Decatur City Attorney States Annexation Referendum Not Necessary, Residents Create Petition

UPDATE: Deanne points out that Medlock residents are joining with CHCA in opposing annexation.


Yesterday, Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss stated that the City Attorney Brian Downs “did not believe that a referendum would be required if the properties annexed by local Act of the General Assembly were less than 50% residential.”, according to Patch.

Not 24 hours later, the Clairmont Heights Civic Association website has launched a petition stating “strong opposition” to annexation.  Here’s the petition in full…

We the undersigned strongly oppose the City of Decatur plan to annex several commercial properties along North Decatur Road. The inevitable tax increases will undoubtedly be a hardship for the tenants and owners of these properties, which are owned by families and individuals who have been long-time owners of their centers and have served our community well. To rip them out of the unincorporated area in order to enrich the Decatur city coffers seems excessively greedy, not in the best interest of surrounding neighborhoods, and in serious conflict with the positive image the City of Decatur has cultivated for years. We are also extremely concerned that our own property taxes will also have to be raised to cover the loss of their tax contribution to the county coffers. We are residents in and around the affected areas, and we strongly urge you to drop your plans to annex these properties.

77 thoughts on “Decatur City Attorney States Annexation Referendum Not Necessary, Residents Create Petition”

  1. I am not sure that I understand the fairness to the business owners argument that has been voiced in many posts here. When a business sets up shop, it does so under the laws wherever it is located.

    The Decatur annexation plan is new, sure. But, as I understand it, the annexation is something that is allowable under state and local laws and has been for a long time. Am I wrong about that?

    Higher taxes by annexation would (or should) have been something that the business owners knew was a risk.

    I don’t mean to sound overly harsh. But location is a big part of anyone’s business plan. And these locations surely presented the risk of annexation, right?

    1. “the annexation is something that is allowable under state and local laws and has been for a long time”
      Correct. It’s the same process that Decatur and Avondale used to annex the properties along College Avenue.

    2. You are confusing the concepts of risk and fairness. In other words, the fact that a risk existed does not mean that the end result is fair if the risk comes to fruition. I can certainly appreciate the risk that if I drive on the highway I’ll be hit by a drunk driver. That does not mean it’s fair to me if I do get hit. It’s an extreme example, sure, but it illustrates the general point. We all realize that governments are very powerful and those powers can be abused. The risk of abuse isn’t self-justifying.

        1. Are you saying that it is impossible to abuse a right or power just because it is permissible? Sorry, but that logic fails. Anything can be abused. We just don’t have to agree on whether this particular act is abusing the system.

            1. I’ve explained it throughout the thread. Again, COD has voted itself a very expensive local government. That is its prerogitive. But it should then pay for the government itself. These local businesses had no say in establishing the government COD now has, and chose to locate outside the City’s borders for many reasons which may well include avoiding higher city taxes. COD has the means to pay its own bills yet it is annexing these properties for the express purpose of trying to keep its residents’ tax bills down. And it has very carefull chosen the annexed areas to avoid giving these owners any say in the matter.

              That strikes me as abusive and unfair. Your arguments to the contrary seem to boil down to assumption of the risk, an odd assertion in this context, and one that (as I explained above) confuses risk and fairness, which, in most contexts, are entirely different things. The other seems to boil down to an assertion that the exercise of a lawful power can never be unfair or abusive, which (if that is what you are actually saying) is simply untrue.

        2. RNH, am I to assume that you would not have a problem with the city forcing you out of your home to build a Walmart? I mean, you know eminent domain is allowed, right? So you would just walk away quietly mumbling to yourself, “well, i knew the risk of buying a home in America…”?

          1. Not to really argue against the point you’re trying to make but in the way you make it, I feel compelled to point out that eminent domain can’t be used by a local government to hand over property to a private interest so that scenario is not within what the law allows.

              1. Good point. I mean, the eminent domain example is a little incongruous. With annexation, there is no taking. But with eminent domain, you actually lose your home/property.

                And we’re talking about assumption of the risk. So I would argue that changing tax structures is a far mor frequent (and thus much greater risk) than eminent domain.

