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North Briarcliff Civic Association endorses LaVista Hills cityhood

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North Briarcliff Civic Association endorses LaVista Hills cityhood

Map obtained via http://www.northbriarcliff.org/

Map obtained via http://www.northbriarcliff.org/

A large neighborhood association in DeKalb County has publicly endorsed the creation of a new city.

The North Briarcliff Civic Association, representing 1,400 houses and 1,700 apartments around Hawthorne Elementary, has publicly endorsed the creation of a new city of LaVista Hills. The proposed new city will be on the ballot this November.

“Before reaching its decision to approve LaVista Hills, the Board considered many factors and recognized that there were risks and uncertainty either way,” the board said in a statement. “There were risks if we approved the new city, and there were risks if we failed to approve the city. There were also opportunities if we approved the city.”

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If approved, LaVista Hills would have a population of over 65,000 people. There is also a smaller proposed city of Tucker, with a population of around 33,000 people.

Here is the full statement from the North Briarcliff Civic Association:

An Open Letter to Our Neighbors in the North Briarcliff Area from the NBCA Board:

The Board Members of the North Briarcliff Civic Association (NBCA) have carefully considered the pros
and cons of the proposed City of LaVista Hills. North Briarcliff would become part of this city, which
means that voters in North Briarcliff will be able to vote on whether to approve creating LaVista Hills in
the November 2015 general election.

The Board has decided to approve and support the creation of this city. This open letter explains how
and why we reached the decision to support the new city. The Board did not make this decision until we
had thoroughly investigated the issue. We reviewed the City of LaVista Hills’s charter (in House Bill 520
passed by the Georgia Legislature in April 2015) and the May 2015 Study of Fiscal Feasibility conducted
by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia. We heard presentations and questioned
representatives from DeKalb Strong, which opposes the new city, and LaVista Hills Yes, which promotes
the city, and we talked with and listened to many intelligent and thoughtful neighbors. Some neighbors
support creating this new city; some oppose the city; and many others are undecided and asking for
more information and guidance. We respect everyone’s right to express their opinions.

First, here are some facts. The proposed City of LaVista Hills would take over five of the services
currently provided by DeKalb County: (1) public safety (police) and code enforcement; (2) public works
(roads and drainage); (3) planning, land use, and zoning, (4) permitting and licensing; and (5) parks and
recreation. Supporters of LaVista Hills believe that these services will be better and more efficiently
provided by the city than by the county. The county will continue to provide all the other services, such
as assessing property values, fire protection, schools, the court system and jail, water, waste pickup and
disposal, and libraries. Switching five services to the city would not cause a tax increase. Instead, the
portion of our taxes that pays for those five services would go to the city rather than to the county.

The city’s governing structure would promote local, ethical city leadership by setting eight-year term
limits and a residency requirement in non-partisan elections. The city would be divided into six districts,
each with approximately 11,000 residents. Each district would elect a council member, who would be
required to live within the district he or she represents. The six council representatives and an elected
mayor would form the LaVista Hills City Council. All these positions would be part time and have a two
term limit. The council would appoint a full-time paid city manager. Not counting the police officers, it
is expected that the city staff would not exceed ten full-time paid positions.

The tax rate in the city would be capped at five mils, which is less than the current unadjusted tax rate
(7.64 mils) in unincorporated DeKalb. The city millage rate could be increased only if the voters in the
city approved an increase. The feasibility study shows that the city would be viable and projects that the
city would have a $1.5 million annual surplus beginning in the first year.

Before reaching its decision to approve LaVista Hills, the Board considered many factors and recognized
that there were risks and uncertainty either way. There were risks if we approved the new city, and
there were risks if we failed to approve the city. There were also opportunities if we approved the city.
What are some risks if the city is approved? First of all, establishing a new city would be challenging,
and there would be occasional hiccups. A lot of advanced planning would be necessary, and planners
would have to assess the lessons learned during the creation of Dunwoody, Brookhaven, and other new
cities. Then the elected officials and city employees would have to effectively implement those plans.
Second, there is the question of who would benefit from creating a city and whether the new leaders
would recreate the level of self-serving behavior and corruption that is presently apparent in the county.
Leaders in our communities would need to emerge to fill the critical roles on the LaVista Hills City
Council. The city would have to implement effective auditing and ethics procedures, and voters would
have to remain diligent.

