great selling point. In order to improve their services without raising the millage rate they will have to increase the cost of franchise fees, fines, and licenses and immediately zone and permit commercial and high density residential development, not necessarily on the Northlake and North DeKalb mall properties. LVH will be starting out with the lowest tax base of any new city to date, and have a lot of catching up to do. Residents will not have any more say in the matter than residents of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven have experienced to date, despite the fact that they will be electing their “neighbors” to the city council.

    (3) Increased traffic in a county the size of DeKalb can be planned in advance with an overlay district. When you have contiguous cities competing for commercial and residential development, they don’t worry about the inevitable increase in traffic that their projects may cause in the city next door. An example of this complete lack of cooperation may be found in a dispute between Brookhaven and Sandy Springs over more development at Pill Hill; Brookhaven’s callous disregard for the effect that their approval of new developments at CHOA and Executive Park will have on the adjacent neighborhoods in unincorporated DeKalb, blowing apart a carefully crafted CID for the area, and even worsening the gridlock at North Druid Hills and I-85, if that is even possible; and the Mercedes development that the Atlanta Regional Commission rejected as detrimental to the city, county and state, but which Sandy Springs is permitting anyway.

    Claims made by Marjorie Snook, president of DeKalb Strong, that new cities bring increased costs to residents through taxes, fines, licensing etc., increased traffic and fewer police per capita, using Dunwoody and Brookhaven as current models (since they utilized the same CVI models and were crafted by the same cast of characters we see behind LVH) are born out by statistics made available through the Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs Posts, among other resources. I invite you to read them, and then perhaps reconsider your statement that her claims are “hyperbole” and “patently false”, and issue her an apology.

    Patricia Killingsworth

    • Hans

      I stand by my statements. Both sides are guilty of confusing correlation with causation and making overinflated claims. Granted, I believe DeKalb Strong’s overstatements are of a lesser impact, and certainly I give credit to Ms. Snook for attempting to engage with fact in these comments.

      That does not ignore the fact that the tagline to the DeKalb Strong website says ‘Vote NO to LaVista Hills and Tucker’ and makes the data-light claim “Cityhood has failed as a solution to DeKalb problems.” I would argue that Decatur is doing quite well, thank you very much, and while you raise legitimate concerns about Sandy Springs approach to development, they are neither in DeKalb nor are they a particularly convincing example of a failed city. The Cityhood FAQ page takes statistics from the Dunwoody police department and uses them to claim cities do not decrease crime. Not only does the comparison fail to account for any regional trends, which radically impact local crime, they wholly ignore any of the crimes that Dunwoody *did* reduce, such as rape and murder. (http://dunwoodyga.gov/ckeditorfiles/files/POLICE%20DOCS/2010-2011%20Crime%20Comparison.pdf). That sort of cherry picking and analytical error is *exactly* what I am calling hyperbolic.

      Furthermore, for all of the claims of the need to fix DeKalb, DeKalb Strong’s main efforts to date by their own admission has been toward preventing cityhood. If I were to see credible, sustained, and effective efforts to change the county, I would be more sympathetic to the desire to slow incorporation. Until then it is difficult for me to find fault with people who want to take a firmer hold of the reigns, even if the end result is imperfect. This is not to say I support LaVista incorporation. It is to say that I empathize with their desire to do so.

      The single best argument DeKalb Strong can make against LaVista is their to-date terrible track record with information and transparency. Not all cities are bad, but all terribly-led cities are bad. I would be worried that LVH is going down that same path based on what I’ve seen from their leadership. Focus on that, and hopefully change it. Until then, attacking other aspects of cityhood through statistically insignificant claims is not an effective way to silence my criticism.

  • Jan Atlanta

    Published by LaVista Hills Alliance advocate Kevin Levitas 10/3/15 on LVH website: Setting the record straight: AJC News Article Rebuttal

    Regardless of the outcome of the vote next month, we will all continue to be neighbors, so we think it is important that you demand and that you receive truthful information from both sides of the cityhood debate. The piece below sets the record straight about a false story about LaVista Hills that the AJC ran above-the-fold its front page, questioning the financial viability of our potential new city.

