The Decatur City Commission voted Monday night to move ahead with annexing two heavily commercial areas, including the Emory Commons Shopping Center, despite opposition from business owners and residents who might be brought into the city.
The city plans to bypass a referendum and go straight to the DeKalb County legislative delegation to request a bill in the next General Assembly to authorize the annexation.
Decatur's city attorney has said no referendum is necessary because so few people reside in the targeted areas.
Commissioner Patti Garrrett noted that passage on the state level is not a certainty, saying "If we vote today to annex, that doesn't mean it will happen." Mayor Bill Floyd said that the General Assembly might still require the city to hold a referendum.
Residents and business owners in unincorporated DeKalb spoke out against the annexation
Doug Robinson, owner of Eagle Eye Book Shop, said annexation would push up his property taxes 30 percent. "In dollars and cents this is about $2,400 a year," he said. "I might have to lay off one of my part-time book sellers."
Herb Chereck, owner of the Decatur Package Store on Clairmont Road, said the annexation process was "very non-Decatur like."
"I could accept a referendum, but to have it thrown upon us, I don't think that's appropriate," he said.
The last annexation bill the DeKalb delegation handled took a long time. Avondale Estates and Decatur annexed land between the two cities by legislation last summer, but only after several failed efforts over the years.
City Commissioner Jim Baskett said that with opposition from DeKalb County and lack of will in the legislature, "I think most of this is an exercise in a futilty."
If the annexation does go through, Decatur will increase its commercial tax base.
A report on the city's webpage said the two areas would require about $750,000 per year in city services and produce about $812,000 in annual revenue.
That wasn't an acceptable motive for Judy Parris, a resident of unincorporated DeKalb, who said it was not morally right for the city to grab DeKalb's commercial areas.
"It's impossible for me to view this as anything other than greed ... and self interest," she said. "I don't see how you feel entitled to this."
Floyd testily responded to these comments, saying "We don't do anything out of greed."
The annexation concentrated on commercial areas, he said, because the city school system can't handle an influx of new students, not because residential areas produce less property taxes than commercial areas.
Annexation has been talked about for decades, but Floyd put it back on the table last spring during his State of the City speech.
The city staff went to work and identified six areas that might be worth annexing, including the Publix-anchored Emory Commons Shopping Center, Suburban Plaza shopping Center. The city estimated .
The city school system complained that a lot of new students would stress the system, already the fastest growing in the state. People outside the city complained about the prospect of paying higher taxes.
Two weeks ago, City Manager Peggy Merriss recommended most of the residential areas be dropped from consideration, thus reducing most public opposition from within the city.
She recommended the city only annex the two shopping centers and surrounding neighborhoods with about 500 residents with about 45 age 16 and under.
Down the road, Merriss said, the city should work with the children's home to determine their feelings about annexation and annex a handful of tracts in Midway Woods because those residents want to join the city.
The vote on the area on the northwest corner of the city limits was 4-0, with Fred Boykin recusing himself because he owns a bike shop that will be annexed.
The vote was 4-1 on annexing the Suburban Plaza area, with Boykin voting no. "It's very close to me," he said.
The city has put together information about the annexation process on the city webpage.
Here are some previous Patch stories about annexation.
- Decatur taxes bashed at annexation hearing.
- Report says annexation would swell school system attendance.
- Decatur school system starts annexation blog.
- Decatur planning to annex.
- Mayor says the city should annex Suburban Plaza.
- Could a 'City of DeKalb' affect annexation timetable?