DHCA Response to Cityhood/Annexation Issues
Nearly two years ago, the topic of “Cityhood” was first discussed at a Druid Hills Civic Association (DHCA) meeting. The residents of some DeKalb County neighborhoods to our north were forming initiatives to create new cities. We weren’t certain how Druid Hills would be affected but agreed that we should keep an eye on it because part of our neighborhood was included in one of the proposed maps.
I am writing to you now because Cityhood has emerged as the most profound issue our neighborhood has faced since the Presidential Parkway in the 1980s. As new cities form around us, the portion of Druid Hills in unincorporated DeKalb County could become isolated and face higher taxes and a disproportionately lower share of HOST funds because we will be left to fund mandated County services. If the new North DeKalb cities keep tax money for their own local governments, there will be less revenue for the rest of the county.
For those of you not following this serious issue, let me point out that two words – “cityhood” and “municipalization” — are being used to describe local governments created to handle some services now provided and controlled by DeKalb County. Leaders of these initiatives believe that many services can be better provided at a local level. Our State Constitution mandates that certain services be provided by every county in the state, such as courts, jails, schools, and roads. Even DeKalb County’s Interim CEO Lee May has supported incorporating the entire county as a way to provide better government services.
In 2013, four different organizations proposed the creation of four new cities: Briarcliff, Lakeside, Stonecrest, and Tucker. Each conducted the required financial feasibility study and three were found viable. (Stonecrest was not and withdrew its petition to the State Legislature.) However, the other three had overlapping boundaries. The General Assembly told the groups to figure out a compromise. The organizers are negotiating to reconfigure their maps. At this time, plans for the new maps call for the exclusion of Druid Hills and possibly other neighborhoods contiguous to Emory University. Emory University has stated that it does not wish to be included in any “new city.”
With HOST already insufficient to meet capital improvement needs throughout the county, this part of our neighborhood could see declining services as well as a crumbling infrastructure. Potential cities could become more financially feasible if they offer minimal government services and forgo big-ticket items like a local police force. Communities also could gain additional tax revenue if they become cities because they could collect franchise fees from utilities for use of their rights-of-way, and they would receive a share of sales tax money dedicated to capital improvements.
While staying in unincorporated DeKalb County is the path of least resistance for that portion of Druid Hills, some of our neighbors have explored other options. Joining the City of Decatur has been suggested. However, Decatur has made clear that it does not want to annex large residential areas. The city has concerns about losing its small town character. Further, its school system would bear a much larger load with additional pupils and taxes would rise. Decatur does intend to annex commercial centers like Suburban Plaza but is not interested in residential Druid Hills.
Others have asked about the possibility of creating a Druid Hills Township. State legislators have indicated that it would take writing new legislation to permit the “township” form of government in Georgia. Townships are not allowed at present.
Finally, some have raised the possibility of annexation by the City of Atlanta. It is important to consider that the entire Druid Hills neighborhood would be united under the same local government entity. This option presents challenges in the form of tax rates and the cost of some services. But it also provides an opportunity to be part of the renaissance of Atlanta and the accelerating development and prestige of the city, and for all of Druid Hills to participate in Atlanta’s highly effective Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) system for zoning, historic preservation, and other issues.
There may not be a perfect solution to the problem faced by the part of Druid Hills that lies in unincorporated DeKalb County. What we do know is that our community needs to start paying close attention to the political and economic consequences of the changes that are happening around us whether we like it or not. Do we want to act or be acted upon? Do we want to have a say or be told what our future holds?
During the coming months, the Druid Hills Civic Association will provide as much information as possible about the issues and positions. Whether you are a resident of the City of Atlanta or unincorporated DeKalb, please stay tuned to our website, follow the news, and let us hear from you. If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Critz, President
Druid Hills Civic Association