                So I see your point. I just don’t think it’s on all fours with what we’re talking about with annexation. No one is taking their property, in a due process/legal sense.

              2. I am familiar with Kelo and I stand by my comment. The Kelo opinion said that economic development is a legitimate public purpose, but also noted that government still can’t use eminent domain to take property and give to a private company. So it can be used for large-scale redevelopment projects (such as an Atlantic Station) but not, as in your example, to hand over property to Walmart. Further, the court said states can impose tighter definitions of what “public purpose” is if they wanted to go beyond the federal definition and many states, including Georgia, did so.

            1. City Girl, You are quite mistaken about that.

              The United States is a fiefdom where persons may be granted titles of fief (“fee” simple) in order to hold and exchange some surface rights for defined land areas such as an unincorporated lot.

              The government has the ultimate right to take and use any land within its borders for any reason as long as it compensates affected fief (title) holders.

  2. Carrying that argument to the extreme, I guess we should worry about Canada annexing us next?

    Decatur should stay like it is and stop trying to grab revenue and land from people who had no desire to be IN Decatur.

    1. The argument is that Decatur is doing something it is permitted to do under law. Not by war and plunder.

        1. Not a great day to be USAmerican either, given the sad killings in CT.

          Your post is a bit bizarre.

  3. Those of us in unincorporated neighborhoods will continue to see taxes raised as more and more land is annexed. Is that so hard to understand? This property will not raise taxes that much, but if this continues our taxes will get higher and higher. It is arrogant of COD to want to grab up the revenue producing property when it is clear that others surrounding Decatur do not want it. My good opinion of Decatur has spanned 32 years of living in proximity of and in the COD, but I know I and many others will not shop, eat, or spend time there if this occurs. I will continue to go to my church, though.

    1. If DeKalb County would rationalize the amount of services and the number of people that provide them, they would not have budget troubles. You may recall that a survey last year showed they, by far, had the most number of County employees per capita of any surrounding county.

      1. If Decatur would use its resources more carefully, they could easily get by on what they have. This arguement can work both ways. I am not in any way proposing that Dekalb County is using its resources carefully, but the more revenue taken away, the more I pay. As a retired person, that is on a fixed income, it directly affects me and others.

        1. Explain how Decatur can use resources more carefully. Decatur is looked on in many circles as a model of efficient government. I don’t think Decatur had a 25% tax rate increase last year, nor are they proposing 7% this year. If the County would rationalize their services, your taxes might not go up. Talk to your elected officials.
          A main point of the proposed annexation is to diversify the tax base to include more commercial and thus lessen the burden on residential, given that Decatur currently has a lower proportion of commercial than most areas, and providing services to commercial properties is historically revenue-positive, whereas residential is revenue-negative. As RNH points out, they are acting within the law in their own best interest.

          1. “Explain how Decatur can use resources more carefully.”

            Easy. Additional commercial development within the existing borders.

      2. If Decatur would use its resources more carefully, they could easily get by on what they have. This arguement can work both ways. I am not in any way proposing that Dekalb County is using its resources carefully, but the more revenue taken away, the more I pay. As a retired person, that is on a fixed income, it directly affects me and others.

    2. My point really was focused on the “fairness to business owners” argument that I’ve heard here a number of times.

      No, it’s not hard to understand why the annexation is very unpopular with residents of unincorporated DeKalb. That I understand.

      I guess, I am just not all that surprised to see Decatur act in its own interests. Because, ultimately, that’s what every government does — federal, state, or local. City of Decatur does it. DeKalb County does it. Every government does it. Because that is what it is elected to do. See to the needs of its constituents in the best way it can.

      I know that when one government acts at another’s expense, the decision will be unpopular. But I don’t see why it’s surprising. It’s a government. Not a charity. It acts in the best interests of its constituents. Yes, the neighboring communities matter – a lot, in fact. But when it comes down to it, Decatur acts in its own best interests.

      Not sure why that is surprising. Or even controversial.

      1. Let’s be honest here. Decatur is a very rich little town. There are entire neighborhoods where you would be lucky to find a 3 bedroom home for under $400k. It’s chock full of professionals with incomes well into the six figures. It is a town so weatlhy that one of its main concerns is “economic diversity” — i.e., combating the problem of too many rich people.

