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Friday, June 28, 2013

The Hot Potato Being Tossed About By Chamblee, Brookhaven and DECA

Century Center Office Park

Tom Hogan, Councilman for the City of Chamblee, wrote a very interesting article on his Facebook page regarding the recent controversy over the potential annexation of Century Center into the City of Brookhaven. Like the Northlake area, Century Center is an office and commercial district that is coveted by adjacent municipalities for its considerable tax potential. However as Century Center is much denser and more office based than a commercial district like Northlake, its revenue stream will be far more positive.  

A recent history.  The proposed City of Brookhaven had originally included Century Center in its early maps, but backed off after local opposition.  This was followed by its inclusion in the DECA vote over annexation into Chamblee, which lost by an extremely narrow margin. (A second effort for DECA annexation into Chamblee, which continues to include Century Center, is currently underway.) The LCA's first map for the proposed new City (With No Name Yet) included Century Center, along with other commercial areas north of I-85, but they quickly backed off after a sharp backslash from the representatives and communities in the adjacent areas. 

Recently, the property owners of Century Center contacted the City of Brookhaven to consider the direct annexation of Century Center into the new city.  Annexation of a commercial, institutional or industrial district differs from the annexation of a residential district as no public vote is required. (If an area has no residents, no vote is possible.)  The General Assembly, in its infinite wisdom, has provided a variety of means for an existing municipality to annex adjacent commercial/industrial/institutional districts, all of which will ultimately require enabling legislation by the state, but again, no vote of local residents. Its strictly a negotiated and technical process between the landowners, the interested city, and the state government.  

Mr. Hogan's article explores these issues.  His article after the break.

Tom Hogan

The Burden of a Local Hot Potato

An issue surfaced last week like a hot potato dropped in the lap of Brookhaven elected officials. It was found out that the city had been in discussions with the property owner at Century Center about an annexation into Brookhaven. Ordinarily, this would be no big deal, except in this case Century Center is already part of a defined annexation referendum that has been signed by the Governor and will be on the ballot in November.

As with the recent annexation of Huntley Hills by Chamblee, the incorporation of the City of Brookhaven, and the proposed City of Lakeside, it is a well-known fact that the expenses associated with the delivery of government services to residents requires a sufficient commercial tax base in order for the change in jurisdiction to be seen as having “tax equity” (where income and expenses are approximately equal to the exiting jurisdiction as well as so to the new jurisdiction). The association of Century Center as the commercial tax base that supports the delivery of local government services to the DECA neighborhoods is no different, and is well known to local elected officials in our region.

Because it is so widely known that the tax revenue from Century Center is necessary to support the delivery of services to the DECA neighborhoods, it is hard to understand why the discussions with the property owners were not made known to neighboring elected officials.

In case you need to be brought up to speed, the DECA neighborhoods had an annexation vote (that included Century Center) fail last fall by some 34 votes, which out of 2,218 represents just 1.53% of the vote! There were enough voting “irregularities” to warrant putting the measure back through the exhaustive legislative process and warranted a signature by the Governor. The fact that some of the area late night establishments, which use this region as a haven from the restrictions enforced by city police departments, widely distributed flyers with much misinformation is important to know, but not the reason for a second vote.

The Georgia Municipal Association ( lists the five ways for cities to annex property inside the city's corporate limits. These methods are briefly described below:

Local Legislation Method
This method of annexation requires a local act of the General Assembly. Prior to 1996, the General Assembly could annex any property into a city simply by passing a local act amending the city's charter. In 1996, the General Assembly added a restriction on its own power to annex by local act. If an area proposed for annexation by local act of the General Assembly is comprised of more than 50% residential property (by acreage) and includes a population exceeding three percent of the city's population or 500 persons, whichever is less, then the annexation must be approved by referendum. The 1996 amendment has hindered attempts to annex large residential areas in some cities.

100 Percent Method
This method of annexation must be initiated by the 'written and signed applications of all the owners of land" proposed to be annexed. This method may only be used to annex contiguous areas, as defined by O.C.G.A. Section 36-36-20.

60 Percent Method
The 60% method authorizes municipal governing authorities to annex land by ordinance upon the written and signed applications from: 1) not less than 60% of the resident voters in the area; and 2) the owners of not less than 60% of the land area by acreage. Like the 100% method, this method can only be used for areas that are contiguous to the municipal boundary. However, under this method, contiguous area is defined as any area of which at least one-eighth of the aggregate external boundary abuts the municipal boundary. (O.C.G.A. Section 36-36-31(a).)

Resolution and Referendum Method
This method authorizes annexation by resolution of the municipal governing authority and referendum of the qualified voters in the area to be annexed. The process is initiated by the adoption of a resolution of intent to annex the specified area. The annexation law requires an extensive report regarding extension of services to be provided by the city and procedural requirements for notice and public hearings. Because of its complexity and the requirement that only persons in the area to be annexed may vote, this method has almost never been used. (However, in 1999, the City of Roswell annexed more than 3,000 acres containing more than 11,000 residents using this method.)

Annexation of Unincorporated Islands
Under HB 1439, passed in the 2000 Session of the General Assembly, cities are now authorized to unilaterally annex unincorporated islands. The legislative purpose behind this provision was to prevent service delivery confusion and, in conjunction with O.C.G.A. Section 36-36-4, to prevent the formation of new islands while eliminating existing unincorporated islands.

And so we arrive at the matter at hand. Century Center has now formally petitioned the City of Brookhaven to be annexed, using the 100 Percent Method. So the question begs that if they want to annex and we are all believers of self-determination, then why the big deal? Well, because the issue has potentially far reaching regional impact beyond the scope of private property rights. I would think the fact that the property is a part of a current referendum scheduled to be voted on in November would be enough to warrant a ‘wait and see’ approach, but there are other issues at stake.

I can’t speak for the rest of my Council, but I can say that I voted in favor of the Resolution accepting DECA’s request to be annexed (TWICE) because I felt it represented a chance for those affected citizens to have local representation, because Chamblee’s codes could be more uniformly enforced, there would be a chance at increased police service, and because it represented a chance for there to be greater regional political parity for Chamblee, in comparison to Brookhaven and Dunwoody. And all of these benefits were only seriously considered after deciding that the addition of the new area would come with relative tax equity so as not to burden existing Chamblee citizens with increased expenses without equally increased tax revenues. When I first heard of Century Center’s desire to annex into Brookhaven, I instantly sought to understand how Chamblee might stop the referendum that is on the ballot this fall. It would be a financial disaster if Chamblee took all the expenses associated with the DECA annexation and Brookhaven took all the revenue. That just would not make sense.

Playing this issue out a little further, it seems that if Century Center were annexed into Brookhaven and if Chamblee were to halt the annexation of the DECA neighborhoods, that the future of Lakeside may be negatively affected. After all, they are not allowed to annex and purposely cause an ‘unincorporated island’ to be created. So, I see Lakeside’s only real opportunity to afford services to the DECA neighborhoods would be to push their boundary further north or further south in order to capture the tax revenue needed offset the expenses, thus causing more conflict than is currently brewing with the folks seeking to incorporate Tucker and Briarcliff. It gets real ugly real fast.

So the stage is set for the City Council of Brookhaven. On one hand they need to weigh the value of the increased revenue to their City (with minimal expenses), while considering the potential consequences that may be experienced by the citizens in much of the rest of the North DeKalb region on the other.

I have personally discussed this issue at length with each of the members of Brookhaven’s city council, and I remain optimistic that they will bear the burden of doing what benefits the region over a windfall for their city. But … this is politics … and I am a firm believer that until the vote is cast you never know!

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