Hundreds turn out to hear pitch for new city of LaVista Hills

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 25, 2015
LaVista Hills supporters addressed a packed house at Briarcliff United Methodist Church on Aug. 24. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

LaVista Hills supporters addressed a packed house at Briarcliff United Methodist Church on Aug. 24. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Residents who could potentially be in a new city of LaVista Hills packed the pews at Briarcliff United Methodist Church on Aug. 24 to hear a pitch from supporters of the idea.

Opponents of new cities waited outside the church doors to hand out pamphlets rebutting some of the arguments for creating new cities in DeKalb County.

It was a quiet, respectful gathering. Mary Kay Woodworth with the LaVista Hills Alliance said more than 400 people attended the town hall meeting. These cityhood question will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.  If approved, the city of LaVista Hills would have a population of more than 65,000 people.

Speakers told the audience that a new city would bring lower taxes, better roads and better police services. But it wouldn’t sever the community’s ties with DeKalb County.

Ben Shackelford, who lives near Lakeside High, said the plan will redirect a portion of tax money from DeKalb to a local municipality that will be more responsive to residents.

“This is not a spaceship,” he said. “We’re not going to leave the county. LaVista Hills cannot blast off. We’re talking about 7 cents and we’re talking about providing five services with those 7 cents.”

The services would be public safety and code enforcement, public works, planning and zoning, permitting and licenses, and parks and recreation.

Matt Slappey, another presenter who lives in Oak Grove, said the county would still handle things like garbage, water and sewer infrastructure, and the county’s court system.

The biggest advantage, according to Slappey, is that there would be more accountability. Currently none of DeKalb County’s commissioners live within the LaVista Hills footprint, he said. He argued that a local City Council would be more responsive than a county commissioner.

“All decision makers would have to live with the impact of their decisions,” he said.

The speakers also said that the area that would become LaVista Hills gets shortchanged on services. The presenters claimed that the area provides 22.5 percent of the county’s assessed property value, but has less than 1 percent of park space, for example. A new city would also provide a more efficient and directed effort at paving local roads, the presenters said.

“Dunwoody paving 5 to 10 percent of its roads per year resulting in a 10 to 20 year replacement program,” Slappey said. “DeKalb County is paving approximately 2 to 4 percent of roads per year 25 to 50 year replacement program.”

DeKalb Strong, the lead group opposing new cities, handed out pamphlets saying the claims of cityhood supporters are not true. Better roads? Not going to happen, DeKalb Strong says.

“Existing new cities have had more money than unincorporated areas for infrastructure because of the structure of DeKalb’s sales tax, which give disproportionate funds to cities,” the pamphlet from DeKalb Strong says. “That formula has been fixed, and newer cities will no longer unfairly benefit.”

The group also disputes that taxes will be lower.

“A new layer of government isn’t free,” DeKalb Strong argues. “Fragmented government is less efficient and has significant costs. Cities must resort to additional new fees to help cover extra costs, and governments tend to grow over time.”

LaVista Hills may or may not be the answer to the problems with the county’s services, but no one denies that there are problems. The possibility of getting away from a troubled county government was appealing to some in the audience.

Pam Rosenberg, who lives in Briarmoor Manor, said there’s a pothole that’s been in the neighborhood for years. The county’s solution is “to put an increasingly larger cone into it,” she said.

Rosenberg said she wouldn’t care if her taxes were a little higher, if she could get better services.

“I think we would have some control over our destiny,” she said.

John Cashin said he hasn’t decided whether he’s for a new city or against it, but he thinks LaVista Hills supporters make a compelling case.

“I think they did a pretty good job,” he said.

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