        The notion that the leaders of this rich little town can’t “see to the needs of [their] constituents” without annexation borders on the absurd. The small amount of net revenue generated by this annexation could easily be filled by COD residents through their own taxes. Yet they appear to be choosing annexation to paying the freight themselves.

        Yes, there are many ways to deny and/or obscure that reality. But it’s still the bottom-line reality.

        1. No one said Decatur couldn’t get by without annexation. Just that it’s in the city’s best interests to do the annexation.

          Not sure what you’re saying I am trying to deny or obscure.

          Really, I’m just trying to engage in reasonable debate.

        2. Well not ever C.o.d. Resident has a $400 home or 6 figure income! I moved here 15 years ago, buying a modest 2br, 1 bath bungalow in a rough but affordable neighborhood for that time. Check your assumptions, because I have oakhurst neighbors in fixed incomes in simple homes too.

          1. No one said that EVERY COD resident is wealthy. But you can’t deny that Decatur is wealthy overall, despite the fact that some residents are on fixed incomes, etc.

            1. Like Zephir, I moved here nearly 15 years ago, buying a small, modest house in a somewhat rough neighborhood, thinking I’d be able to live here into retirement, never anticipating Decatur would become such an enclave of affluence. I certainly won’t be able to afford to stay here once I reach the fixed-income stage, but it is a struggle already and I will probably be forced to leave long before then. In any case, if the City could/would tax only the rich people to make up the revenue difference that will come from the commercial annexation (assuming it goes through) that would be one thing. The problem is that every tax hike, no matter how minor it seems to those who don’t struggle, is apt to drive more people of limited means out of Decatur. And by “limited means” I refer to those NOT making “well into the six figures.”

              And another thing….Presumably anyone regularly reading/participating here, if not a resident of the City of Decatur, at least considers themselves to live in “greater Decatur”, i.e., the immediate environs. Well, those areas wouldn’t be so lovely if it weren’t for Decatur itself. Seems like plenty of people like having Decatur around, as long as they don’t have to pay the freight.

              1. I don’t doubt that tax increases bite, especially for the long-time residents who are now living in homes whose current market price is far above the purchase price. Still, COD has multiple options to deal with it. One, as you suggest, would be to impose some sort of surtax on very expensive homes, which would largely hit the wealthy residents who could presumably afford it. Since Decatur is nearly 100% tax-the-rich liberal in outlook, this should be strongly supported by residents. Strangely, it does not seem to be.

                Second, they could tax everyone to a greater degree. I have yet to see much evidence that lower and middle income residents are actually against the active local government COD has estabished, though many do seem to balk at the taxes needed to pay for it, at least at the margins.

                If options 1 and 2 are unpallatable, then there’s always the option of having a less extravagant local government. You know, one that did not completely renovate Glenlake park in the absence of necessity. One that did not install adult exercise equipment in parks. One that installed ordinary, time-tested and cheap bike racks at the rec center, as opposed to the high-end versions now being installed. And etc etc.

                Of course, what we are talking about here is the COD’s rejection of all of those options in favor of snatching up local businesses and sticking them with part of the bill for the largesse COD residsents have voted for themselves. I do find it very odd that part of the attempt to justify this is that these businesses have benefitted from being near COD, so they should pay City taxes, as if COD’s soverignty should be extended over all who reap any sort of collateral benefit, as defined by COD itself. These shopping centers also benefit tremendously from being near Druid Hills and Emory — should they be forced to kick in to the Emory endowment, too? By the same token, much of northern NJ exists as it does due to its proximity to NYC. Should those cities pay NYC taxes?

                1. Actually, I think we in Decatur should pay NYC taxes as long as we get their water trucked down to us so we can get some decent bagels. (Rumor has it that it’s the NYC water, piped down from upstate NY reservoirs that is the magic in NY bagels, which have never been duplicated anywhere, not even in Chicago or L.A.). If we get NYC bagels without Hurricane Sandy, I’d say the taxes are worth it. 🙂

                2. “One, as you suggest, would be to impose some sort of surtax on very expensive homes,”
                  That would require a change in state law.

