DeKalb’s wannabe cities

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Two DeKalb County communities are fighting a border war in order to get approval from the Legislature to proceed with incorporation. “If the people in this room want something to happen, they’d better get their act together and come up with a map that we can approve, ” Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, said at a public hearing. If the General Assembly and Gov. Nathan Deal rule favorably on the new cities, residents will get to vote on incorporating. Today, we hear from leaders of the Tucker and LaVista Hills city movements.

Tucker city has room to grow

By Ann Lewis

The Tucker community is committed to cityhood because it will provide increased local control of the decisions affecting our lives. No one can better decide what a community needs than its citizens, and cityhood allows those decisions to become reality.

Tucker is well-balanced economically, with a mix of residential, commercial and industrial properties. Our feasibility study verifies that the balance is healthy and sustainable and will propel our economic development as a city.

From the start, Tucker will be a fiscally responsible city, with room to grow. That growth will be based on citizens’ decisions at the ballot box and determined by actual revenues, both hallmarks of self-determination and responsible spending.

The law allows prospective cities to choose which services — a minimum of three — will be offered initially. For nearly two years, in countless meetings and online discussions across the community, residents have expressed their desire for three initial cost-effective services: code enforcement, planning and zoning, and parks and recreation. These important services will impact quality of life, community appearance and property values and therefore have a direct bearing on the city’s economic growth. However, they are also possible to provide without incurring large upfront capital costs that other services like a new city police force would require.

Public safety is very important to our community. In Tucker, we have two DeKalb County police precincts, located on average within four miles of every Tucker residence and business. Targeted efforts by the DeKalb police reduced property crime by 20 percent in the Tucker Precinct and by 18 percent in the North Central Precinct this year, following a reduction last year. Tucker’s initial police services will continue to be provided by DeKalb, in close partnership with city officials and neighborhoods.

Tucker 2015, the volunteer organization spearheading cityhood efforts, is working diligently with DeKalb police and county leadership to ensure our intergovernmental agreement regarding public safety provides high-quality services and is financially responsible. Tucker city officials will be active members in the ongoing relationship with DeKalb police and will be able to address costs and coverage effectively.

Peachtree Corners is a successful model of a new city that chose not to organize a police force from its inception. Instead, like Tucker, Peachtree Corners has focused on code enforcement and planning and zoning. In Peachtree Corners and Tucker, the decision is a considered one. Along with the initial debt required to build a police force, estimates are that police services can annually consume more than 60 percent of a city budget, meaning fewer funds are available to implement projects that will attract quality businesses and manage planning and zoning decisions to reflect our community’s vision for its future.

Tucker’s vision will be shaped by citizen input. Residents and business owners have experience working together to benefit the community. Dedicated volunteers donating their time and expertise have improved our parks, transformed the appearance and viability of our commercial areas like Main Street and Northlake, and built a community ripe for increased economic growth.

Tucker has benefited from two community improvement districts, business overlay zoning districts, livable centers initiative plans, and numerous grants for transportation enhancements and parks projects. Imagine how much more can be done by combining this local experience with full-time city officials dedicated to Tucker’s needs. City government will provide greater local control for even more effective results.

Tucker’s proposed city map of 53,000 residents, which includes the 23,000 who live in both our Tucker map and the newly proposed city of LaVista Hill’s map, are diverse in many ways — by interests, politics, race, religion and socioeconomics — and united by our love for Tucker and our desire to see it be the thriving city we know it can be.

It’s been well-proven by the positive dedication and determination of the community that cityhood for Tucker makes sense, and our community is ready to move forward.

Ann Lewis is a Tucker 2015 volunteer.

LaVista Hills is a win-win

By Mary Kay Woodworth and Allen Venet

The drive toward local control, representation closer to the people, fiscal responsibility and enhanced service delivery in unincorporated DeKalb County continues. The cityhood efforts of LakesideYES and the City of Briarcliff Initiative joined forces this fall as LaVista Hills YES, a one-city solution for our area of north-central DeKalb.

LaVista Hills would be DeKalb’s largest city with approximately 72,000 residents. It would span neighborhoods and commercial areas inside and outside I-285. While the borders are still being finalized, residents and business owners within the proposed boundaries have expressed an overwhelming desire for a greater police presence, increased investment in roads and sidewalks, control of land use and zoning, and improved parks and recreation, among other services.

Since the merger of our two organizations, LaVista Hills YES and neighborhood and civic associations have met with residents to discuss the potential benefits of cityhood. We have worked diligently to include neighborhoods that want to be part of LaVista Hills.

LaVista Park resident Michael Lappin recently shared his support: “The City of LaVista Hills offers the greatest opportunity for our community to shape its future rather than being tied to legacy operations of existing local governments. Being part of a new city allows us as founding residents to have a say in how the city is organized, who is elected to represent us, and what the guiding principles of our city will be. It also allows us to have a fiscally responsible city that is built on the foundation of sound financial management and efficient government.

“This is not about paying less or doing away with government. This is about having effective government.”

While there is valid concern about the DeKalb County school system and its future, the creation of a new city does not change school attendance zones; cityhood and the DeKalb schools are not connected. However, the annexation proposal offered by Together in Atlanta, to become part of the city of Atlanta, would have an immediate effect on students, educators, school employees, attendance patterns and facilities.

LaVista Hills’ leadership promises to actively engage DeKalb schools to find solutions for all affected by school-related changes in our community.

LaVista Hills’ goal for 2015 is to create a new city that:

• Recognizes its citizens are more innovative, engaged and productive when they are safe.

• Is large enough to operate efficiently, yet small enough to maintain healthy relationships with and the engagement of its citizens, and avoid yet another bureaucratic layer of government.

• Is grounded on principles of disciplined stewardship. It will reflect the conservative fiscal values established by its citizens over the last half-century, driven by a progressive stewardship and compassion to ensure citizens’ basic needs are met.

• Celebrates its rich tradition of diversity. We value our history of being home to an early enclave of African-American freed slaves in Oak Grove. We are a suburban community that has welcomed citizens from across the country and throughout the world. We embrace our continued growing diversity of cultural, ethnic, faith and lifestyle traditions, and we pledge to value and respect these differences to create a stronger community fabric.

• Fosters a love of lifelong learning. With its proximity to world-class universities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vibrant faith-centered institutions, and strong public and private k-12 schools, our city will promote lifelong learning as a core value.

DeKalb’s elected officials are determined to slow the drive toward cityhood and annexations. The last two years, we have heard time and again that citizens are tired of DeKalb’s current leadership asking for more time to turn things around and study this further.

While interim CEO Lee May’s DeKalb Operational Task Force and Commissioner Kathie Gannon’s Blueprint for DeKalb — along with citizen efforts to reform DeKalb government — are steps in the right direction, we propose that the best solution for all of DeKalb is to create strong viable cities and a new structure for county government. Working together, we can achieve this goal.

Mary Kay Woodworth and Allen Venet are co-chairpersons of LaVista Hills YES.

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