There were a great many false claims and misleading statements made last night.
Claim: Cities have lower millage rates, thus lower taxes.
False. This comparison is meaningless, and they know it.
The presentation showed a head-to-head comparison of city and county millage rates, leading people to believe that their taxes would drop in a city. Not only did they use an outdated county millage rate, but this comparison is inappropriate, and they know it.
As they say on the LaVista Hills Web site, “A county millage rate is not equivalent to a city millage rate in this context. A city millage rate does not come with the HOST county property tax rollback or the applicable county homestead exemptions. Thus a lower city millage rate will generate more revenue than DeKalb County’s millage rate.”
“Generate more revenue” is bureaucrat-speak for ‘raises taxes.’ While the millages may look lower in cities, those lower millage rates, without the tax credits we have in unincorporated areas, result in higher taxes.
There will be no new taxes
False. Taxes WILL go up.
The county currently gathers $32 million in taxes in this footprint. A city of LaVista Hills, according to the CVI study, will gather $36.5 million. This is a tax increase of $4.5 million.
City governments are lean.
Inaccurate. Redundant government is very expensive, and new city governments love to grow.
The CVI study predicts that cost of administration would be $6.5 million dollars—20% of our tax dollars siphoned off to fund new bureaucracy.
And that’s before we talk about growth in government. Brookhaven was supposed to also have less than a dozen employees. They now have 33 (not including politicians or police). Sandy Springs, once a poster child for libertarian small government, used eminent domain to seize some long-standing businesses and is now building a $100 million “City Center.”
Claim: Cities have lower crime and better response times.
False. New cities have seen higher crime and understaffed forces.
Matt Slappey made this claim, but kept it intentionally vague. The gist was “when I drive around Brookhaven, I see more police cars.” That is the extent of the support for their position.
There is a reason that they don’t present any statistics or data; the facts do not support them. A 2012 study in Dunwoody found that the small police force there was ‘often overwhelmed’, and that 25% of calls were not getting timely responses. Three years later, they have even fewer police officers. Dunwoody police statistics show that property crimes are up 30% since the first full year of their department in 2010. In 2014, only 10% of burglaries and 14% of motor vehicle thefts were resulted in an arrest.
Claim: We don’t really need those specialty police services, anyway.
Ridiculous. You don’t need these special services until you do. Why trade first class public safety for a third tier force?
Matt Slappey said that losing our quick access to specialty units, SWAT services, and bomb squads wasn’t an issue, because he doesn’t think we normally need these things, and we will just get them from the county if we need them.
Will we? In response to budget cuts after the incorporation of Dunwoody, DeKalb had to ground their helicopter for a time, meaning that Dunwoody lost this service, too. If we want to be able to count on these services when we need them, is it wise to force budget cuts to the organization that provides them?
Also, is it true that we don’t really need these specialty units, anyway? One of the specialty units offered by DeKalb and not offered by cities is domestic violence specialists. Domestic-violence-related police calls have been found to constitute the single largest category of calls received by police, and that includes more affluent areas.
DeKalb police also receive more training, in general. It is always good to have a more trained police officer, whatever the reason for your call.
Claim: We will use zoning to protect us from development
False. Zoning in fractured districts is chaotic, and often leaves residents unhappy.
Matt Slappey specifically stated that his issue was that the new apartment complex near the Movie Tavern was going to overcrowd Briarlake, and was bad planning.
This is a perfect example of the reason the city movement is so bad.
The complex he has an issue with isn’t in the footprint of LaVista Hills. It would be in Tucker. Many of our schools have districts that go outside these boundaries, just as the boundaries for Druid Hills High School, which is NOT in our footprint, cover a large swath of this area. When zoning is sliced and diced into different fiefdoms that don’t correspond with school district lines, we lose all say in zoning decisions that may affect our schools.
In general, cities have made a mess of zoning. The 300-unit apartment complex in Tucker will have less of an effect on schools than the $1.5 million square foot complex Brookhaven just approved next to Montgomery Elemetary. Cities cause the cost of government to rise, and put pressure on governments to increase density.
Claim: But we WILL zone for more development.
True. You think congestion is bad now?
The presentation was a bit contradictory. Right after Matt Slappey expressed his ire at a 300-person apartment complex over in Tucker, Ben Shackleford stated that if we had a city, maybe the new Mercedes complex–with its 355 apartment units and dense single family homes–may have located at Northlake. Apparently, residents of the Sandy Springs neighborhoods surrounding this complex wish the same thing.
Claim: LaVista Hills will get around to ethics. Just trust us.
We shouldn’t. New cities often have no ethics boards, and politicians easily escape consequences.
The LaVista Hills charter has no independent ethics authority. The city council would essentially be responsible for investigating themselves. This is LESS ethics protection than we currently have in DeKalb County.
We need more ethics protections–not less!
Claim: The county fought the purchase of the new Briarlake Forest, and in a city, citizens wouldn’t have to work to convince government to acquire parks.
False. Briarlake Forest is an example of what we would LOSE if out parks money leaves the county.
The process did take time and effort – and money. After a protracted battle with the developer, the purchase of those 21 acres cost the county more than $9 million – roughly $430,000 per acre. This was an extraordinarily expensive park acquisition.
There is very little property in the LVH footprint that is both suitable for development as a park and affordable to the county, much less to a city with limited resources. With so little room in their budget, LaVista HIlls does not have the resources to even maintain additional parks, even if they could find a way to acquire them. This park alone reduces the projected surplus by 15%.
Mr. Marion has earlier stated that “The Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Affairs has reached out to BCFA to assist with the formation of a “Friends of the Park” group to help the department with planning, improvements and maintenance of the park.” That is in direct conflict with his statement at the meeting. If the park leaves the county and becomes part of the City of LaVista Hills, BCFA will also lose the services of the non-profit organization Park Pride in obtaining grants, donations and volunteers to assist in improving and maintaining the park, and will have significantly fewer resources than they have now.
The innuendos and whispers by LVH leaders at the meeting concerning the supposedly regressive actions of their “unnamed” local district commissioner (hardly a mystery, since they only have one, Jeff Rader) were unprofessional in the extreme and, more importantly, untrue.
Claim: LaVista Hills Alliance is open for business, DeKalb-style
Offensive: Corruption and cronyism from the get go.
The most disturbing statement of the night was the answer to a question about how the LaVista Hills Alliance holding a $500-a-plate fundraiser for potential city vendors was different than what Burrell Ellis went to prison for.
And Kevin Levitas’ response? I quote:
“It’s perfectly reasonable to ask them to invest in us before we invest in them.”
No. It isn’t perfectly reasonable. This is pay-to-play. Saying that contractors have to pony up campaign cash if they want to do business with a government is wrong. It violates most government procurement codes, and is the exact kind of behavior we need less of in DeKalb. We do NOT need to make more opportunities for it, especially if the leaders of this movement don’t understand basic ethics.
We do not know if these misstatements were purposeful or were made in error, but had the LaVista Hills Alliance allowed for a debate format (as we requested), attendees would have been able to judge for themselves.
Please plan on attending an event where both sides of new cityhood will be debated…