                3. Re “By the same token, much of northern NJ exists as it does due to its proximity to NYC. Should those cities pay NYC taxes?”

                  Actually, back in the day, NYC had a tax on wages earned by non-residents. Not sure that’s still true. So many northern New Jersey residents WERE paying NYC tax! The idea was that the millions who commuted to NYC daily were using public services just like residents were. (There also was a rule requiring all City positions, except an exempted few, be filled hy NYC residents.)

              2. “Seems like plenty of people like having Decatur around, as long as they don’t have to pay the freight.”

                Whoa. That was utterly uncalled for, Smalltown. Check your assumptions. I spend my money in Decatur. I can’t afford to live there. Trust me: My neighborhood doesn’t not get any reflected glory from Decatur.

                I’ve lived in the Atlanta area since 1985, and I’ve always considered Decatur to be my “go to” place. I didn’t realize I was expected to pay “freight” for the privilege of visiting.

                I’m not happy about the annexation, and I think it’s a bit crass. But I do get it.

                What I do not get is the contempt for the non-CODers who post here. I have always felt welcome in Decatur. Folks like you and Rob seem to be working very hard to make sure we no longer do.

                1. RGB, if my comment doesn’t characterize you, then not clear why it upsets you so. But then, I also don’t understand why anyone would evaluate the proposed annexation based on whether or not it’s “crass.” It’s not a tea party.

                  I’ve asked before, what people think Decatur should do, as a small municipality that can only achieve very limited economies of scale and faced with continually rising costs of providing services? Several have said, manage better. Well, there’s always room for improvement but at the same time, Decatur is pretty much a paragon of virtue in that respect already. Some say, spend less. I’m all for that, too — wasn’t my idea to overhaul Glenlake Park and I would certainly opt for bargain bike racks at the Rec. But I also think a lot of the things people see as extravagant around Decatur are actually (1) not as spendy as they seem, and/or (2) underwritten in some part by the fundraising activities that are spearheaded by the Downtown Devel Authority. (Example: the Beer Fest raises thousands and thousands of $$s that get funneled back into facilities & events that make Decatur a place where people like you enjoy visiting & spending money.)
                  Another suggestion made loud and clear is redevelop commercial tracts within our own border. Well, it’s not like we’re choosing not to do that. It just doesn’t happen overnight or at a steady or entirely predictable pace.

                  I think it’s incontrovertible that at least some areas of unincorporated Dekalb that lie adjacent to the city of Decatur enjoy a range of benefits from that proximity. Is it all about COD? Of course not. But I just don’t get the shock and outrage. We have huge–and increasing–costs of providing basic services, and a tax digest that’s 88% residential. There’s only so much more blood that can be got from that stone.

                  1. “But I also think a lot of the things people see as extravagant around Decatur are actually (1) not as spendy as they seem, and/or (2) underwritten in some part by the fundraising activities that are spearheaded by the Downtown Devel Authority”


                    Maybe. Then again, the City spent over half a million $$$ on a few miles’ worth of bike lanes. Call me crazy, but that does not signal a city pinching every penny. (And note the distinct lack of general outrage in the comments, though a small few did say WTF?) So if there is any problem of perception when it comes to Decatur government spending (which I don’t think is true), that problem is one for which Decatur has only itself to blame.


      2. There IS room for surprise and controversy because your own citizens’ recommendations in the 2010 City of Decatur Strategic Plan? (pages 40-41) seem to prioritize developing what you have with annexation as a possibility and not “plan A”:

        “Options to expand the commercial share include attracting new businesses or annexing commercial areas, but the most significant alternative may be through infill development in existing centers and potential growth areas.

        Participants discussed four nodes where significant potential for growth exists: Downtown, Oakhurst, the East Decatur/Avondale MARTA Station area, and the East Lake MARTA station area. The desired mix of residential, commercial and office at each of these three nodes would expand the commercial base and lessen the residential tax burden

        … One of the simplest solutions to providing additional services and density without raising taxes is to expand the tax base through infill development. There are currently 165 underdeveloped acres within the city limits, as shown in the map on page 40. Of this land, 46 acres already have approved redevelopment projects. Much of this land is Downtown or near MARTA stations, and can accommodate additional development to provide more
        tax revenue, allow more public services, and attract private investment.”

