*NOTE* This is an abriged version of the meeting minutes that only includes the information about Annexation. For the complete minutes, including general neighborhood info and upcoming social events, please see HERE Flyers handed out at the meeting are found all the way at the bottom.
FHNA Neighborhood Meeting Notes
Meeting held at the Columbia Presbyterian Church, started at 7:30 p.m.
Approx. 70 attendees total
Annexation Conversation (8 – 10 p.m.)
Moderator asked group to be respectful of their fellow neighbors at the meeting and considerate of all opinions, two groups presented, followed by Q&A with Avondale Estates and Dekalb County city officials
Pro-Annexation Group presented
Represented by Stephen, lives on Walker Dr. This group has met over the last several months and reviewed all info collected by board and other groups
Distributed a one page flyer that included property value information
Pro group is seeking 60% method which requires 60% of property owners and 60% of registered voters to sign a petition in support of the annexation
Speaker supports annexation because 1) wants more local representation 2) more police presence, AE will add two additional police officers if Forrest Hills is added to their city 3) other options -strong movement toward city hood in other areas of Dekalb County and feels that it’s not a question of if it will happen but when, if we wait we will have less choice
Pro annexation group met with City of Decatur representative and they recommended against our attempting to be annexed into their city bc we do not even share a 1/8 boundary with them and they are seeking to annex areas with significant commercial property that will have little impact on their already crowded schools
Whether we go or stay, our property taxes will go up, they will not be status quo, think of the long-term consideration
Group met with Keller William Realty and property values projected to go up if we join Avondale Estates Codes and ordinances will be the same as in Dekalb County
AE would take over the expenses of the upkeep of our green spaces
Not So Sure About Annexation/Anti-Annexation Group presented
Represented by Nicole who lives on Forrest Blvd. and Elise who has lived on Walker lived for 21 years
Handed out a flyer at the door
Noted the official petition to be annexed into AE would be available to be signed at the end of the night for those who would like too (board approved its presence)
Developed what they feel is a neutral survey, 87 completed surveys out of 250 homes, only about 1/3 of neighborhood represented so it is not statistically representative, responses showed that many people were concerned about taxes
Website listed on flyer shows a percentage increase to expect on taxes, shows there will be about a 30% increase which reduces the amount of funds available for other things you want to purchase
Seems to be a rush to move forward with annexation, quote from Davis Fox in response to an inquiry from neighbor on the county website “A City of Dekalb is unlikely to be financially feasible”
There will not be an automatic jump in your property value, many smaller homes that are not as up-to-date such as those in our neighborhood are being torn down and replaced with larger homes -consider long-term effects and whether or not this is sustainable since we will all remain residents of Dekalb County
Water and fire support will remain the same as well as Dekalb County police support, stats provided
Avondale Estates offers services such as non-bagged sidewalk leaf pickup, side of house trash pickup
AE enforces ordinances and has limits on the number of pets, chickens per acre
Our neighborhood is affordable and has its own unique character and this group does not see any advantages to going into AE
Q&A for all city and county representatives and reps from the two committees
Representatives present at meeting:
Terry Giager, Mayor Pro Tem, Avondale Estates
John Quinn AE commissioner, Avondale Estates
Kathie Gannon, Dekalb County Commissioner
Zach Williams COO Dekalb
J. Vinicki, Dekalb County Deputy Finance Manager
Comments/Questions from Audience
Resident Comment – Opposed to annexation into AE bc she will be facing a fixed income soon like many of her neighbors and will not be able to afford to stay. She learned many years ago from a realtor that you should not expect property values to go up without doing significant improvements to your house.
Q – What is the plan for legislation option for annexation?
Stephen Smith responded that since the legislative vote may not work out, they are pursuing 60% method which requires signatures from 60% of home owners and registered voters from the neighborhood
Q – How did annexation process get started? Did the board initiate it?
