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Dear Decaturish – I’m disturbed by the current state of affairs in Avondale Estates

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Dear Decaturish – I’m disturbed by the current state of affairs in Avondale Estates

Photo obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.
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We accept letters to the editor. Letters to the editor are opinions of the authors of the letter, not Decaturish.com. Everyone has an equal opportunity to submit a letter to the editor. So if you read something here and don’t like it, don’t jump on our case. Write a letter of your own. All letters must be signed. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and content. To send your letter to the editor, email it to editor@decaturish.com.

Editor’s note: Prior to the publication of this letter, Decaturish asked City Manager Patrick Bryant for comment. His response is included at the end of this letter.

UPDATE: Following the publication of this letter, the author sent over the following correction:

Dear Decaturish,

I misinformed readers regarding the Avondale Estates Board of Mayor and Commissioners’ vote regarding the Tramell Crow application. The vote was 4-1 in favor of  Trammell Crow; it was not unanimous.

Sincerely, 

Marti Schallern

Dear Decaturish,

I am compelled to express my opinion on the current state of affairs in Avondale Estates. My comments address only a few of the many issues in the city that I find extraordinarily disturbing.

I have lived in Avondale Estates for 47 years, since I was 30 (you do the math)! I have never experienced such contentious and divisive behavior that has been precipitated by the current members of Avondale Estates’ Board of Mayor and Commissioners (BOMC). The five-member BOMC has consistently chosen to discount many residents’ sensible and well-founded comments and appeals concerning serious matters that affect our city and its residents. I have attended many BOMC work sessions, and it became obvious that the BOMC had already decided how they would vote, regardless of citizens’ wishes …it appeared that allowing comments was merely a formality.

Some have said that I, and other citizens, are opposed to development in downtown Avondale Estates. This is not true. What is wanted is wise development that is fiscally sound, and whose architecture is congruent with the original design that was developed almost 100 years ago by our founder, George Willis. We cherish our rich history while, at the same time, we encourage sensible growth.

Unlike most nearby cities, Avondale Estates does not offer tax breaks for seniors and disabled citizens who live on limited and fixed incomes. Many of us are in danger of losing our homes, and we will be forced to move out of Avondale Estates because of the BOMC’s unwillingness to take action on this matter. I, and other residents, have proposed that a formula be created to determine which residents qualify for a tax break. Many have expressed support to the five-member BOMC to approve this measure. I recently received an email from only one commissioner, who claims that the board didn’t have time to address the matter, and that I should be patient! (Hah! I may expire before my patience does!)

According to Avondale Estates’ City Charter, BOMC members are “trustees and servants of the residents of the city and shall act in a fiduciary capacity for the benefit of such residents.” Nonetheless, the BOMC has made irresponsible and questionable financial decisions that endanger the healthy future of our city. They voted to give tax breaks to two apartment developers, South City Partners and Trammell Crow, which will cost the city approximately $1.5 million in revenue over the next 10 years. Yet, residential real estate taxes have increased significantly over the past six years, and sanitation fees have almost doubled over six years.

Additionally, numerous citizens presented thoughtful and well-researched written and verbal reasons to deny the Trammel Crow application. Opposition to the application was based on extreme variances to our Zoning Code and the need to achieve quality urban design. The Planning and Zoning Board recommended denial of the application 4-1; the Architectural Review Board voted unanimously to deny the application; and over 700 people, including well over 400 registered Avondale Estates voters, signed a petition asking the Board to deny the application. Nonetheless, the BOMC voted unanimously to approve the application.

Equally disturbing is making unilateral decisions without citizens’ input. The BOMC recently approved an Urban Redevelopment Agency (URA) that allows them to borrow approximately $7 million to issue bonds. They did this without voter approval. The URA would allow the Board to bypass the bidding process, and it would allow them to appropriate funds, levy taxes, exercise powers of eminent domain, and acquire and dispose of property. In the best interests of constituents, a referendum should be required to issue bonds.

Disregarding the will of the people is tantamount to an oligarchy (“a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution” (Merriam-Webster).

Sadly, Avondale’s current Board of Mayor and Commissioners rules…it does not govern. I have written a poem, The Elephant in the Room, that expresses my sentiments. (See below)

Thank you for the opportunity to express my views.

Sincerely,

Marti Schallern

Here is the response provided by City Manager Patrick Bryant: 

The BOMC has listened to the calls by senior residents to consider tax relief in the form of a senior tax exemption.  As I explained to Ms. Schallern in an email last week, the BOMC has directed staff to research the matter for possible inclusion on next year’s tax bills.  The process is rather involved.  First, we need to determine the financial impact of an exemption on our general fund revenues.  If we determine an exemption is something the City can reasonably accommodate, the BOMC will have to ask the State Legislature to consider it for passage during their next session.  Needless to say, this matter is a priority for the BOMC.

Residential property taxes have not dramatically increased over the past 6 years.  In fact, during that period, the BOMC has voted to rollback the millage rate twice.  Of course, some properties have been revalued during the last several tax cycles, but that is the County’s purview and something we have no control over.  If a resident feels their property has been valuated incorrectly, they have the opportunity to appeal that valuation to the County.

Sanitation fees have doubled during the past 6 years, but that was due to the fact that previous rates did not adequately cover the cost of the service provided.  The General Fund was subsidizing a large chunk of the sanitation service, which was contrary to best practices.  Staff also discovered that sanitation fees were quite arbitrary and we have recommended a 2-year approach to establishing fees that more reflect the level of service customers are receiving.  In fact, staff recommended to the BOMC a reduction of the residential rate this year.  The BOMC formally adopted that reduced rate (from $521 to $485) at their July 1 meeting.  This annual fee covers back door service, twice-weekly.

The BOMC has the legislative right to overrule any recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Board if they feel the development proposal to be in the best interest of the City.  In the case of Trammel Crow, the BOMC did, in fact, vote contrary to the recommendation of the PZB.  However, it was not unanimous, but rather a 4-1 vote.

The $1.5 million in tax revenue abated to South City and Trammel Crow does not “cost” the City.  I will not speculate as to whether South City or Trammel Crow would have moved forward with their developments without an abatement, but needless to say the abated revenue is revenue the City would have not otherwise received without those developments.  In fact, over the abatement period, the City will generate approximately $2.8 million in new revenue from these two developments.  If that land remained undeveloped, the City would have generated only $124,000 in revenue during that same time period.

The URA recently established by the BOMC, a mechanism used by many cities throughout Georgia to help fund and execute redevelopment projects, does not allow the City to appropriate funds or exercise the powers of eminent domain.  Regardless, those powers already exist for the BOMC, and the members of the BOMC are the very same that constitute the members of the URA.

I have also included some charts and graphs to help you understand this information more clearly.

To see those charts, click here.

– Patrick Bryant, Avondale Estates City Manager

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