        Then there’s talk about the desirability of high density and design but here you are, trying to annex places in high-traffic, car-centric spaces that people probably won’t walk to.

    3. If the citizens of unincorporated Dekalb would stop letting their government and school system be run by corrupt and incompetent individuals, these new cities wouldn’t be popping up and residents adjoining more “desirable” cities wouldn’t be begging to be annexed.

        1. As I responded to poplar:
          Not saying the County residents should suffer consequences. Saying they should speak up loudly, get involved and hold elected officials accountable. The fact that the percentage turnout for local (not national) elections is so low speaks volumes. It has been said, and it is true, that “All politics is Local”.

          1. Easier said than done. There’s a disconnect between the representation that some in one part of the county want and vote for consistently, and the other part of the county. A better solution would be to split the county, so each group can have the representation they want. Of course this will never happen, so nothing will change.

  4. I think we need to think about the mapmakers. Apparently, the city of Decatur is going to let the residents who want to opt in become city of Decatur residents and those who don’t, stay unincorporated. What is this going to do to our jaunty, top-hat adorned City Map outline? How will our boundaries be drawn?

  5. I like how city attorney Bryan Downs is listed in the tags as “Brain Downs.” DM’s gonna start getting a lot of traffic from people researching aneurisms.

      1. I am very, very familiar with the mismanagment (legal fees, anyone?) but that doesn’t alter the fact that the annexation will take revenue from DeKalb County schools.

  6. The argument about the shortcomings in DeKalb’s government is icky to me. It seems to imply that the residents of Unincorp. DeKalb deserve to suffer consequences (higher taxes, etc) simply because they were stupid enough to not live in the great City. Kind of like, you get what you deserve.

    Decatur may be looking out for its own interests, but it’s not being a good neighbor. Sometimes business is business, but I thought this community was different.

    1. So, who should suffer the consequences or the decisions, actions and inactions of the residents of unincorporated Dekalb County? It has nothing to do with deciding (or being unable) to live in CoD. It has everything to do with the officials the citizens elected and continue to allow to “govern” the county.

    2. Not saying the County residents should suffer consequences. Saying they should speak up loudly, get involved and hold elected officials accountable. The fact that the percentage turnout for local (not national) elections is so low speaks volumes. It has been said, and it is true, that “All politics is Local”.

      And “Decatur may be looking out for its own interests, but it’s not being a good neighbor. ” It seems that DeKalb was not being a good neighbor when they stonewalled allowing the cities to collect the HOST money which was rightfully theirs for 10 years and the cities will never see the money that was collected over that time.

      1. Good point about the HOST tax. Property taxes in Decatur would not be as high as they are if the city had a sales tax to off-set the property tax, like the majority of cities in Georgia do.

        1. The HOST tax is being passed to the cities in DeKalb now, after 10 years. It doesn’t really offset anything, but it does provide $1M+ each year for capital projects, which would otherwise not get done or would cause taxes to go up.

  7. In amused that the businesses that profit by being along the “gateway” to Decatur are upset when we want them included in our city. The benefit from all of us shopping & supporting them and now we want to include their taxes in our city.

    I don’t understand why non-Decatur residents care or are weighing in. Focus on fixing the problems in your county instead of worrying about the city you don’t want to be included in.

    1. “I don’t understand why non-Decatur residents care or are weighing in” haha, definitely one of the more arrogant comments I have read on this site!

      1. Thank you, Hops.

        By the logic presented here, Decatur residents should take responsibility for the politics of Georgia as a whole. If I, as a resident of unincorporated Decatur, should be accountable for the dismal state of the county government, then Decaturites — like the rest of us – -should be accountable for the dismal state of our state government and our congressional delegation.

        The contempt here is disappointing. I live about 4 miles away, but I spend most of my shopping and dining money in Decatur. It saddens me to hear that I should shut up and take it.