    The story relied on an error-filled spreadsheet concocted by the anti-city crowd, and unfortunately, the paper failed to do the most basic fact-checking. The result was to bolster the deception of an anti-city group. The true numbers, widely available to anyone who chose to delve into them, show that LaVista Hills would be on sound financial footing.

    Unfortunately, the AJC allowed us only a few words in the form of a letter to the editor (Sunday, October 4 AJC) to set the record straight in print. The letter was, of course, placed in a substantially less-prominent area of the paper, which means that many voters will remain deceived by the false information contained in the story.

    Below you will find the original and detailed letter submitted to the AJC, which it refused to print. Please share the truths below with your friends and neighbors who live in our community.
    We believe that votes should be cast based on accurate information and not invented data designed to prove a predetermined and phony conclusion. We continue to respect our community by insisting on the truth.

    With a recent story (“Proposed DeKalb city LaVista Hills’ finances questioned,” Sept. 15, 2015) the AJC ran an unsubstantiated and erroneous front-page article questioning the financial viability of the proposed northern DeKalbCounty city of LaVista Hills.

    The writer of that piece relied on a spreadsheet provided by a self-described “researcher” and cityhood opponent to challenge the feasibility finding of the impartial and prestigious Carl Vinson Institute at The University of Georgia (CVI). Staffed by specialists in government budgeting and finance, tax policy, and economic impact assessment, among many other areas of expertise, CVI relies for its conclusion on genuine data provided by local governing bodies, not invented figures. Earlier this year, CVI determined that LaVista Hills would not only be feasible, but also would likely post a substantial annual budget surplus.

    Unfortunately, the writer apparently neither verified the credentials of the self-styled expert on whom he relied nor checked the math or phony data contained in the spreadsheet.

    The error-filled spreadsheet purports to show an operational deficit of $114,000 for the new city. This conclusion is false.

    The spreadsheet is based on phony assumptions, contains factual errors and made-up data, while omitting crucial budgetary information to arrive at its predetermined and bogus conclusion. The spreadsheet overstates by more than 4,000 homes (totaling tens of millions of dollars in property values) the number of residential properties in the proposed city footprint entitled to homestead tax exemptions. It then uses an invented, not actual, tax-filing rate to arrive at its deficit calculation.

    While these huge errors alone reduce the spreadsheet’s negative projections by over $86,000, the data also ignores—or intentionally omits—budgeted contingency funds for unforeseen expenses amounting to nearly $800,000, a figure clearly listed in the CVI feasibility report. In other words, once the biased and counterfeit math of the spreadsheet is exposed, it is clear that there is no deficit. There exists instead a large surplus.

    To all interested in the truth, these facts are readily available and would be apparent from even a brief review of the genuine data contained in the Carl Vinson Institute report. To the anti-city crowd that produced the spreadsheet, such truths are unwelcome, and the false information that it incorporates into its spreadsheet is all too common in the propaganda that it distributes.

    The truth is that the well-respected Carl Vinson Institute has a perfect record of predicting the feasibility of the many new cities created in Fulton and DeKalb Counties since Sandy Springs came into being in 2005. The author of the spreadsheet has no such qualifications. The truth is that cities are exceeding projections, like DeKalb’s Dunwoody, which posts $1-2 million of surplus each year.

    Had Dunwoody’s results played out as the “analysis” in the spreadsheet predicts for LaVista Hills, then Dunwoody would have had a first-year deficit of more than $1,483,000, instead of its original projected $279,000 surplus. Dunwoody’s actual surplus after its first year was over $900,000, more than three times the conservative estimate projected in its CVI feasibility report.

    If asked, the experts at CVI will tell anyone that it uses a conservative higher-cost/lower-revenue model, which accounts for the difference between numbers listed in its feasibility studies and real budget numbers from real cities.

