Decatur Citizen Survey: Majority Supports Tax Increase If Necessary

The results of the 2010 Decatur Citizen Survey are included at the back of the 2010-2011 Decatur budget now posted online.   As always, I find this document to be the closest thing to a reality-check that we have to gauge overall Decatur opinion against the “survival of the loudest, most verbose and persuasive” of DM.

The breakdowns for the “policy questions” are among the most interesting.  Here’s the first one…

“In today’s current economic condition, it is the City’s goal to maintain the existing levels of service at current property tax rates.  If that is not possible, which of the following would you prefer?

  • Maintain levels of service, increase tax rate up to one-half of a mill ($100 per year on a $400,000 property) – 45%
  • Maintain levels of service, increase tax rate up to one mill ($200 per year on a $400,000 property) – 14%
  • Maintain tax rate, decrease levels of service – 24%
  • Decrease tax rate no matter how much it decreases levels of service – 17%

43 thoughts on “Decatur Citizen Survey: Majority Supports Tax Increase If Necessary”


  1. I’m glad to see although the caveat is that I very much do not want the increased tax rate result in a more homogeneous (relatively wealthy) population in the city. After living in Palo Alto CA where it was a struggle for city workers to actually live in the city, I think it is really important that we don’t let that happen here.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure of the best way of doing this. In any case, with all of the anti-govt anti-tax discussion in the news, I’m happy to see that people appreciate the need for well funded govt services.

    1. In what way is “relatively wealthy” more homogeneous? All high income people are pretty much the same, while low income people are of a different breed?

      1. Historically yes, the wealthy in the U.S. tended to be as white as homogenized milk. But I don’t think that’s what was meant. Glockenspieler specifically said homogenity in terms of wealth. There are many different measures of homogeneity and wealth is one.

        1. “Wealthy” is a perspective, not an absolute. I don’t consider myself wealthy, yet others might. I may consider someone who makes twice as much as I do as wealthy, but they may not. Labeling people “wealthy,” “well off,” “comfortable,” “poor” etc. only serves to further separate people, not bring them together.

          Oh, and nice try at perpetuating the idea of white guilt by stating “the wealthy in the U.S. tended to be as white as homogenized milk.”. Decatur excels in its efforts to make its white citizenry feel guilty because of their perceived advantages and yes, wealth. I have to do a lot of retraining with my children to make them understand that white people are not evil, as they are told ad nauseam every February during black history month.

          1. Oy vey. This got off course. I think the posts were just about trying to have some affordable living retained in Decatur. Never mind.

          2. Dang, Token! Who’s telling your kids that white people are evil during Black History Month? Don’t you think you’re being just a leeeeetle bit paranoid? The fact is, from the time back when this country was being settled through the battle for civil rights in the 60’s & 70’s, the white folks in charge did some pretty heinous things not only to black folks, but to indigenous peoples, too. Telling kids the truth about our history isn’t the same as teaching kids that all white people are evil. For people of color, the back of the bus ain’t cuttin’ it any more, and there are lots of otherwise well-meaning white folks who find themselves uncomfortable with it when we get vocal about that. But it’s OK– I can understand that point of view, too. Knowing the truth doesn’t mean that I can’t love my all-white relatives & claim them as family (even the bigoted ones, who seem to accept me now even as they look askance at other ethnic folk). 🙂

            Your last statement give me the impression that you, as a white person, feel as if you’re being put upon simply for being white– and I’m sorry about that. It doesn’t change what happened throughout American history, and no one’s saying you should have to wear a hair shirt in penance for wrongs that you, individually, did not commit. However, you shouldn’t expect for the non-white populace in this country, or the majority of people on this planet (who, incidentally, are non-white), to feel much sympathy for your discomfort at having this truth (finally) being taught in classrooms. Maybe after you’ve walked in their shoes for another 50-100 years, but not till then.

            1. So…when are we to expect Asian American History Month, or Latin American History Month? Let’s just make sure that we don’t miss any group that could have a perceived grievance for having the privilege of living in the most exceptional, affluent, the poorest among us are exceptionally overweight society in the history of Earth.

              1. Well, when almost every month is by default White History Month–what do you expect?

            1. Are you just going to make personal attacks, or are you going to contribute something of substance?

            2. Why should I back pedal? I’m perfectly comfortable with what I said. If you dislike or disagree with it, then write a reasoned response like cubalibre did.

              1. OK, so is your problem with the way the subject is taught or the way your kids are reacting to it?

                And how would you go about teaching some of the thornier issues of US history that might make a kid uncomfortable?

                Because I’m pretty sure the way that it was done (and still is done in many cases) was to ignore what didn’t fit your story or ideaology. A little early guilt, which will hopefully gain bit of rational perspective later on, is a small price to pay for telling the more uncomfortable stories of our history.

                1. ¿Care to designate any other groups, based on ethnicity, religion, heritage, political affiliation, height, consumer choice or dessert preference whose children — on the public dime — should be taught guilt (and by extension whose children — on the public dime — should be taught how to use the “guilt” of others as part of the civic discourse)?

