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Posts Tagged ‘Taxes’

Lee May raises some reasonable points in mailer

November 1, 2011 2 comments

I got an e-mail recently from Lee May’s office concerning the lack of rail service into South DeKalb. What was nice to see was his lack of enthusiasm for an additional penny to fund transportation improvements in the metro. Here are a few excerpts. Though he has not come out against it, it seems the tone of this e-mail suggests that we should take a long, hard critical look at what is being asked of us versus what we are getting in return.

First his argument against “Bus Centers”

It is also noted that one of the residents, though disappointed about the rail projects not being funded was quoted as saying “…I think it would have been much more beneficial than premium bus service because it’s already harder to provide an incentive to get people on a bus than it is with a rail line.” This has been one of the many reason for supporting funding for the I-20 East Rail project. Bus service, albeit, bus rapid transit service, is still buses —- which equates to still sitting in traffic.

The promise of rail decades ago

  Proponents of the project list will say that DeKalb residents are getting $1.6 Billion from the total $6 Billion allocated for the region.  On the surface this might sound like a great deal:  for a mere additional one cent tax you get $1.6 Billion in roadway projects (minus the $700M for the Clifton Corridor project) — but no rail.  You will receive Bike/Pedestrian improvements.  But no Rail.  And you will receive bus rapid transit — but again, no rail.  Over thirty years ago, an agreement was made with the taxpayers of DeKalb and that agreement was in short, “pay the one percent sales tax and rail will be constructed throughout DeKalb.”  Thus far no new rail projects in 20+ years have been constructed in Central and South DeKalb — Central and South DeKalb have been left alongside the road.

His question to residents

Review the list. Yes, there are roadway improvement projects in Central and South DeKalb but the crux of the issue is: does Central and South DeKalb continue to pay a one percent tax and not get rail?

His Conclusion

Road improvement projects, in effect, are road widening projects and intersection improvements are to accommodate more traffic.  South and Central DeKalb will have great roads that will continue to be clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic.  South and Central DeKalb will not be in a position to get people out of their cars and on to rail for another 40 years

These seem like reasonable grievances to me. Buses must be complimented by other forms of transportation including light or heavy rail. Buses are at the mercy of traffic conditions like any other road vehicle. Unless the buses have an exclusive right of way that no other traffic can enter into, then it is not a solution. I don’t need to speak about the promise of rail. If rail (light or heavy) goes out into Cobb or Gwinnett, we are truly being shafted. And to me that what this penny boils down to. Are we getting our money’s worth?

See the full text here of the May’s mailer

 

 

 

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Screwed on taxes, Screwed on Education

July 14, 2011 4 comments

It has been a while since I posted, but there are two things that everyone is talking about and I want to chime in on both

Taxes

I think any of us with a functioning brain knew that DeKalb taxes were going to go up. I don’t see how it could have been any other way. I am no anti-government squawker who believes all government is evil, but I will say that unlike private sector companies, and unlike individual’s, governments just have to vote in order to increase revenues. They don’t need to take on an extra job, they do not need to change their product line or shift their marketing strategy. They just have to say yea and it’s a done deal. That is how I knew it was a done deal. And even when they lower taxes as a gesture of “we care”, it rarely equals the increase they forced on us in the first place. I believe that taxation is part of the societal contract that we have with one another. There are certain things, like public safety,  I do not want turned over to private enterprise, and the only way to pay is through taxes. I do want to see better management of the funds they do collect. Though the CEO touts he has cut some 100 million from the previous two budgets I think he can do a little more.  I wrote a post  last year about the Georgia State study that said DeKalb could shed nearly 800 positions and still provided a decent level of service to all citizens. I would like to see the CEO put those recommendation in place. He asked us to swallow an increase, the least he could do is trim the fat in county operations. Also, I don’t think it is coincidence that the three dissenters in the group are all up for re-election in 2012. Here is where I have to wonder about motives. Of course Boyer would vote against a tax increase, that’s her thing. But Barnes-Sutton and May make me wonder if they did the math and knew that they could dissent knowing that the increase would make it through, thereby giving them cover next year to say they voted against a tax increase. Barnes_Sutton may be trying to mitigate damage for the bad check scandal, and Lee May might have his eyes on an even bigger prize. It would not surprise me. The only one to vote for increase and is up for re-election was Kathie Gannon.

Education

Everybody is up in arms about the APS scandal and the cheating on CRCT tests by teachers and administrators. It is a sad thing when people we trust our kids education with would betray them and us in such a way. They have sent a decade’s worth of children into possible poverty, crime, and hopelessness. Not all of the children touched by the scandal will end up that way, but I cannot wait until the report or documentary comes out examining what happened to the children who attended some of the schools with the most egregious offenses. That brings me to DeKalb and South DeKalb in particular. At the same time revelations about APS started to bubble up, DeKalb also was in the mix along with a few other systems. In fact, the principal at Atherton resigned and was arrested for falsifying documents in 2009. Now there is no proof as of yet that the state or the media found any systemic problems in DeKalb, but that does not mean it isn’t a problem. I do know that local media are looking harder at all the systems who were in the original report, so do not be shocked if DeKalb gets hit by this wave too. In fact this open letter sent to the AJC by the DeKalb County School Watch blog  could stir up the hornets’ nest and reveal some unpleasant information. In the end, we do not know what these children would have done later on in their academic careers, but what these teachers and administrators did was to take from them the  possibility of  academic success. They passed them along knowing they were not properly prepared. These are men and women who turned their backs on the very children they were suppose to prepare for the harsh reality of real life. Instead of preparing them, they turned into a bunch of Judas’ and handed over these childrens future to the streets and ultimately the justice system.