    Regrettably, the most basic fact-checking was not conducted before the story on city feasibility appeared above the fold on the AJC front page. As a result, this paper missed an opportunity to provide accurate facts to its readers in a debate of major public importance.
    Kevin Levitas is a LaVista Hills supporter, a former DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney and a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives

    • Hans

      This is a regurgitation of the attempts to discredit a viable analysis by Mr. Carleton. It is easy to make “budgetary” claims, but until you actually post your numbers and make your analysis available your claims have no merit. CVI used a reasonable millage that is no longer applicable. Period. Your hand-waving to the contrary and regurgitation of CVI does little to provide additional comfort. Produce your analysis. Show that you understand the numbers.

      What is *greatly* concerning is that the analysis done by DeKalb Strong actually shows that LVH could be viable. I’m not clear why the LVH crowd chooses to continue to attempt to discredit the analysis. From where I sit, it would appear that you do not understand the analysis, which is greatly concerning for your ability to govern a city of 65,000 people. The very fact that you would view a budgeted contingency, called a *reserve* by most professionals, as potential surplus indicates your lack of understanding of basic fiscal management principles.

      Establishing a city is not a casual thing. You are *significantly* impacting people’s lives. If you get policing wrong people will die. if you get public works and road construction wrong people will die. If you get permitting and licensing wrong people’s businesses will fail and livelihoods lost. Etc. etc. etc.

      This hand-wavy nonsense must stop. Grapple with the real issues. Show how you plan to govern. What are the steps that you will take to make things better? You are past the point where you can say “Oh, Brookhaven and Dunwoody did it so it will be easy for us.” It will most assuredly be not. Show that you take it seriously enough to plan for it, rather than trying to disparage an analysis that has been far braver than anything from your quarter to date.

  • HB

    Challenge: let’s break this down to reality. For all of you who say let’s NOT form a smaller, more local way to govern than Dekalb…and instead just “improve” the county: Spell it out in real terms for us. How are you proposing we truly succeed in replacing the current criminal “leaders” who keep finding a way to get themselves elected? Let’s say a county reformer like Marjorie runs. How does she win enough votes to get elected? Dekalb is a powerful business, with various forms of ‘clients’. How do you propose you are going to break off all those legacy contracts and bought-off voters?

    I’m truly interested in hearing someone follow this through.

    It’s hard to put any stock in the “ethics” reforms (that currently is the only real defense or reform idea the anti-city crowd has presented). Graft is already illegal, and that hasn’t stopped anyone there from breaking laws. What makes you think they are just going to suddenly fly right, just because you threw another “rule” at them? Serious question.

    Until someone can explain in real terms how they will SUCCEED in “improving” the county that is holding us hostage (Cough*soccer stadium*), it has become clear that putting at least some control back into the hands of the citizens, via smaller more local oversight for all areas, is the only practical way to move forward for now.

    • Hans

      Ethics reform, if done properly, sets up an independent internal organization charged with chasing down issues of corruption. Rather than depend on whistleblowers or the press to uncover these issues, you now have an internal investigator tasked with continuously looking for it.

      Don’t underestimate the power of that. Ethics reform led the way to cleaning up many of the now better-governed municipalities in the area. This does not mean you will always agree with their decisions, but it does at least mean the decisions broadly comply with the law.

      It also tends to remove the politicians who resist procurement reform, transparent accountability, etc. Over the long haul it hopefully upgrades the professional talent in office. It is not a short play, admittedly, but on a long horizon it has a compounding effect toward better governance.

      • HB

        To be clear, obviously it’s good to have ethics rules in place. Much like “speed limits,” they will certainly thwart some potential abusers.

        The question wasn’t about the value of ethics reform (I’m a vocal supporter.) It’s that this to date has been the only the proposed solution to “improve” Dekalb. It’s just not enough, nor does it begin address the breadth of issues we’re facing. (Such as lack of representation, area decline, smart visions for connectivity…etc etc)

        I challenged anyone to answer why we as citizens should not take the matters into our hands that we can, in favor of status quo and a promise of improvement…with no cited plan other than ethics reform.

