That’s right folks. DeKalb, since it has grown slower than its exurban counterparts to the north will more than likely lose two of its state representatives to some far flung semi-rural backwater in the north Georgia mountains. That from the lips of district 90 representative Howard Mosby who was in attendance at the redistricting meeting held by Kathie Gannon in Gresham Park this week. Though he did not call it a rural backwater, Mosby’s speculation sort of mirrors what I posted last week about congressional redistricting in DeKalb. Power in the state house and Congress is leapfrogging the southern parts of the metro in favor of the far northern counties. From a political standpoint it means a smaller voice in the legislature. From an economic standpoint, it could mean fewer dollars for things like roads and transit. No details came forward as to which representatives would lose their seat, but Mosby did say that during redistricting, recently voted in members have an advantage. But that’s not all. Our school districts will go from nine to seven thanks to recently passed legislation. That means two members could be drawn out or forced to run against another incumbent. Again those recently elected have an advantage over those who have not faced a re-election since 2010. Those of you who wanted Cunningham or Copelin-Woods gone may have to wait for another election cycle. And finally, our esteemed board of commissioners will have their districts redrawn. District 5, Lee Mays dominion, is the largest district by size and population, so it will have to be cut down to help districts three and four become more balanced in terms of population. No one will be drawn out of the commission districts, though several are up for re-election.
As I was writing the above, the AJC posted what could be the first version of new congressional districts in Georgia. From what I can tell, DeKalb county will have three reps instead of four. It looks like David Scott in the 13th had the few thousand people in extreme South DeKalb taken away and put into John Lewis’ 5th district. As I was told by a politician recently, the 4th did slide further east taking in all of Rockdale, and some of Newton. From this map I cannot tell for sure if the 6th dipped further down into DeKalb, but it does look as though most of north DeKalb and North Atlanta are now in the 6th district. If this map holds, it looks like all three Democrats in Atlanta Metro are safe. I do wonder though if stretching the 4th all the way to Newton wouldn’t make the 4th a little more conservative, and give Hank Johnson a challenge for his seat. Of the three metro area Democrats, Hanks seat may be the least safe. Here is a copy of the map.
DeKalb County says it is the greenest county in America. And to help bolster that claim, they have approved a green energy facility that will have little or no pollution, and can generate electricity for 7,000 homes. At least that is the sell that Green Energy Partners has told DeKalb County. Residents in that part of the county are not impressed. They had been fighting to keep the facility from being built, but their pleas fell on deaf ears as DeKalb commissioners voted unanimously to approve the plant.
Green Energy Partners is not the only group to attempt to open a biomass facilty in DeKalb. In 2009 Southeastern Renewable Energy asked the county to rezone some land on Briarwood Road near I-85 and North Druid Hills Road so that thye could build essentially the same type of facilty. In fact if you read the SLUP for both, the purpose is exactly the same with the exception of who is requesting, and where it is located. Here is the stated purpose of each:
Application of Patrick Ejike to request a Special Land Use Permit to operate a utility generation facility (Biomass Renewable
Energy Facility) within the M-2 (Industrial) zoning district. The property is located on the east side of Rogers Lake Road,
approximately 446 feet south of Lithonia Industrial Boulevard at 1744 and 1770 Rogers Lake Road. The property has approximately 483
feet of frontage along Rogers Lake Road and contains 21.12 acres
Southeastern Renewable Energy
Application of Raine Cotton to request a Special Land Use Permit to operate a utility generation facility (Biomass Renewable
Energy Facility) within the M-2 zoning district. The property is located on the southwest side of Briarwood Road (vicinity of Georgia Power Easment)approximately 880 northwest of Interstate 85 (vacant land, no address). The property has approximately 150
feet of frontage on Briarwood Road and contains 3.16 acres
So what made the Green Energy application so much more plausible than the SRE application? After all, the planning department denied the SRE application based on several issues including “..anticipated significant impacts on water quality, air quality, noise impacts and transportation impacts.” Yet they recommended referral for the Green Energy application. Commissioners repeatedly deferred the SRE application from 2009 until April of 2010 when the application was finally withdrawn. So here are two facilities that use similar technologies to produce energy, yet one is considered a health hazard while the other is given the go ahead to operate. I am also wary of the timing of this entire thing. In April of 2010, DeKalb commissioners entertained the idea of this plant from Green Energy. A week later SRE’s application was withdrawn. In July of the same year, the commission voted to sell the very wood chips Green Energy says it will use in it’s facility for five dollars a ton. And now they have approved the facility in southeast DeKalb. If I lived within a half mile of this thing, I would definitely want to know more about how this whole thing wound it’s way through the county leadership.
