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Letter to the Editor: Shopping Center Owners Call Annexation Government Overreach

Shopping center owners at Clairmont and North Decatur roads say, "We face tax increases of more than 30%, and a host of greater red tape from another governing body."

By Eliot M. Arnovitz, Brice Ladson and John Ladson

The City of Decatur again has faced widespread opposition from residents of nearby unincorporated DeKalb to annex their properties into the City of Decatur. This is convenient for the city, since it doesn’t want to add more children to an overcrowded school system, and because annexing residential properties can present a net loss for city coffers.

The city wants a net gain, so its leadership unveiled a scheme last week that even big fans of Decatur have denounced in public forums as unbridled government overreach.

At the recommendation of the city manager, commissioners have now sharpened their knives and carved out mostly commercial properties for annexation. Because so few residential properties are left in these choice parcels, the rights of those involved to have any say in the matter are flatly eliminated.

We are specifically concerned about commercial properties at the four corners of North Decatur and Clairmont roads. Together, we have owned two of the sites for as long as 40 years or more, and the two other centers are owned by families and individuals who have been long-time owners of their centers, as well. These properties are fully built-out, have experienced very little crime, and have well served the needs of the community for decades.

As a gateway to the City of Decatur, these commercial sites have never been the subject of concern by the community at large. If you look at the proposed annexation map, it’s obvious that our properties are targets of annexation strictly for their devised financial contributions to the city.

We and the tenants of the properties come together to ask you, as residents of the City of Decatur or unincorporated DeKalb County, to voice your opposition to this annexation since we have no say.

Most of the tenants in these four shopping centers are local merchants. They live and work in the area. Theirs are not businesses owned by national companies who have no interest in preserving the nature of North Decatur as a place to live, work, learn and play.

As local family owners, we have nurtured our properties and tenants since we built or bought the properties. We have kept rents as low as possible and tenants have had reasonably priced DeKalb County services that have provided a standard of fire protection that allows for low insurance rates. Despite one of the worst economic downturns in the history of our country, our shopping centers have seen relatively little tenant loss or turnover. In fact, our turnover might be less than that of downtown Decatur’s commercial district; certainly, it is no greater.

Why does the City of Decatur want to annex these properties, and what are they giving us or our tenants in return? We keep hearing that the City of Decatur has a well-managed budget, but the fact is that it wants our tax dollars and it can simply reach for them. Annexing our properties will give them more budget dollars with very few expenses. Our businesses don't send children to school, do not use parks, and do not add needs to the community.

However, with this move, we face tax increases of more than 30%, and a host of greater red tape from another governing body. Meanwhile, businesses outside the city limits will enjoy a competitive advantage over our tenants because their cost of doing business will be significantly lower.

Obviously, what we fear is that our tenants might close or move to a more tax-friendly area. We might not have a choice but to sell these properties to national operators not invested in the area. Rents will necessarily rise and these centers could look like other mass-marketed properties or sit empty. You, our local shoppers, will be disenfranchised and face higher prices for goods and services, or will be without the goods and services you currently enjoy.

Equally frustrating is the fact that the City of Decatur just approved new zoning ordinances that those of us who own these properties have not reviewed or had an opportunity to comment on, despite the fact that our properties will immediately come under those regulations if annexed.

It’s clear. This proposed annexation only benefits the City of Decatur, serves no public good, and represents added cost for the owners and tenants at the corners of North Decatur and Clairmont roads, costs that will result in problems that are always associated with rising real estate costs.

We hope you’ll help us by voicing your opposition to the city’s proposal at the City Commission meeting in City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.