        No one so far has met the challenge. I guarantee you, Dekalb Strong, your case will remain moot (*to those who believe more local representation is in order) if you can’t provide a solid reply to this.


    • jo

      The problem is government and politicians and your answer is more government and polticians. You say we make this additional government and politicians and we continue to work on the county government. I say no additional government and politicians and we continue to work on the county government.

      • HB

        Government in this case is US. Our ideas, the leaders we choose. It means WE get to have say over our chosen area, and others get say over their chosen areas. It’s self government, and the lack of it means too many other people, who you didn’t elect and aren’t vested with your interest, will be making your decisions for you. I choose not to be nannied. I want to regulate my area, not passively be told what’s good for us.

  • Positive

    How is it that every feasibility study (Tucker, LaVista Hills, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, and Greenhaven) produces surpluses – especially since the only other large area not incorporated is Druid Hills / Medlock? Seems a flaw in the logic.

    • notapunk

      Not every feasibility study has produced a surplus. Stonecrest failed its initial study.

  • Jan Atlanta

    Ah, it all makes sense now. The change in tactics by DeKalb Strong. They’ve shifted from their unsupportable claims about more crime, more taxes, more corruption to accusing LaVista Hills leaders and their supporters – not elected officials but those who are advocating – of flat out lying, being budding criminals, being corrupt, being dishonest, a motley crew, etc.

    Hans, how convenient for them. they paid attention to you – hook, line and sinker: “…all terribly-led cities are bad. I would be worried that LVH is going down that same path based on what I’ve seen from their leadership. Focus on that, and hopefully change it. Until then, attacking other aspects of cityhood through statistically insignificant claims is not an effective way to silence my criticism.”

    Take a look at their FB page and compare it to the LaVista Hills Alliance and LaVista Hills YES posts. Take some time if you have access to the NextDoor neighborhoods in those areas and read what their leaders, the Honorable Pat Killingsworth, Marjorie Snook, Ron McCaulley, Anita Goklaney and their followers post. and let’s start a conversation about honesty, respect and truthfullness.

    • D Anderson

      Oh my, Jan Atlanta, you’re right. I looked at their Facebook page early on and quickly realized it wasn’t something I wanted to join. Back fence biddies who were all gossip, no fact. I never returned, until I read your post. I went to all of the pages/sites you mention. I find it to be much worse than when I first encountered the group.

      DeKalb Strong is an ill-informed embarrassment to us all. Do they really have no idea how bad they make themselves look?

      • Cities Are Bad

        You people are crazy. Dekalb strong is out to save the county from things like these cities from happening. This keeps the jobs where they need to be and that keeps the economy stable. Citys don’t create many jobs they make them go away. Get your facts straight about Dekalb strong and the valuble members some of them make more money than many and they have done lots of work for Dekalb county so they know what they are talking about. Citys up north are really bad so I can just imagine how bad they will be down here run by a bunch of democrats.

      • Ernest

        D Anderson, you are so right. The people in the DeKalb Strong group are bullying, harassing, stalking and intimidating people online simply because they support LaVista hills. I saw one publicly admit to this on facebook and describe their online stalking, as well as in person, of a senior citizen and his family. Another DS member of this group bullies and harasses another LVH supporter and has boasted online that he “took care”of him with his German Shepard dog.

        There are more despicable examples where those came from. But the DeKalb Strong page owner does not rein it in, does not demand civility, does not come close to meeting facebook guidelines for behavior, but instead encourages and joins in the offensive posts and threads. As Jan says, I have seen the same people spewing venom on nextdoor too.

        I have watched what at first seemed boorish and rude deteriorate to a diabolical tone in recent weeks. DeKalb Strong is inflaming and inciting hatred in the public place. It is also breaking state and federal laws against participating in online bullying and harassing. It is behaving no better than the county government it supports.

Receive the Daily Email DIgest

* = required field