                  If not (and the terrific community service that is DecaturMetro must suck up an enormous amount of unrenumerated time), I’d be happy to come up with a list…. but of course:

                  1) that list would ultimately be subjective and of limited didactic usefulness.

                  2) it would create an ethos where members of a society would benefit from finding, creating and celebrating grievances in an effort to outdo one another in the great “who’s had it the hardest/who’s had their feelings hurt the most” debate.

                  3) it would actually marginalize accurate teaching and learning about varied contributions to history and culture by grouping inflated events, perspectives and figures with those that can truly be said to have been worth a child’s limited time and energy in school.

                  1. Only if you are prepared to refer to the Holocaust, slavery, Manifest Destiny, the Crusades, the Trail of Tears, etc. as “inflated events”.

                    1. Whoa. That’s some leap.

                      Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I posited that there are, in fact, contributions to history and culture from many different kinds of people (“learning about varied contribitions to…”). Your examples are important topics in human history that have been well and duly taught in schools for the last couple of generations.

                      The problem is that “XXXXX History Month,” inevitably leads to tortured stretching of the definition of what is worth spending time, energy and money on, and seems to never include discussion of less popular topics when it comes to the group in question.

                    2. So the XXXXX History Month is a “token” contribution to historical education–I agree completely.

                      How else, though, will Americans teach their history? We are an euphemistically obsessed culture, and, unfortunately, that’s what we get. At least kids will be peripherally aware–call it the TV commercial oriented version of American history.

        2. Glockenspieler specifically said homogenity in terms of wealth.

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          I don’t think that makes much sense. You could have a neighborhood made up of successful lawyers, doctors, artists, restauranteurs, college professors, writers, etc., who all make about the same money. You are saying that neighborhood is homogeneous because all those people happen to report the same income on a W-2?

          Moreover, how on earth would anyone be able to identify that kind of supposed homogenity? Go around to the neighbors and start asking how much they make? I guess you might say you would know by looking at the prices of their house/car, but to my mind, that’s as much a proxy for personal debt as it is income. You can;t assume much of anything about wealth from consumption patterns.

          1. It ain’t the Census, but the Citizen Survey also asked about household income. Here’s how Decatur broke down…

            Less than 24,999 – 18%
            $25,000-$49,000 – 16%
            $50,000 – $99,000 – 31%
            $100,000 – $149,000 – 14%
            $150,000 or more – 20%

            There’s an interesting article in the Atlantic this month, which criticizes two books whose authors claim to be following in the footsteps of Jane Jacobs – pining for a time when Greenwich Village was made up of a “diverse” population from Mom & Pop store owners to journos and writers (like Jacobs). The Atlantic critic argues that such a state is unsustainable in a capitalist world, and enjoying the time when a neighborhood is in transition doesn’t make it any easier to retain.

            Government subsidies and whatnot can help ease the transition, but I’ve yet to see a compelling case where gentrification can be halted by non-economic forces.

            If confronted, I admit I’d probably be in favor of more “economic diversity” than less. However, I have trouble seeing how it is not an eventually a battle lost in desirable areas.

            1. Interesting, DM. Looks like this concern is mostly a moot point — Decatur has experienced a lot of gentrification over the years, but the percentage of incomes below $49,000 is about the same as the percentage over $100,000. People with modest incomes can certainly live here. Heck, I’d argue that even $100k is fairly modest in a major metropolitan area.

            2. Interesting idea that there’s a window of time in which a community can be a diverse, interesting place to live, a period after decline and stagnation but before it’s so popular that only the affluent can afford to move in. The idea that the transition period will inevitably end is a little discouraging. Let’s enjoy it while we can! Any good ideas where the next transition will be? Maybe we can all rendez-vous there!

            3. Interesting stats, DM. Any idea if this is City or Decatur, or if it’s all Decatur addresses?

  2. I disagree that ‘people with modest incomes can certainly live here’ although I will stipulate that there are obviously different opinions of what ‘modest’ means. Perhaps if you already live here, it’s possible to stay, but when a small starter home that most likely needs work costs more than a quarter of a million dollars (which is just a more dramatic way of saying upwards of $250k) then a large segment of the population is excluded. Do the math, a person who makes $40-$50k a year cannot pay the mortgage on a +$300k house — not without help.

    I think we suffer from wanting it all — we want all the great quality-of-life components which call for higher taxes to support, we want to limit development that might draw in more tax dollars but might impact the quality-of-life, we want our houses to retain their value (at least, or even increase), we want great schools, we want economic diversity….everything comes at a cost (no pun intended) and the ‘cost’ of living in a groovy little city like Decatur may be that it’s not available to everyone.

    1. I agree.

      I am participating in the Round Table process and this is the most striking thing to me abut the discussions.

      The group members who voice the most concern about keeping an economically diverse population and complain about development and mcmansions and possible annexations are also the people with the longest wish lists of public projects and upgrades.

      There seems to be a disconnect about what it takes to pay for all of these things.

