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Avondale Estates City Commission tables SPLOST resolutions to work out final details

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Avondale Estates City Commission tables SPLOST resolutions to work out final details

City of Avondale Estates. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

By Angela Walker, contributor

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission, during its Aug. 24 regular meeting, tabled votes on two resolutions related to DeKalb County’s special purpose local option sales tax in order to give more time for the county to approve its intergovernmental agreement with the cities.

City Manager Patrick Bryant recommended the resolutions be tabled until the commission’s strategic planning session next Thursday, Aug. 31.

The resolutions are:

– A Resolution To Continue The Suspension Of HOST, Continue The Levy Of EHOST, Continue The 1% SPLOST, Approve The City’s SPLOST Project List, Call A Referendum Election And Approve The City’s Portion Of The Ballot Form, and

– A Resolution Authorizing An Intergovernmental Agreement With DeKalb County Relating To The Continuation Of A 1% Sales And Use Tax.

SPLOST and EHOST referendums will be on the ballot in November to be approved by DeKalb County voters.

“The reason is that we are still in discussions with the county about the language that will be used in the adopted IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement), and that language will subsequently help us determine what language we want to put into our resolutions,” Bryant said.

Bryant further explained that the intergovernmental agreement with DeKalb County and the cities will govern the distribution of the proceeds generated from the SPLOST tax. During discussions between the county and other municipalities, the city of Avondale Estates requested additional distribution to the four smallest cities in DeKalb, each of which have less than 1% of the share of the total population of DeKalb.

“DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond graciously decided that the proposal for additional revenues for the smaller cities was a worthy one and has generously decided to propose to his commissioners, who seemingly are all in favor of an additional $2 million for each of the small cities so that those small cities can address capital needs, which would benefit both the cities and the county,” Bryant said.

With an additional $2 million, Avondale Estates would receive about $6.35 million from SPLOST for capital expenditures over the next six years.

On that note, City Attorney Stephen Quinn added, “The EHOST (program) is an offset to homestead property taxes, and for many municipal residents, it reduces their county tax to zero or something very nominal, which is a billion-dollar tax cut.”

Mayor Jonathan Elmore expressed his sincerest appreciation to Thurmond for his leadership and believes that the intergovernmental agreement indicates that the cities and the county are working together. Bryant also later told Decaturish that the city is looking forward to working with the county.

“The city is very grateful for the CEO’s demonstration of cooperative leadership and look forward to executing important projects of mutual benefit,” Bryant told Decaturish.

In other business:

– The city commission further discussed the land disturbance ordinance and brought it back to a first reading. The commissioners would have held the second reading of the ordinance on Wednesday night, but substantive changes to the draft ordinance warranted holding another first reading.

“Because we believe the new language was substantive enough, we decided to place this item back on the agenda for the first read, so there’s time to discuss before considering it for adoption,” Bryant said. “If this language is accepted, we’ll bring this ordinance version back for a second reading and consideration at the next regular meeting.”

The difference includes the addition of a minor land disturbance permit, including section A, that grading of an area of any size and/or replacing or expanding a driveway of any size would require a minor land disturbance permit and section D, gutter system best practices.

The city hopes the new ordinance will improve stormwater runoff issues. Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell said that many residents have the same problems when rainwater quickly rushes down their driveways onto neighbors’ yards and eventually into the city’s stormwater system.

“The two biggest sources of impervious water comes from our roofs and our driveways, and that driveway is functioning as a funnel,” Powell said.

When residents request a permit to replace their driveway, the city wants them to consider including stormwater improvements, such as downspouts in the yard. Outside the ordinance process, Powell and city staff are educating residents on how to mitigate excessive stormwater runoff in their yards.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher agreed with Powell’s recommendations for the new ordinance. But Fisher took it further and suggested that the city change the cost structure of addressing stormwater.

“Until there’s a financial incentive for folks to do something about stormwater, it just feels like we’re going to continue to be in this kind of rat race,” Fisher said. “So, it’s trying to figure out how we pay for something that’s way too expensive for a city our size.”

Residents could pay fees based on their property size, he suggested.

For example, “Someone that has a 4,000 square foot house would pay more versus someone with a 2,000 square foot house,” Fisher said. “The larger square footage requires more stormwater service, and they should pay more than someone who doesn’t.”

He further suggested that residents who reduce their water runoff by adding rain gardens or bioswales could be financially incentivized to pay less.

“We need to figure out how to match our needs with how we can fund it based on the people that had the most amount of impervious surfaces and have the biggest impact on the system is a fair way to go about it, then continuing to raise rates for everybody,” Fisher said.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell mentioned her support for the ordinance, but also expressed concerns that a driveway solution could take a while before it’s impactful because only a few people are replacing their driveways. She also noted her concern for residents who would need to hire professionals to do stormwater mitigation work, like adding dry wells, and who might need help knowing where to source these professionals.

Commissioner Dee Merriam encouraged the city to expand beyond stormwater improvements.

“One of the things I would like to challenge the city on that could have a big impact is coming up with a street tree plan that starts creating better tree wells that allow us to capture much of this water,” Merriam said. “Canopy trees do a tremendous impact in making our city look beautiful and feel cooler, but it also has a significant impact on the first flush of stormwater that comes down when it rains.”

– After the regular meeting, the city commission met for their work session to discuss the amendment to the 2023 operating budget. There were two amendments to reflect an increase in revenue and a decrease in collections from traffic citations.

“Although the board voted to reduce the mileage rate for 2023, the collections anticipated, plus motor vehicle taxes owed from the previous year, and the penalties associated with that project now to be higher than what was originally budgeted,” Bryant said. “So, we are recommending increasing the revenue gained from those taxes.”

He added that the strategy for policing has changed under Police Chief Harry Hess.

“We are no longer aggressively pursuing traffic violations on 278, which has reduced the number of citations issued for those violations,” Bryant said. “We are anticipating collections pretty much identical to those of 2022, and we believe that will remain flat for the foreseeable future.”

Fisher noted that the reduction of traffic violations in the city did not impact public safety.

“We’ve seen a significant reduction in fees associated with traffic citations and other things, but I think it’s important to make sure that our residents and others know that I’m not aware of any uptick in crime,” Fisher said. “Although it impacts the city’s budget, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

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