In February the board was emailed by a new resident who received a flyer from AE about the possibility of Forrest Hills being annexed into AE which started a flurry of discussion by neighbors on facebook and listserv. In response the board collected questions from the neighborhood, a couple members of the board met with the mayor of Avondale Estates to get answers to the questions and posted a lengthy written FAQ doc. The FHNA board is neutral on annexation and members of the board are not active on either the pro or anti annexation committees.
Q -What is the intention of AE for the future of the schools in the area?
Kathie Gannon, Dekalb County responded that the city we belong too will affect our educational system, encourages us to connect with board of education on our questions (60 cents of every tax dollar goes to support educational system)
AE response -schools are a county issue and would remain a county issue even if annexed
Q- Can Dekalb County talk about the reality of a City of Dekalb
per Kathie Gannon there is no one in the county working on creating a City of Dekalb, there was a placeholder bill last year that will be dropped at the end of this year when it hits its two year expiration period
Q- Larry Johnson has previously referenced a task force that is investigating a City of Dekalb, please explain.
per Kathie Gannon, he was probably referencing the Task Force to explore a number of issues facing Dekalb County, meets every Wed evening, open to the public, advertised on the website, among other issues they are discussing the annexation issues and how city-hoods would impact the county
Q -Can you explain the 60% rule?
-Kathie Gannon explained that City of Decatur is only looking for commercial areas
-AE has included Forrest Hills in the AE map for annexation, includes commercial and residential property approx. 3:1 residential: commercial, AE believes in growth and expansion for the city and wants to bring in thriving communities nearby
Comment-My concern about staying in Dekalb County is that I don’t trust what the county is saying about the future bc the future they promise never comes. She feels safe walking in AE bc of police presence and citizen patrol. Avondale fought for us to stay at Druid Hills when it came to the school system.
Q-Lakeside, Tucker, Briarcliff are pushing through their plans to become cities and have until Nov. 15 to figure out plans. If they do form cities, what happens to us?
-Kathie Gannon said they do not have an answer to that right now. Commercial assets would be absorbed by the new cities which would leave Dekalb County in a difficult place, task force is exploring how to deal with this, would have to realign tax base to pay for services
-Dekalb County is struggling with issues around trust, transparency which are being played out in the newspaper every day, Gannon has responded by creating a blueprint (www.blueprintdekalb.org), also the creation of Neighborhood Planning Units to provide feedback at the neighborhood level
-Gannon wanted to provide a correction on police officer stat shared earlier by a speaker: 557 police officers per county citizen
-AE Rep stated that Dekalb County would always be responsible for county functions
-three processes for annexation 100% method (rarely used), 60% petition method, and legislative process method which involves a committee presenting in legislature which is the process that has created the Nov. 15th time crunch for Lakeside, Tucker, Briarcliff
Q-How much of city budget is going toward AE development projects such as downtown AE, are these funded through the floating of bonds?
-we bought four blocks in downtown AE for $1.1 million, valued at $22 million. They did not raise taxes to fund this purchase
-AE goal is not to raise taxes, they haven’t raised taxes in the last five years and their goal is to lower taxes
-Even in AE, Dekalb County still receives taxes from residents
-bulk of difference in taxes is what supports AE services like police, trash and recycling pickup
-Per Dekalb County manager when a city incorporates, 15% of overall taxes which includes four individual taxes, are no longer collected by the county, but remaining taxes are still provided to county
Q-As other cities incorporate will the remaining unincorporated Dekalb County residences pay higher taxes?
-complicated situation bc county would reassess services provided, find ways to create efficiencies since there are fewer residences to serve so they may go up, they may not
Q-If Forrest Hills is annexed into AE, what percentage of the voting population would our neighborhood represent
-note taker missed actual response
Q-If we are annexed will Dekalb County still assess property values
A – Yes
Q- If annexed, will Forrest Hills have board representation in AE?