An update to this post. After some bouncing around, I found a story about a bill that would have granted a charter to a new City of Brookhaven. House Bill 636 was sponsored by Mike Jacobs and Tom Taylor who represent the North DeKalb area. The bill was dropped by Jacobs, but his HB 428 is still alive.
This past weekend I attended one of the many breakfast sessions that DeKalb Commissioner Stan Watson holds on a regular basis. I went to the meeting because the line-up was a who’s who of South DeKalb democratic politicians. Alongside Stan, was fellow commissioner Lee May, Several state legislators including Rahn Mayo, Howard Mosby, and Pam Stephenson. Also in attendance, John Evans from the NAACP and Jesse Cunningham, who was there as a replacement for Superintendent Ramona Tyson who could not make it. There were members of the DeKalb Police command as well as the newly appointed fire chief. There were several state senators, representatives and business interests whose names I could not get. The turnout was probably 90 percent of the capacity at the Chapel Hill MS cafeteria. The main focus of these sessions is to provide information and updates about what our representatives in state and local positions are doing. I commend commissioner Watson on his efforts. He not only brought in elected officials, but also in attendance were county employees who discussed an overhaul to the county’s personal care home ordinance. There was also a representative from the Department of Watershed Management who explained why we should not be pouring grease or grease containing foods down our drains. A representative from Autism Speaks was in attendance as well, and she provided info on the upcoming walk for autism. For me the highlight of the program was when a young kid diagnosed with Autism took to the microphone to present a painting of his to Watson. All was not peaches and cream though. I came away from the session a bit more informed about some issues, but was less than enthusiastic about the representatives we put into office. My very first impression was that this was some sort of fraternity of politicians where, if you were not a member, your concerns took a backseat to the handshakes and pats on the back by members of the fraternity and their friends. A quick chat with Lee May about crime along the River Road corridor yielded an answer about development planning along Bouldercrest to River Road. Not to be downplaying any plan for redevelopment, but I was more concerned about the quality of life crimes that are so prevalent along River, Panthersville, and Flatshoals Pkwy. I told Mr. May that if the county allows those subdivisions to fall, it would be like pushing over dominoes. Once one falls the others will surely follow. Even a talk with one state representative (I cannot name him since I got in a question without identifying myself and my intentions) about HB 428, yielded a shrug of the shoulders and a reply of I don’t know. HB 428 is an annexation and incorporation bill for North DeKalb and Brookhaven area. I for one believe that the many wounds that afflict parts of South DeKalb are self-inflicted, but I would expect our leadership to have our best interest at heart when they decide to run for political office. Given the turnout for this session, I think there are plenty of folks in South DeKalb trying to keep the area from total disaster. I wonder if the politicians we elected have the same desire.
I attended a public meeting on DeKalbs budget held by commissioners Elaine Boyer and Kathy Gannon on Tuesday. It was an eye opening experince as to why the taxpayers in DeKalb should be concerned in the next week or so. The county commission is scheduled to vote February 22nd on whether or not to approve or amend a 12% increase in property taxes that CEO Burrell Ellis has proposed. The CEO and others feel that a tax increase is the only way to balance a budget that started the year off 7 million in the hole.
