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Avondale City Commissioners lack enthusiasm for annexation plan

Annexation and new cities Avondale Estates Decatur

Avondale City Commissioners lack enthusiasm for annexation plan

Photo obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.
Photo obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.

Photo obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.

There’s not a lot of love for annexation in Avondale Estates right now.

City Commissioners discussed the proposal of bringing more territory into the city during a May 13 work session. Avondale’s annexation plan met an 11th hour demise during the 2015 session of the General Assembly. The city lost crucial commercial property, most notably the DeKalb Farmers Market, in the final version of the bill.

Commissioners did not support a bill that wouldn’t generate enough tax revenue to offset the cost of providing services to new residents.

“Residential only is not going to fly,” Mayor Pro-Tem Terry Giager said.

Annexation remains a deeply divisive topic in Avondale. Giager carried most of the water for the annexation bill this year when his predecessor, Mayor Ed Rieker, stepped down in October to pursue a university teaching job. His resignation followed an intense Oct. 1 work session on the annexation topic. Rieker had come under fire from the way he handled the annexation bill, asking state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, to file it without any official endorsement by the City Commission.

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That led to some frosty relations between Rep. Drenner and commissioners, with the representative declaring the issue “dead” after the whole debacle hit the fan in October. Rep. Drenner has deftly moved within the complexities of the issue since then. By November, the bill’s status had been upgraded to being a “long way away.” By March, Drenner was ambivalent about the whole thing. Then later that month Drenner said she’d be introducing Avondale Estates’ annexation legislation with some reservations.

None of that mattered. The annexation bill didn’t survive the Legislative session. As of May 13, according to commissioners, it has a faint heartbeat.

“It is technically not dead,” recently-elected Mayor Jonathan Elmore said of the bill. “It is in a study committee.”

But commissioners weren’t rooting for the possibility of bringing the plan back up again next session.

Giager said the city should pursue more realistic goals, like annexing the American Legion post just outside the city limits.

“They’re good people,” Giager said. “They already support our police force. They’ve got seven or eight acres. I’m not looking at now. I’m looking at 10, 15, 20 years down the road. The membership has been dropping. They’re wonderful people. I think that’s something that makes sense.”

Giager said he doubts the DeKalb Farmers Market will ever become part of any city. He said he’s had several conversations with DFM owner Robert Blazer who he called, “a really good man.”

“He wants to be with DeKalb County period and he wants his money to be spread all over DeKalb County,” Giager said. “That’s where his business comes from. My personal opinion is I want to respect that. I respect him as a man. I don’t think DeKalb County will ever, ever let anybody take Farmers Market away from them, period.”

Commissioner Randy Beebe said he wasn’t too upset about annexation failing this year. He said he’d prefer to see annexation through the 60 percent petition method. Drenner’s bill would’ve called for a referendum on annexation. The 60 percent method requires signatures of 60 percent of property owners and 60 percent of registered voters.

“I’d like to see the whole thing dropped and go toward (the 60 percent method) and take what commercial we can get,” Beebe said. “But I’m really through with the whole thing of pushing us with the all or nothing stuff. I’m kind of happy about this to be honest with you.”

Elmore, who ran on a “responsible growth” platform, said annexation is a form of responsible growth. He said his focus at the moment is on areas already inside the city.

“Under the right circumstances with the right mix it could be a good thing for the city. It broadens our tax base,” Elmore said. “It could help pave our roads, possibly keep our taxes from going up. I feel like there are a lot of positive benefits to annexation.”

Commissioners John Quinn and Lindsay Forlines were not at Wednesday’s meeting.

Elmore said this item would be placed on a future commission meeting agenda so commissioners can decide how – or even if – they want to move forward with annexation next year.