Steve December 11, 2012 at 04:15 PM
The Dekalb legislative delegation must approve and then introduce the enabling legislation.
Mike Easterwood December 11, 2012 at 05:05 PM
My main objection to the type of annexation proposed is that the affected property owners have NO voice. I have no problem with annexation in general. I think the properties targeted should have a right to decline or accept. Currently this is not allowed under the legislative option. It only applies to residents. The commercial property owners have no rights in the process. If you are against the annexation, Howard Mosby is the Chairman of the DeKalb delegation and a person to contact with your concerns. Additionally, the DeKalb County Commissioner representing the district is another contact person.
Ernie December 11, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I agree with your sentiment, but the widespread opposition of DeKalb residents to being annexed was 2 to 1 in favor on some parcels.
MedlockFan December 11, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Proximity to the CDC, Emory and associated hospitals, the VA complex, and all the folks living in unincorporated DeKalb surrounding these major employers probably have a lot more to do with the "disproportionate amount of business" than being near a supposed CoD gateway.
Keith M. December 11, 2012 at 07:19 PM
If the property owners are not citizens of either municipality then why do they deserve a voice? In fact the owners are not people but LLCs & LP's. Do we all here agree that corporations (that receive limited legal liability) are people?
easydoesit December 11, 2012 at 08:18 PM
"Why do they deserve a voice?" Wow. Let's see, these LLCs and LPs are made up of two or three people, max, who got together (or were related already) some 40 years ago and risked their livelihoods to buy some local property that was for sale. Then, through the years, other local people risked their livelihoods to rent space from the former, to have businesses to provide goods and services we use. They must make the rent every month or they're gone. And so you think because the first folks all have letters of the alphabet after their partnership names, the City of Decatur should be able to suddenly say, "Hey, you're ours now and we're going to charge you more money for absolutely no benefit to you, and you can't say a word about it, and your tenants must also bear the consequences of renting your space!"? Wow. I hope I never have the poor luck to meet you, especially when doing business.
Dana Blankenhorn December 11, 2012 at 08:44 PM
No, they make a weak case. Commercial development within the city of Decatur is strong. That in unincorporated DeKalb is very weak. The city has high quality merchants, and I can understand why low-quality ones don't want any part of it, but the choice will come down to the City of DeKalb or the City of Decatur. They would be smarter to go with the latter, which will boost their land values.
Debbie D. December 11, 2012 at 08:52 PM
I agree. Have been concerned about Intown Ace Hardware. Can't imagine having to go up against Walmart and having your taxes raised to City of Decatur level.
easydoesit December 11, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Exactly, Debbie! Poor Intown has a double whammy!
easydoesit December 11, 2012 at 09:08 PM
So, you charge those "low-quality" merchants more money and what -- watch them go away? No Rainbow Foods. No Finders Keepers? What a horrible trend to set to see all the mom-and-pop shops go belly-up because of the city's greed and your snobbery!
Keith M. December 11, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Their lives are not at stake. The whole point of incorporation is to limit your liability. They are risking solely the amount of their investment. These are not non-profits here, they made those investments for a reason. It was to make money. If you believe that annexation adds no benefits that's a valid argument but many citizens of Decatur who act through their government believe annexation would improve the quality of these properties. Also, attack the message but no need to attack the messenger.
Michael de Give December 12, 2012 at 02:05 AM
The end of the small town feel of this area is right around the corner. Before long there will be nothing but national brand stores and fast food chains all up and down the area around Suburban Plaza. Is that what everyone wants?
taxus December 12, 2012 at 01:17 PM
If the goal of the CoD is to balance the tax base with more commercial tax parcels, fine. But socking the commercial parcels with +30% increase in property tax is rather salty. And for what? Quality? That's a tough argument to make because everyone holds a different definition. If the CoD is serious about annexation, then they should offer a deal, such as lowering the Assessment from 50% to 40% city-wide, like most other municipalities currently maintain, and what CoD maintained not long ago.
math December 12, 2012 at 04:49 PM
+30% increase in property tax is not fully accurate. Assessments are made at the county level (40%), and the city works from that value. Taxes are then calculated using a millage rate. The variance between the unincorporated millage rate (2012 45.39) and the city millage rate (2012 46.53) is where the tax increase is determined. All things being equal, property taxes alone only account for 2.51% of the 30%. I appreciate the argument, and understand the points being made, but lets be realistic with the numbers. Where is the 27.49% additional increase coming from?
taxus December 12, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Using the number from the article which is probably fairly accurate, even if a wee bit inflated as one might expect. Dekalb uses an Assessment of 40% yes, but Decatur uses 50% - which is 25% more than 40%. A higher millage adds to that. I wish Decatur taxes were only 2.51% more than Dekalb county.
Mike Easterwood December 12, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Math, the city used 50% not 40%. Then Decatur uses the millage rate. With a name like math you will surely understand that. And the argument is that Decatur adds nothing to the discussion that does not already exist. The only thing is you get to pay MORE in taxes AND have their supervision which sometimes is all about revenue raising. Try to get a permit and see what it costs!
Mike Easterwood December 12, 2012 at 06:31 PM
