Leaders ponder state law changes

Annexation and taxes are concerns that DeKalb County government officials want addressed in the 2013 General Assembly.

Five priorities were presented to a handful of concerned residents Jan. 24 by the joint legislative team from the county CEO’s office and the Board of Commissioners.

To help the county improve its infrastructure, county leaders want the legislature to raise the “sales tax ceiling that restricts the county’s ability to increase its sales tax,” according to the proposed legislative agenda. This would allow the county to “address capital improvements and infrastructure maintenance over a maximum period of 10 years.”

If the legislation passes, the county would then hold a referendum for a one-cent sales tax increase that would be used to fund a “list of predetermined priorities,” said Phyllis Mitchell, legislative consultant to the county’s Board of Commissioners.

Voters “will know from the beginning what projects” the proposed sales tax increase would fund, she said.

Two items on the county’s legislative agenda address annexation. One recommends amending state law to require “approval by the governing authority”—in DeKalb’s case, the Board of Commissioners—for annexation of areas [that are] furnished services or included in a comprehensive zoning plan,” according to the legislative agenda. The proposed amendment would also give property owners the right to file for an injunction during an annexation attempt.

According to the language of the proposed legislation, “if a city wants to annex, it has to get permission” from the county, Mitchell said. “As it currently stands, you don’t have a choice.”

The second item regarding annexation would oppose the annexation of commercial and residential property by the city of Decatur.

“It is important to maintain the solvency of unincorporated DeKalb County’s tax base and prevent future cherry picking of commercial property by municipalities without any consideration for economic and fiscal impacts resulting from such annexations,” the agenda states.

“We would like to see a moratorium,” Mitchell said. Such a move would give the county “an opportunity…to really assess what the financial impact” is of annexations.

“We think we should slow the process down and take a breath,” Mitchell said.

Don Brussard, of Stand Up DeKalb, said this is not the time to restrict annexations.

“The school system is in such difficulty and the [county] CEO is under criminal investigation,” Brussard said. “Annexation should remain an option. Cities should be considered a viable option in our menu of local government.”

County leaders are trying to revive an attempt to raise its hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent. This move would provide more funding for promoting tourism, arts and would fund the county’s convention and visitors’ bureau.

The tax was shot down last year by the county’s legislative delegation.

County leaders also want to change the state law that requires a referendum before bonds can be issued for an animal services facility.

“This change would allow for the timely construction of a new animal services facility without the burden and expense of holding a referendum,” the proposed legislative agenda states.

Viola Davis, of the Unhappy Taxpayer and Voter, asked the legislative team whether county officials had determined the impact on residents of the proposed taxes and bonds.

“It’s all coming out of one pot,” she said.


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