So throw this recent development at the Georgia Capitol today onto the discussion pile as we begin debating the merits of a Decatur tax increase to build more school infrastructure.
The AJC reports that the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill this morning that will increase the sales tax in DeKalb County to 8%, matching Fulton County’s current rate. The tax would raise about $100 million a year for capital improvements around the County.
But that’s not all — the legislation would also use the EXISTING 1 penny sales tax to reduce county residents’ property taxes.
How much money are we talking here? Well, luckily Rep. Mike Jacobs used Decatur in his hypothetical example…
For example, property taxes would decrease by $625 on a $300,000 home in Decatur, Jacobs said. On a $500,000 Decatur home, property taxes would drop $1,065.
So, it seems like if this bill were to pass, it would more than offset the increase Decatur residents would see if they approved a $82 million GO Bond for the school system. Tax increase estimates for the GO Bond have been estimated in the range of $667 – $864 on a $500,000 home, depending on the amortization period.
The bill now advances to the Georgia Senate for consideration.
Photo: Georgia Capitol by Connor.carey at via Wikimedia Commons
Decaturish is reporting that Decatur Superintendent Phyllis Edwards announced at this evening’s Board Meeting that she is resigning and will stay on until the School Board finds a replacement.
Dr. Edwards has been Decatur’s Superintendent since 2003.
Decaturish reports that Dr. Edwards told the Board that she will be moving moving back to Florida to spend more time with her family.
Board Chair Garrett Goebel said that the Board planned a “national search” for a replacement.
A recent op-ed on Decaturish by Former Atlanta COO and Decatur resident Hans Utz recently got some appreciation in FFAF regarding its explanation of the city’s debt cap. As such, it seemed a good article to highlight and discuss here, since we so enjoy discussions that involve such thrilling topics as debt and enrollment figures.
In short, it helps spell out…
- Why city debt is necessary – to spread the cost of projects out over time so future residents also get to pay in
- The different forms of Decatur’s debt
- The city’s revenue bonds – taken out against non-property tax forms of revenue
- CSD’s certificates of participation – “like a homeowner taking out a second mortgage”
- “GO bonds” – which are borrowed against property taxes
- Which forms of debt apply to the “Constitutional Debt Cap” of $137 million – only the Go Bonds
- Where Decatur would stand if it were to borrow the full $82 million in Go Bonds to build new/larger schools
- Watch these mathrobatics – The city currently has borrowed $31 million and CSD has borrowed $5 million in Go Bonds, so add the requested $82+ the current $36 = $118 million. And what was that limit again? $137 million? So $137 – $118 = $19 million!
Is that $19 million gap risky? Mr. Utz’s states…
Incidentally, the constitutional debt limit is itself a conservative ceiling meant to prevent fiscally weak or irresponsible municipalities from overextending themselves. Decatur is neither.
Ultimately, Mr. Utz’s argues that Decatur shouldn’t be all that worried about its debt cap with this bond proposal and that the major concern should be the very real increase to taxes as a result of the bond – he calculates it as a 7% increase on Decatur property taxes.
So are we in a bad place with debt? No, not at all. Not even a little bit. Not even if the schools do get an additional $82 million in capital. We should stay vigilant, of course, but we are operating well within our capacity.
The question is whether we think the schools need the capital sufficiently enough for us to willingly to increase our overall property tax by 7 percent. That is a big conversation that we must have as a community.
Oh how nice it would be if we still had the old Ponce de Leon School on West Ponce. (Hence the random-ish Ponce de Leon School photo courtesy of Ponce de Leon Elementary Facebook page )
There have been whispers over on the AJC of late about the number of trailers/learning cottages/modular classrooms coming to the City of Decatur school system in the coming year.
Welp, there’s an item on the Decatur School Board agenda for its March meeting, “Move to approve System Wide Modular Mfg. Construction Management/Design Build Services 2015-2015 School Year Contract”, which officially recommends placement of trailers next year…
- Decatur High School – 6 new, 4 existing for a total of 10
- Renfroe Middle School – 12 new
- Elementary – 8 new (split between Winnona Park and Glennwood)
CSD staff recommends a $240,590 contract for set up and installation and a 36 month lease agreement not to exceed roughly $25,000/month.
Photo of Oakhurst Elementary trailers courtesy of Amanda
Every two years, the City of Decatur works with the National Research Center to send out a Citizen Survey to over 1,000 randomly selected list of residents and asks them a number of questions. The survey asks residents for their opinions on everything from city services, to how safe residents feel, how often they use the DeKalb Library or how often ride a bus.
You get the the picture. It runs the gamut. That includes questions about your household.
And here’s one very apt question – considering the city’s school enrollment drama – that the city has asked since the survey’s inception in 2006 – “Do any children 17 or under live in your household?”
We’ve charted the percentage of households that answered “Yes” to that question each time the survey has been conducted above.
As you can see quite clearly, the slight over-index of the 17-and-under crowd in 2006 to the current national average has become a giant advantage in 2014, with a cool 41% of households in the City of Decatur answering “Yes” to that question.
It should be noted that the resident majority still favors the childless household – an important consideration for the School Board and City Commission if they decide to put an $82 million bond referendum for all city residents to vote on in November.
And before anyone brings up the accuracy of a the survey, the confidence level is “plus or minus five percentage points around any given percent reported for the entire sample.” So yes, technically, the child population could be flat from 2012 to 2014, but that’s pretty unlikely. The upward trend is certainly real, as well as the fact that Decatur far outperforms the national average when it comes to households with kids.
You can view all the detailed data from Decatur’s 2014 Citizen Survey HERE.
*2013 National average estimate taken from US Census