My point in the annexation arena is that if something was added by being annexed the property owners would petition for it. Notice that does not happen with commercial properties. The location is the location the traffic pattens exist in spite of municipal limits. And the residential base exists without being in Decatur. I live in Decatur, I pay Decatur Taxes and I made the choice to so. I also think any property owner should have a say so in annexation questions. The legislative approach is a taking and represent taxation without representation.
JuliaMcElroy December 12, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I wish Decatur would do better long-term planning. They'll need to annex more and more to pay for their services and at some point they'll have to go through residential areas to get what they need. I wish they would just annex the entire Emory corridor. Crazy talk, I know, because they want to keep their "village" vibe. But where are all those elementary schools kids going to go to high school? Decatur High will not be enough. Where do you have space to build a new high school? Can your quaint downtown businesses (which I just learned are WAY better than the rest of the county) give you enough revenue? Why not take a huge chunk of us? We bring schools, parks, lots of commercial revenue and great residents who care about the entire "greater" Decatur area, not just 4 square miles. If they did it right, Decatur's local government could win over our entire area.
math December 12, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Ah! Thanks for the clarification on the assessment percentages. The county portion remains at 40%, at a lower millage rate for the county taxes, while the city taxes are 50% at the higher city millage rate. I see now. My mistake was simply comparing the change in millage rates. Good to know I'm the village idiot. :)
Decaturette December 12, 2012 at 08:09 PM
There's been debate about whether Intown Ace is in or out of the interestingly shaped parcel now being proposed for annexation. Is it really being annexed? And if so, do we know that the owners object? Tony Powers is a Decatur resident and as big a COD and CSD supporter as they come and is on many a COD civic board, work group, committee etc. Maybe a COD address will be beneficial? For the recent DBA promotion ($20 gift certificate for every $200 spent in a Decatur retail store), folks kept asking if Intown Ace counted. Maybe those folks would have run right over to Intown Ace to shop if it had.........
taxus December 12, 2012 at 08:50 PM
To do a deal, both sides have to want it. As it is stands, it's annexation by legislative conquest. Sweeten the deal and it will get done.
easydoesit December 12, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Taxus, that's an interesting point. What on earth could Decatur offer these commercial sites? As it is, the owners probably will be forced at their own expense to do some kind of makeover. If that is not the case then I don't see why the City wants them, anyway. Maybe they'll put a big sign, "Welcome to Decatur!" up over North Decatur or Clairemont, complete with bricks and bronze.
taxus December 12, 2012 at 09:31 PM
What could CoD offer to the target annexees? I'm sure those businesses would consider comparable tax rates a plus. To do that, for example the Assessment needs to drop back to 40% - for everyone. Everybody gets something positive. That's how you get buy in from CoD residents and targeted annexees. Whether the numbers work for CoD's (and City School system which claims the lion's share of the tax dollar) is an open question.
medlock resident December 13, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Is it true that Emory Commons and Suburban Plaza are owned by the same person or group? If so then let CoD access Suburban to aid in the fight to keep another Walmart out of the area. 3 Walmarts in 8 to 10 miles is too many Walmarts. Perhaps the CoD has the clout to stop Walmart at Suburban.
Steve December 13, 2012 at 02:45 AM
"Perhaps the CoD has the clout to stop Walmart at Suburban." Nope, it's a done deal. COD cannot stop it.
prettyflower December 13, 2012 at 07:28 PM
The confusion on the WalMart issue is troubling to me. It seems like a lot of people are forming their position based on the false hope that CoD can stop Wal-Mart. I wonder if Decatur was banking on this confusion.
Steve December 13, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Decatur knew ahead of time that it was a done deal and nothing could be done. The confused people are the ones who have not been paying attention.
Ms. December 13, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Decatur desperately wants this Walmart and they desperately want to annex it after it becomes such. They wouldn't waste money or energy trying to annex it, with caliber of shops that are there now. They are not major revenue generators like a Walmart or other national tenants would be. They'll say they don't want Walmart all day long, but that's the only reason they are doing this now. All I can think when I see these types of comments, is how incredibly naive people seem to be regarding the motives here.
Molly Badgett December 13, 2012 at 10:16 PM
What's interesting -- and sad -- to me is that the State of Georgia will, all day long, give big corporations a TON of incentives, mostly tax-based and for YEARS, to get them to locate in Georgia. Now, here in DeKalb you have mostly small businesses that are already here, some struggling with the current economy as it is, and all the City can do is count the days until it can get its hands on those businesses' tax dollars. It's just wrong. Wrong targets. Wrong timing. Wrong motivations.
Terry L. Roberts December 14, 2012 at 02:38 PM
No one applies for more taxes. Stop and analyze the services as well as the value for City of Decatur property. Dollars per square foot since 2008 in town Decatur had some decline. Not anywhere close to other zip codes in the Dekalb County. Even now, new construction is abounding, resales are growing stronger. Friends in other parts of the county are looking at depreciation of as much as 50% and more. county are down as much as 50% in value. Before you complain about the taxes look at your property assessment in 2008 and 2012. While you do that .. Look at the crime rates in the city of decatur verses other areas of the county. Just a thought.

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