DeKalb tax increase is inevitable

June 29, 2011 Comments off
The tax man cometh, and he wants to raise your taxes. I think by now most DeKalb homeowners know they are about to see their taxes go up. We knew this was coming, and the commission knew it was coming, but I guess they wanted to play the roles of friend to the homeowner when it comes election time. CEO Elllis knew it had to be dome, but he just didn’t ask for enough of a millage increase. So here we are about to get pinged with higher property taxes. The possibility of an additional penny for transportation ( got something about that coming too) a job and housing market that is anemic at best, and county services that are just as anemic. It is really becoming hard to justify remaining in DeKalb. The grass may not be greener on the other side, but at least it ain’t brown like we have in DeKalb.
Try to attend one of the scheduled public hearings on the millage increase whether you are for or against. Also check out the millage rate increases for the cities and the unincorporated areas.
Tuesday, July 5 (10:00 am and 6:00 pm)
& Tuesday, July 12 (10:00 am)
Location

Maloof Auditorium

2011

Rollback Rate

% Increase

Atlanta

10.39

8.938

16.25 %

Avondale Estates

15.41

13.464

14.45 %

Chamblee

13.71

12.223

12.17 %

Clarkston

15.06

13.242

13.73 %

Decatur

10.82

10.087

7.27 %

Doraville

13.60

12.607

7.88 %

Dunwoody

13.35

11.357

17.55 %

Lithonia

15.33

13.280

15.44 %

Pine Lake

15.61

13.541

15.28 %

Stone Mountain

13.90

12.980

7.09 %

Unincorporated

19.62

18.017

8.90 %

Countywide Debt

1.08

0.647

66.92 %

Unincorporated Debt

0.66

1.631

-59.53 %

Issues South DeKalb should keep an eye on.

June 7, 2011 1 comment

Congressional District Lines

the redrawing of congressional lines and legislature lines will take center stage this summer. In August, a special session will begin the process of redrawing district lines to accommodate this states increase in population. As it stands the legislature will have 14 districts to draw as oppose to 13. Since republicans control all three branches of state government, you can expect Democrats to fare poorly during this once a decade redrawing. I for one hope the legislature looks at how DeKalb is carved up. DeKalb, with a population around 750 thousand has 4 congressional districts. That’s more than Fulton or Gwinnett. The legislature should bring all of DeKalb that is not in the 6th district or in the city of Atlanta back into the fourth. See a possible district breakdown here. DeKalb is basically an urban county with issues that more align with the central city than with more rural areas like Rockdale, or Henry, or South Fulton county. It is going to be interesting to see how the legislature deals with DeKalb. Aside from the congressional redrawing,  what could have a greater impact on DeKalb is the representation in the statehouse. As the AJC has reported on several occasions, DeKalb, along with Fulton has not kept pace in terms of growth with its exurban counterparts. In the state legislature DeKalb could lose a seat or two, weakening its delegation in the statehouse. That weakening would be a strengthening for a county like Forsyth wich has only a fraction of the population of DeKalb. If DeKalb does lose a seat or two, we all can guess where those seats will come from. If you want more info on the redrawing, check out this Google search

Transportation

In the fall people all across the Metro area will vote whether or not to tax themselves an additional penny to fund transportation infrastructure throughout the region. By late August we should know exactly wich projects voters will be asked to fund. Many projects will affect South DeKalb. Things like mass transit, road improvements and interchange improvements are all on the list for DeKalb. I have stated in a prior post that I am not against a self-imposed tax for better transportation service throughout the metro. What I fear is that DeKalb residents will pay more and receive less. Rail service has been talked about in South DeKalb for decades, but none has materialized. The state DOT has already nixed the idea of rail service to Conyers, and rightfully so. The density of the population that far out just doesn’t warrant it just yet. But some sort of rail service to South DeKalb is long overdue. Two options benefitting South DeKalb could be placed on the final list for voters to approve. One  is rail transit from downtown to Candler Road and the other is  an extension of the Blue Line to Wesley Chapel. The cynic in me says neither will get the needed support from the roundtable that is tasked with providing the final list. If the final list comes out, and all we get in DeKalb are interchange improvements and other areas get more options, I would be inclined to say no to a new tax. But I will keep an open mind about the whole thing.

Policing

A friend of mine had his home broken into recently. The police responded and we started talking about police coverage where he lives. What he told me was astonishing. He said on any given night there are four cars patrolling an area from Moreland Avenue to Wesley Chapel/Flakes Mill Rd south of I-20. Yea that’s a huge area. I was shocked that an area that is so huge would have only four cars. My first instinct was to think the officer was exaggerating, but when a second car showed up, he said the same thing without knowing what we and the previous officer had spoken about. After a little bit of searching, I found this map of the South Precinct. If these divisions represent individual beats within the precinct, then I can see how its possible for only four cars to patrol the area. But even worse is that these same areas are becoming crime-ridden but a surge in police coverage has not kept pace.  It seems to me that the police are in a respond to incidents stage than proactively policing areas that are vulnerable to criminal activity.

Breakfast with Stan Watson and Friends

April 6, 2011 3 comments

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.

DeKalb budget strained by pensions; personnel

February 16, 2011 4 comments

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’s proposed budget

BOC budget information

Budget Opinion

DeKalb County: State of the County Review

January 7, 2011 Comments off

Brookhaven Review: DeKalb County: State of the County.

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.