By Molly A. Badgett
Lots of incoming missiles, so I’ll put on a helmet. But I’ve decided not to lay low.
I’m the writer and webmaster for www.annexmenot.com. It is, in fact, a group effort, representing a number of long-term residents of the B-1 area that the City of Decatur has targeted, yet again, for annexation. The more people we talk to about annexation the more we discover are on our side of this debate; they’re admittedly uneasy, however, about voicing their opinions online, particularly on social media.
To me, this is the most unfortunate aspect of this issue, the marginalization of those who dare say to lovely Decatur, “Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s not a popular position.
The City’s last attempt to grab the properties of Springdale Heights and other nearby homes failed just a few years ago; more neighbors than not were opposed to the plan. Now, some of my neighbors say with the withdrawal of Brookhaven and other tax bases from DeKalb County’s coffers, the county is headed to hell in a hand basket. Others present the drop in homes prices over the last several years as another reason to bail on the county. Some simply say the increases in taxes we’ll pay to be in the City won’t really be that bad.
No one knows just how quickly DeKalb County will reach this hell-fire destination; some say it’s already there and I won’t deny that watching the County is like watching really bad reality TV. But according to “An Assessment of Municipal Annexation in Georgia and the United States: A Search for Policy Guidance” from the Public Policy Research Series (Carl Vinson Institute of Government at The University of Georgia), peeling off specific areas isn’t always a bad thing for some counties:
“(O)nly a small fraction of cities undertake formal revenue and expenditure analyses prior to annexation, perhaps because they have preconceived ideas about how specific revenue streams will change. In fact, with many revenues such as the property tax, local sales taxes, charges, and intergovernmental grants, the impact varies by jurisdiction. In other words, the view that counties will always experience a negative fiscal impact, and that cities will always have a positive one, is false. The variability of fiscal impacts should encourage jurisdictions to carefully consider finances for each annexation, particularly when several developed parcels are involved.”
A long-time personal friend, Harry Hayes, the primary author of this report, was the (joint) City and County Planning Director for Gainesville and Hall County, where I grew up, for decades before joining UGA. Harry is a no-nonsense kind of guy, one who would probably suggest that Brookhaven’s rapid expansion could make it an expensive area to operate. Only if the City of Brookhaven comes out with an annual budget surplus will the DeKalb-is-hemorrhaging-money argument be valid. Sure, DeKalb has lost a lot of Brookhaven-based taxes, but DeKalb also has lost that new city as an obligation.
With regard to the concern that home prices have dropped so drastically, it’s easy to wonder if someone has been ignoring the hoards of headlines that collectively scream back, “Duh!” Springdale Heights home prices have – for all the 20 years I have lived here – kept in sync quite well with Decatur home prices, both upward and downward. They are less volatile if given a facelift, the most certain way to raise the value of homes that lie just outside the city limits (and without, I should add, affecting your neighbors’ pockets). But to determine in the middle of a recession that you must “act now!” to save your home’s value is like worrying, in the middle of night, why your daylilies aren’t blooming.
Finally, the characterization of the tax increase as practically immaterial fails to see that as a completely subjective point. No, it is The Point to the person over 65 on a fixed income. And describe “modest tax increase” to a neighbor who could still – or just did – lose his or her job given this volatile economy. I happen to be self-employed with three income streams; I can always beef up marketing and make extra bucks to cover an additional $150 in monthly taxes. But I still have healthcare costs to worry about, and I dare say those costs will creep up for the steadily employed, too. Oh, and there’s plenty of talk that our mortgage-interest deductions might be at risk soon.
So there are three arguments against annexation in response to the three most common arguments I’ve heard from advocates. The annexmenot.com Web site is full of other points; my favorite among them comes from one of my neighbors, who says let’s wait until the economy has stabilized and Suburban Plaza is completed before we decide. Our group welcomes thoughtful feedback, too, so please see the “Additions and edits” tab. It is not an open forum because we don’t want the same kind of comments on it that have already intimidated other opponents of annexation from speaking out on other online sites, including this one.
But here, really, is the most important point. The Internet belongs to everyone, and everyone deserves to be heard. Those of you who favor annexation could certainly create your own Web site and post persuasive arguments in the same way our group has. I think such a site would be great! Residents of area B-1 (or any targeted area, really) could explore both sites and make informed decisions based on expressed opinions, pro or con. Perhaps this would take arguments off the more community-based social sites and ease tensions on both sides, leaving us to talk about vegetables, finches, and wayward gnomes.
In fact, how ‘bout I make all of you annexation proponents an offer? I’ll create your Web site for you – one that puts annexmenot.com to absolute shame! – for around $150 a month, with a binding contract that lasts at least the next 15 years.
Do we have a deal?