        1. RGB, I think you are misinterpreting some comments, if you are hearing contempt. What you are probably hearing in my tone is not contempt but a combination of frustration and bitterness. The fact is, I now live in the city of Decatur but can no longer afford to do so. I spend virtually none of my shopping and dining dollars here, because I rarely dine out and rarely shop for anything except necessities–very few of which can be purchased here. If I ever again want to enjoy a standard of living that includes dining out and discretionary shopping, then I have to move, which makes financial sense but would mean abandoning the many years I’ve invested in putting down roots and making this neighborhood my home. Plus, it’s not likely I’ll be able to find (or afford) another place where the quality of community life is this high. So it’s a very tough dilemma, and it’s hard not to feel resentful when people throw around remarks about Decatur being such a rich place (all the while having heard snarky remarks for years about how foolish it is to live where taxes are so high).

          1. Thank you for the thoughtful response, SmallTownGal. (I was all ready to take umbrage at your first one, and then I read this. Cooled me down considerably.)

            I think the frustration we share has to do with unfortunated characterizations — about COD’ers and unincorporated DeKalb folks. You hear that you are rich and thoughtless. I hear that I should shut up because I’m just sucking at Decatur’s teat, giving nothing back.

            It’s no wonder we’re prickly.

    2. Arrogant, indeed! Sorry, Rob, but if you live in Decatur, DeKalb is YOUR County too. And the problems of the County affect your economic health and your quality of life.

    3. I don’t understand why non-Decatur residents care or are weighing in. Focus on fixing the problems in your county instead of worrying about the city you don’t want to be included in.


      Let’s see, maybe because Decatur is expanding its territorial boundaries against the will of the annexed?

  8. Rob,
    Of course this affects those of us in unincorporated Dekalb. So yes, worrying about this area is currently subject to a blind-land grab by the city, and is not currnelty part of that city, is in our interest.

    If you were in unincorporated Dekalb, you’d probably be telling Decaturites to stop worrying about commercial properties that don’t want to be included in your city. See how those little turns of phrase can be turned around?

    Obviously, we all are interested. And our interests overlap and are entangled. So telling your neighbor to mind her own business, when this is in fact her business as much as it yours, is unproductive to say the least.

    Also, Rob, in case you’ve forgotten, Decatur is situated in Dekalb county, so it’s YOUR county too.

  9. +1 As they say, and this is true for me, some of best friends live in Decatur. They would never post the kind of negative verbage that I have seen from those posting on the side of COD. What has happened to this city? From what some of you have said in this BLOG, Decatur is now so much better a place to live than10 or 15 years ago. I disagree. The attitude now is “Let me take what I want, and who cares about the rest of you.” You may have more great restaurants, new dog parks, beautiful Christmas decorations, wonderful schools (which by the way they have had long before the revitalization of Decatur) , etc. but you are losing your heart. At one point, I wanted to be annexed by the COD, but not now. I love my neighborhood of teachers, social workers, ministers, non profit workers and can relate to them much better than I can many of those living in Decatur today.

    1. I hear where you’re coming from but as a nonprofit worker in COD, who lives on a very small street of four immigrants, at least five college/university workers, government workers, other nonprofit workers, retirees and one lone child, I think we have more in common than you’re characterizing.

      I honestly don’t think Decatur is chock full of very wealthy people. Certainly it’s well off compared to some enclaves of HUGE, DIVERSE DeKalb, but many people loved what Decatur stood for long before the 1990s and/or lucked out when the home prices skyrocketed (or some would argue, suffered).

    2. Decatur has affluence, but I wouldn’t say that it is characterized by affluence like some other intown areas are, e.g. Druid Hills or Morningside or whatever that NW mansion-y area is around Mt. Paran Drive. The boutiques and the bar/restaurant scene can fool you. But most of the folks who live here aren’t so flashy and visible–they’re at work!

  10. Reality check if DeKalb did not have failing schools, poor leadership & mismanaged budgets then so many areas wouldn’t be running to form their own cities. How is Decatur expanding any different?

      1. Decatur is the only city in DeKalb County to have its own school system. It’s also the only one to have its own fire department.

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