At the meeting, a financial consultant laid out what is at stake when the commision votes. In his estimation, the county cannot continue down the path it is currently on. The worst case scenario showed the property tax digest falling once again in 2011 and personnel costs continuing to increase. In that scenario, the county would not be able to maintain services at the the present tax rate. Something will have to give. Either a tax hike, which many in the audience were against, more service cuts or massive overhaul of the benefits and pensions of county employees. when looking at the numbers, it is obvious that the pension system is killing the budget, along with the bloated payroll. I have posted in the past how the county has ignored the recommendations of a Georgia State University audit that said the county should eliminate or consolidate positions within the county government to reduce costs. That will address some of the short term pain, but a closer look at the pension system shows it is the 800 pound gorilla that no one wants to tackle. Because of state law, the county has to maintain a certain level of funds to pay out pesions to county employees. In 2011, the county is on the hook for nearly 50 million dollars so that the pension remains viable. But lets take alook at this pension. Way back in the day, government employees were compensated less than their private sector counterparts. To address this governments around the country gave their employees very gracious health and pension benefits to hire and keep good employees. Today, that system is bankrupting local governments, who have to continue to pay out benefits to retirees and help cover employees healthcare. Add to that the downturn in the stock and bond markets, and local goverments are finding it hard to keep pace with the required minimums set by law. So what is the solution?
In the private sector, when your 401k tanked in the last couple of years, you were on the hook for the losses. That is not the case for government funded pensions and healthcare. We the taxpayers have to foot the bill to ensure that DeKalb’s pension system does not go into default. So the 50 or so million dollar tab that the pension system needs to remain viable is passed on to us, the taxpayers. Raising taxes today will not solve the pension and benefits problem that will continue for years to come. If the county wanted to fix this, they could force employees into a private system such as plans similar to 401k where employees determine how much of their pay goes towards their retirement. Any future employee would be directed into this new pension formula thereby taking the responsibility off the taxpayer a placing it on the shoulder of the employee. The county could also ask employees to pay higher deductibles for their healthcare. High deductible plans are the path that many government and private sector employees are going to help balance their budgets.
Let me go on the record as saying I am not totally against a tax increase to help balance the budget. What I am against is the county asking me to send them more of my income to balance their budget when they have not trimmed as much fat as possible. Public safety should be their primary concern. Quality of life issues like libraries and parks may have to take a temporary cut, but if the county would address benefits and pensions, the cuts to quality of life programs would not be hit nearly as hard.
I encourage all DeKalb residents to contact their commissioners and tell them that they must act on health and benefits before they pass a tax increase. In this economy, few people should have to pass more of their hard earned dollars to the county, when the county has not put forth an effort to curb its spending.
Another budget town hall will be held at the Tucker Library, 5234 LaVista RoadTucker, GA 30084 on Thursday February 17th at 7 pm.
Want more info on the DeKalb budget? Check out these links
CEO Ellis gave his annual State of County address on Thursday morning. It was an address to business and political leaders. Two biggies at the address were sewer upgrades and property tax increase. According to the AJC, Ellis says that the EPA mandated sewer upgrades will bring about 1300 jobs and bring a 5 billion dollar economic impact to the region. We will have to wait and see on that one. The CEO is also pushing for a tax increase. The county commission says no, but I wonder how long they can hold out. Something has to give. A tax increase, more service cuts or more layoffs. It is a lose lose scenario for everyone.
This is the proposed budget from CEO Ellis. I read through the entire thing, and a few items jumped out at me.
Police officers that used to cover Dunwoody will be reassigned to other parts of the county. That’s good news, it seems the CEO realizes that public safety is priority one. Now I wonder how many officers will actually be patrolling other parts of the county.
Georgia State University did a study and recommended positions be eliminated or combined to reduce redundancy. The county eliminated just half of the GSU recommendations. If you read through the recommended cuts, they seem reasonable. After all does there need to be 3 deputy directors in sanitation.
GSU recommended the BOC reduce their staff by 10, roughly 7 assistants and some other support people. They eliminated none
GSU recommended the CEO cut 9 from his office, he cut 3.
Why are crossing guards part of police services? Should they not be the responsibility of the BOE. BOE has its own police force, they should be in charge of crossing guards as well.
The library system has some 300 employees. Do people really use libraries that often. I know I have not stepped into one since the mid-90’s. I am not saying that we eliminate them, but maybe reduce hours, especially in the summertime.
I love gardening and growing plants and vegatables, but the extension office may need to be reconsidered. I think it is a luxury more than a necessity.
The county Information Systems department should look at using open software in places where it can. It is hard for me to imagine paying licensing fees for employees who create spreadsheets, text documents, or do research via the web. I am sure that the county has plenty of servers on Linux, but I would like to see the county at least look at transferring their desktops to a version of Linux. This could save millions of dollars in license fees as well as support costs.
