At a meeting at the State Capitol, commissioners called on lawmakers to amend the Official Code of Georgia by inserting language that requires the approval of the county for annexation of areas that receive county services.
They also want to provide property owners who live in the contested areas the right to fight annexation if they want to stay in unincorporated DeKalb.
District 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader, who wrote a Jan. 22 county resolution seeking a moratorium on annexation, said there is strong opposition to attempts by the city of Decatur to annex an area that includes two shopping centers and 502 residents.
“Every owner of commercial property in that area seems to be opposed to this annexation,” Rader told legislators.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Johnson said it’s part of the American way to give property owners an opportunity to be heard.
“They purchased property under one system which is unincorporated and all of a sudden they’re incorporated into an area and their taxes may go up without them having due process,” he said.
Decatur passed two resolutions on Dec. 17 asking the state for permission to annex the two-tenths-mile area that includes Suburban Plaza and the North Decatur Center at the intersection of North Decatur and Clairmont roads. An assortment of apartment complexes and about 60 houses also are part of the area.
Rader said the county is not opposed to all annexations but is specifically targeting the Decatur resolution.
“It’s a relatively small geographic area with a large tax base,” Rader said.
If the county loses the Suburban Plaza/North Decatur Center zones. Rader said it would still have to deliver costly services while losing millions in tax revenue to Decatur. Since the targeted area is mostly commercial, Decatur is pursuing it as a legislative annexation with no voter referendum attached to it.
To a question from Rep. Earnest “Coach” Williams, District 5 Commissioner Lee May estimated that DeKalb has lost more than $40 million in tax revenues to Dunwoody and Brookhaven incorporating as new cities.
Mum on moratorium on cityhood
The commissioners also made a pitch for delegation support on legislation that would amend the mandated county sales tax ceiling.
The measure would give DeKalb flexibility to create a 1-cent sales tax referendum for much-needed repairs to its aging infrastructure and to make capital improvements.
“There’s just no other stream of revenue that we can tap into that would allow us to address the over 400 miles of repaving that needs to be done.” said May, the BOC’s presiding officer.
Delegation Chairman Howard Mosby said lawmakers will move quickly to decide whether an annexation amendment is feasible. First, members will be polled to see who is interested in working on the measure.
“They’ll draft the bill and they’ll bring it [to the delegation] first,” he said. “We’ll vote on it and if we vote yes, then it’ll go to the Legislature.”
Under General Assembly rules, the delegation has until the 36th day of the session to introduce local legislation.
The meeting did not discuss a moratorium on cityhood that was part of the commissioners’ Jan. 22 resolution and is in a bill proposed by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver.
A moratorium would give the county time to assess the fiscal damage from the incorporation of Brookhaven and Dunwoody in 2012 and 2010, respectively.
Commissioners decided to leave moratorium ideas out of their presentation for fear of generating too much dissent within the DeKalb delegation.
May said they don’t have the opportunity for many additional annexations right now.
“I think we’re at a place now where we can work through the resolutions without putting a full-fledged moratorium in there,” he said.
Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis and City Council members Rebecca Chase Williams and Jim Eyre were in the audience. They were at the Capitol for another event but dropped in on the meeting. They said they were most interested in DeKalb’s proposed 1-cent sales tax referendum and how it might affect Brookhaven.
“The DeKalb Municipal Association is already talking to the commissioners about how we can work together or agree to disagree on it,” Eyre said after the meeting. “It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.”