Finally, there is the concern about whether living in a city would result in higher property taxes. Our
property taxes are based on the assessed value of our property and the millage tax rate. City residential
property taxes might be increased if the county increased the assessed value of property or if city
residents voted to increase the tax rate. The charter of LaVista Hills states that the city’s tax rate could
not increase unless the city’s residents voted to approve an increase, but the county will continue to
assess property values, and the values may increase because of the advantages of living in the City of
LaVista Hills. Of course, as it stands now, the county may increase property tax assessments and millage
rates for county services at any time without a vote or public hearing.

What are some risks if the city is not approved? First, DeKalb County zoning and planning may continue
to allow developments that strain the infrastructure (roads and schools) of our area. A recent example
is the county’s decision to approve a new development behind the Northlake Movie Tavern that will
feed more children into an already overcrowded Briarlake Elementary School. Local control of zoning
and planning would result in decisions that are more in tune with the needs of our neighborhoods.
Another risk with not creating a city is that, without competition, DeKalb County will not be motivated
to improve its services. One example is repaving the streets. DeKalb plans to repave its roads once
every 25-50 years, while Dunwoody enjoys a 10-20 year repaving cycle. People in North Briarcliff have
repeatedly told the NBCA Board about potholes and other problems with the streets and sidewalks, and
the feasibility study and the representatives of LaVista Hills suggest that the city would be able to plan
an improved repaving cycle in our area. The city would hire private contractors to lower costs.
A final risk is that we anticipate a major lost opportunity if we do not create a new city at this time. This
may be the last chance for North Briarcliff to become part of a viable city. Brookhaven and Chamblee
have been annexing adjacent commercial areas, and Tucker will want to annex commercial properties in
Northlake. The loss of more commercial areas would undermine the viability of any other future city for
our area of the county.

What are some opportunities and benefits if the city is approved? After considering the risks on both
sides, the Board also considered some of the opportunities and benefits that residents of the proposed
city might enjoy with the greater degree of local control made possible by LaVista Hills. Improved and
more frequent repaving of our streets was noted earlier.

Another benefit with LaVista Hills would be the creation of a locally-focused city police department with
more officers on patrol. The county police in our area do a fine job given their numbers, but there are
simply too few officers on patrol. The north central precinct covers all of North Briarcliff and most of the
LaVista Hills area. On many weekends, our precinct has as few as two patrols working the streets. This
is because too much of the county’s police department budget goes to administration. A leaner city
police department would dedicate more of its budget to hiring more police officers to regularly patrol
our neighborhoods. This would be a benefit that would increase the overall safety of our community.

The county is slow and inefficient at permitting and licensing. Homeowners are being delayed in
renovating their homes, and businesses find it difficult and time-wasting to operate in unincorporated
DeKalb County. A city priority would be to establish more efficient permitting and licensing, which
would encourage businesses to expand and relocate here and stimulate a more vibrant local economy.
The county also has a poor track record for creating or supporting recreational areas in our community,
and the creation of local greenspace has been a low priority for the county. The LaVista Hills area
contains 13.8 percent of the county’s population and 22.5 percent of its tax base, but less than one
percent of the county’s greenspace. Creation of local parks and greenspace would be a higher priority
for the city. Doraville, Chamblee, and Brookhaven are studying the potential creation of a “Greenway”
of bike and walking paths along the North Fork of Peachtree Creek linking these cities to the Atlanta
Beltline. The North Fork of Peachtree Creek runs through North Briarcliff. This provides an important
opportunity for the city of LaVista Hills to represent our interests in more recreational areas and

After consideration of these factors, the NBCA Board voted overwhelmingly to support the creation of
the City of LaVista Hills. The NBCA Board believes that the risks of forming a new city are far less than
the risks of relying on DeKalb County to implement the deep and lasting reforms that are needed.
The NBCA Board fully supports the reform efforts that are currently underway for DeKalb County and
hopes that the voters approve the reforms that will be on the November ballot. Even after the creation
of LaVista Hills, the people living in North Briarcliff would still rely on the county for many services.
The Board will schedule the annual NBCA meeting for late September or early October. In addition to
the annual nomination and election of Board members, the major item of business will be discussing
cityhood. Advocates for and against the city will have the opportunity to make presentations, and there
will be an extensive question and answer period. We invite you to join us at this meeting. The meeting
will be advertised and open to the public, but only dues-paying members of the NBCA will be able to
nominate or elect Board members.