I cannot say with any certainty or proof that the county staff is bloated, but if the GSU recommendations are anywhere near accurate, then the county could still provide basic services while cutting an additional 400 plus positions. I hate to see anyone lose their job, but the county should not be a jobs program. If cuts need to be made to help balance the budget, let’s do it. I like that the CEO and the commission wants to balance the budget. If the county has done all it can to reduce waste and improve efficiency, then a tax increase will be reasonable request. The CEO should not ask any resident to pay any more in taxes if he hasn’t done all he can to eliminate waste and redundancy.
No public cash for private developers
Connie Stokes and Kathie Gannon reportedly were the only two commissioners to vote in favor of the GM site redevelopment plan. What baffles me is that the entire commission was dead set against raising taxes to cover budget shortfalls, funding of public safety and infrastructure projects but were in favor of a tax increase to take what amounts to a gamble that if lost, the taxpayers would be stuck with the bill. I know the increase was minimal, but it is about principles. If you are willing to raise taxes to fund a private developer, why not raise taxes to fund items that make the county work. As for the 9,000 jobs this thing was going to create, I wonder how many would actually go to DeKalb or Doraville residents. If this thing was funded by private dollars, and the infrastructure could be paid for with out a tax increase, then this thing would have been a no-brainer. This would have turned into DeKalb’s version of the federal stimulus plan.
Not Surprised by nail salon manager
A store, no a nail salon in Lithonia charges a lady an extra 5 bucks because, in their opinion, she is too heavy for their chairs. Michelle Fonville was shocked and almost at tears according to her when she was told she would have to incur an overweight surcharge. Add to that a manager who basically told Fonville eff you, it costs me 2500 dollars to fix my chair because you sat down and broke it. The salon manger told Fonville to take her business elsewhere and even said that had she seen Fonville before she sat down, she would have refused to serve her based on her weight. all this on local TV no less. This does not surprise me at all. Stores like these consistently berate, and belittle the very people who keep them in business. This nail salon manager knows that her business will not suffer any ill-effects of this bad PR. It will be forgotten Thursday, and she will have a packed house on Friday evening. I personally will not give my cash to a store that berates or denigrates it’s customers. This should be a wake-up call. If they treat you like crap and you continue to give them money, what does that say about you. see video of Fonville here.
DeKalb just can’t seem to stay out of the AJC’s line of fire. After the county rejected using pubic dollars to finance a private project, here’s this. The AJC reported tonight that former communications director Shelia Edwards (she accused NJ police of murder in the death of a friend) is getting a 46k severance to keep her mouth shut. I know these things are typical, even my company did it, but it seems odd they would give her severance and include phrases like not disparage the county, or not sue the county. Tells me she knows stuff that could at the very least embarrass some folks.
A quick note on Dekalb schools.
I talked with a teacher at a school that was recently built under the direction Crawford Lewis, Patricia Pope and others. This teacher told me the school is in terrible shape. Door knobs not working, ceiling tiles falling onto the floor, and leaky ceilings among other things. She told me that she can’t believe that all of the money earmarked for the school construction actually made it there. She told me plainly that she thinks Pope her husband and others took advantage of the school system and should be made to pay. That comes from a teacher who has a couple of decades in the profession. Also, attorneys for Dr. Lewis asked for a change of venue. They say the will be unable to get a fair hearing in DeKalb. If you are guilty, that evidence will follow you wherever you go. A change of venue will not change that.
Lastly, I have to weigh in on this mosque thing that seems to be captivating everyone. I do not believe that this is about reverence for a site that saw the deaths of 3000 people. There is nor reverence here. On the site will rise another structure praising the glory of capitalism. If it was a place to be revered, it would be more like the memorial at Pearl Harbor. In the end this is about hatred of all things Islam, after all it was the religion of Islam that caused the deaths 0f 3000 innocent souls. The idea of government not promoting or sponsoring any particular religion really means that Judeo-Christian principles rule the day, minus the Judeo part. These men and women, being citizens of the United States, have every right to build their place of worship wherever the choose, so long as it meets existing laws/ordinances, and does not infringe upon the rights of those around them.