    2. But not everybody has to live in a detached home they own–Decatur has a lot of rental property too.

      1. I know there is rental in the City of Decatur but I would argue that many many Decatur residents still only want ‘nice’ properties which often come with ‘nice’ monthly rents. Again, understandable but limiting. And there are people who would like to own their own home. You’re right that it’s not for everyone, but having only houses in the $250K range and UP again limits the options.

        Just agreeing that I think we (and that includes me) talk out of both sides of our mouths — keep Decatur affordable but also keep all the services, maybe even add more. It’s an equation that just doesn’t add up.

        For the folks who voted for keeping services at a high level and increasing the mill rate, I applaud your efforts to put your money where your mouth is in terms of recognizing that there is a cost to maintaining this quality of life. But, it’s just another nail in the coffin of keeping Decatur affordable.

        Again, I love it here and don’t plan to move — EVER! But at some point I may not have a choice, it may just be a little too rich for my blood.

        1. You’re right that it’s not for everyone, but having only houses in the $250K range and UP again limits the options.

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          You are saying home in Decatur start at this price? I really don;t think that’s true.

  3. Getting back to the point, I think it’s surprising (and saddening) that 59 percent of us would rather raise taxes than scale back government services. Dear-old Dad, may he rest in peace, taught me to live within my means, and that’s a valuable lesson for individuals and businesses, and it ought to be for our governments as well.

    1. It is living within the taxpayer’s means if the taxpayer chooses to spend their money that way. It’s only a problem if the taxpayer overtaxes themself and then can’t pay.

      1. It’s only a problem if the taxpayer overtaxes themself and then can’t pay.
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        Or if the government borrows itself into oblivion. Which is exactly what’s happening right now on the federal level and in many states.

      2. Except that tax-paying is a different type of spending than regular, direct spending. One doesn’t get to prioritize and make rational decisions about how taxes are spent. Theoretically, responsible and responsive representative government is an adequate solution, but historically that has been hard to find.

        When the survey first came up I expressed disappointment that an opportunity was lost to have residents rank priorities for spending. THAT would be interesting.

  4. I’m particularly disappointed that only 60 people out of a population of 19,000 or so chose to click their preference in the Open City Hall survey.

  5. Let’s not dwell so heavily on our differences. What unites us as Americans is our well-honed ability to become offended at the slightest provocation. Celebrate it!

  6. I agree with Naaman Gibbets that every other month is white history month. My kids are not at all harmed by Black History Month or Bring Your Daughter to Work Day or Cinqo de Mayo or any of the activities that try, however imperfectly, to correct hundreds of years of imbalance. They know a lot more about the Civil Rights Movement, the Holocaust, and the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers than I ever did, even though I grew up closer temporally to those events. I was embarrassed to realize as a teenager that some of my friends’ parents and grandparents had fled or been victims of the Nazis and I didn’t even know about the Holocaust until I was a teen and read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Exodus”. Even if things seem overdone at times, I’m hopeful that my children will not be susceptible to hate mongerers that they encounter in life.

  7. Well put. I agree completely. In an effort to make everyone feel good about themselves we’ve profoundly dumbed down education and the culture.

    1. I think that the emphasis on standardized testing has dumbed down education a lot more. Instruction is aimed at doing ok on on a test full of questions that some educator bureaucrats have thought up as opposed to teaching anything with true rigor, depth, and intelligence.

  8. It’s pretty hard to drive around Atlanta and ignore the continued impact of past racial issues, and I think that separates black history from, say, the trail of tears (which is not to say out of sight out of mind). My take as a white dude, is that if understanding those past issues makes me more in tune with the city in which I live, with my neighbors, and with my fellow human beings, then what’s the problem? If your takeaway is that you are meant to feel guilty, I guess I can only ask – what on earth would you have to feel guilty about? I can recognize that, even as good Christian people living within their own historical context, my ancestors probably treated people unfairly, or found this acceptable. I don’t feel the least bit of personal guilt about that, but if a fellow human being tells me that they are still in pain because of those past injustices, I only see benefits from listening to their story and trying to understand their perspective. Unless you still harbor deep prejudices, I can’t see how this would be threatening.

    1. I like how you have put this too.

      Another way I think about this is that there have to be consequences to evil deeds. It’s a shame that the current generations have to make amends for the evils of their ancestors but there’s a job to be done and the ancestors aren’t here anymore to own up and make restitution. You can’t just write things off as “oh well, not MY bad”. I grew up with a family that lost their home, furnishings, and art when they had to flee the Nazi takeover of Hungary. The descendents have successfully sued to get their family’s art back from the museums that held the art since after WW II. It’s a shame that those museums are financially hurt by that loss but the art never belonged to them in the first place.

      Naive or not, my hope is that all the effort that current generations have to put into correcting the wrongs of the past–whether it be adhering to the original treaties with Native Americans, celebrating Black History Month, or funding the Holocaust Museum–will hopefully prevent a repeat of racism/prejudice/genocide in the future.

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