Yes – board is elected at large, one AE representative shared that his home is located in a formerly annexed area and he lived there before and after the annexation so we should not expect to be treated as second class
-there are many roles on committees and opportunities to get involved in local govt and residents would be welcome
Q –If Forrest Hills is annexed, would we be ‘grandfathered-in’ on local codes and ordinances?
-per AE they have a planning and zoning board who makes recommendations on grandfathering which is what has happened in the past when areas area annexed
-all AE city representatives are volunteer positions
Q-What are our real options here? Is there a real rush?
-per Kathie Gannon, if we do the 60% option we have a vote, if AE pursues the legislative option, we have a vote through regular election process, a City of Dekalb is not on the table
Comment-resident since 1970 shares that this has come up several times and there are always scare tactics about rushing, AE does not offer anything from his perspective, feels that AE wants Forrest Hills only to cushion their historic district, completely opposed to annexation
Q-What happens to islands of unincorporated Dekalb County, areas such as Decatur Terrace?
-AE rep responded that Annexation cannot go forward if it would leave a “donut hole” in the maps between cities, it is possible that they would become part of a city either way
Q-Clarification about vote -is there a separate vote for each area looking at city-hood?
Q-Clarification on taxes?
-per Dekalb County-county would lose some tax dollars but still receive some. Dekalb County has a Host sales tax that goes directly to the county, commercial properties do not get any breaks on their taxes, it costs more to service residential homes than it does commercial properties, by the time these three cities come around the county would need to reassess revenues and expenditures…
Comment-Resident since 1980, comment on property value increases, looked for similar size and style of homes in AE and found some in the outskirts of Kensington and saw that those homes are being torn down and she does not feel property values will increase.
Q- Resident commented that her assessed property value arbitrarily went up by 1/3 last year which she has appealed and is waiting for a response from the county. She would love for someone to enforce the codes such as the lack of upkeep on two vacant homes near her.
-Kathie Gannon from Dekalb County requested addresses of vacant homes so she can follow up
Q-What is being done about the eyesore of the abandoned apartment complex on Craigie?
-Kathie Gannon was not aware of apartments and requested that we contact her office. She can be contacted at Ph: 404-371-4909
Q -What are you going to do about the abandoned apartments on Craigie?
-AE responded that they understand his frustration and do not feel they need to respond
-second AE rep shared that they made Dekalb County aware of apartments and put up a fence
-before the economy crashed there were plans to redo the entire E. College strip
Q- Does AE have the ability to condemn and raise property if the owner is non-compliant in response to code violations (such as in the case of the abandoned Craigie apts)?
- AE cannot legally take over and raise property but they can use the justice system, fines, to enforce codes, they have not had to take it so far as the raise a property
Comment -Forces that drive property values are far greater than AE. AE cannot dictate property values.
Q- Will AE open gate to neighborhood park near Museum School permanently if we become part of city? Will they reconnect Forrest Blvd to AE which now dead-ends before turning into Craigie (it used to be a through street) and increases time for fire/police response?
AE- if Forrest Hills become part of AE then they will be able to provide police protection on all sides and the park will likely be opened permanently
Q/Comment-If AE and Dekalb County have to abide by the same rules, what is the county going to do about abandoned properties? They were informed about abandoned apts at the April meeting. Deserted apartments and sidewalk is never maintained on Cragie bc county is not doing it.
Q- Are property taxes being paid by Craigie apartment owners? Otherwise the property would be foreclosed on.
-answer from county is that someone must be paying the property taxes but they don’t know the specifics
Comment -Resident suggested that the board members organize volunteers to maintain abandoned homes noted by residents. Resident was asked to contact the board with the address of the homes.
Kathie Gannon closed by noting that it was almost 10 p.m., thanked the FHNA board for making information available to the community and for inviting representatives to discuss the issues. Encouraged everyone to contact their legislators to provide input.
AE Reps thanked the group as well and said they will be available afterward for a few min to answer questions.