Letter in Support of LaVista Hills

To follow is an open letter to the neighborhood written by LaVista Park resident Michael Lappin.  We appreciate Michael’s time, effort and interest a well as his permission to post his letter to Leaf Talk.

I am writing to urge you to support LaVista Park remaining included in the map for the new city of LaVista Hills.  This potential new city offers the greatest opportunity for our community to shape its future rather than being tied to legacy operations of existing local governments.

While many in our community prefer the status quo of remaining in Unincorporated Dekalb County, that does not appear to be a viable choice for the long term.  Most likely, all of currently unincorporated portions of North Dekalb will be put into one city or another.  It is our time to support the option that provides the most opportunity to control our future with the best use of our tax dollars.

LaVista Hills is poised to become the largest city in Dekalb County, yet still much smaller than our current form of government or the City of Atlanta.  This provides a large enough base for efficiencies while small enough to support the feeling of inclusion and impact.  It is going to provide services at a more local level and will guarantee that we will not have a tax increase.  (New cities are not allowed to raise taxes from the current level being charged by the county).

The only services that will be assumed by the new city of LaVista Hills are:

  • Public Safety and Code Enforcement
  • Public Works (Roads and Drainage)
  • Planning, Land Use and Zoning
  • Licenses and Permitting P
  • Parks and Recreation

By bringing Public Safety (police), Public Works (road improvement) and Land Use and Zoning into more local control we will have a greater impact in the every day lives of our community.  We will no longer have to worry about spreading resources over a larger area and having commissioners who are not intimately familiar with our neighborhood voting on decisions that impact our lives.

Being part of a new city allows us as founding residents to have a say in how the city is organized, who is elected to represent us and what the guiding principles of our city will be.  It also allows us to have a fiscally responsible city that is built on the foundation of sound financial management and efficient government.

This is not about paying less or doing away with government.  This is about having effective government.

I support paying for services.  I don’t mind paying a fair amount taxes.   I do mind paying for inefficient services that are better delivered in a more cost effective way.  Most analysis on the city options for our neighborhood show taxes going up for most residents if we leave the comfort of unincorporated Dekalb County or a newly formed City.  Both the City of Brookhaven and the City of Atlanta will most likely lead to tax increases.  Joining the City of Atlanta will lead to tax increases of $4000+ on the Seniors living in our community for homes valued at $500,000 (https://druidhills.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/senior-tax-exemption-comparison.pdf).  I hope to stay in my home forever, and considered the tax advantages of Dekalb County when choosing this location.  I feel that thousands of dollars extra that our seniors will be forced to pay in school tax, now and in the future, is not the best option.

Another consideration is the additional 1% in Sales Tax that is collected by the City of Atlanta.  Everything that is delivered to your home will have 1% more added to it.  More taxes for no increase in services.

Some are focusing the decision on school districts, but nobody can guarantee schools in the long run.  We can’t guarantee that the schools will stay with the current assignments, whether those schools will improve or degrade, or whether more charter schools will become available.  Choosing a new governmental jurisdiction based on loose statements – not commitments – and hopes for schools can lead to unhappy outcomes.

The only facts we know are that if we move to Atlanta, our school district will change and if we do not go into Atlanta we do not know what will change.  As the cityhoods change throughout North Dekalb County, the school boards of both Dekalb County Schools and The City of Atlanta Schools will both have to assess their student populations and the physical facilities available to house them and then possibly redraw districts to accommodate them.   Two recent examples of redrawing school districts were when City of Atlanta Schools took the Morningside Elementary District and split it into two districts with the new Springdale Park Elementary, and when Dekalb County Schools closed Avondale High School and moved the students to Druid Hills High School. Both of these changed where parents sent their children even when they didn’t change jurisdictions.  There is no guarantee on school assignments with any of the options presented.

I hope that the school board members try to do what is best for the children that they are looking after.  I hope that they listen to community input, and look at the realities of the closest schools that the kids can go to and where other children in the same community are going to go.  I hope that they allocate resources to make all of the schools as good as they can be.  With this in mind, it makes sense that if we are part of the new City of LaVista Hills, that the children will go to neighborhood schools located in the City of LaVista Hills that rate high on www.greatschools.com.

Some think that we will see a large value increase if we move into the City of Atlanta.  I do not think that this will happen.  In my profession as a licensed mortgage loan originator, I deal with property values and property taxes every day.  Our neighborhood is already seeing higher values and is in line with other neighborhoods based on distance from the city center, home size, lot size and age of homes.  I do not anticipate that a higher tax jurisdiction will lead to any higher values.  This is especially true if the schools stay exactly as they are now.  Just switching the flag flying over the school will not change the ratings or perceived value.

I view the choice of what alternative to pursue as being focused on three main items:

  1.  Local Control (Police, Roads, Zoning)
  2. Taxes S
  3. Schools

We know that items 1 and 2 should be the same or better with the city of LaVista Hills and we don’t know which way 3 will go.  Getting 2 out of 3 is pretty good odds for success.
The City of LaVista Hills and the City of Brookhaven offer similar options and control to our community.  The hurdle of joining the City of Brookhaven is much higher due to the fact that we need 60% by petition, rather than the 50% +1 of voters for LaVista Hills.  Everyone not wanting to join the City of Atlanta should rally together and support the City of LaVista Hills.

Please look towards the future.  Towards creating a city that we can all be proud of.  Let us not be swept up in fear of the unknown and choose to join a city that has a long track record of disappointment and poor leadership.  Let us not choose a city that is based across the highway from us that will have limited access to services and will separate us from our surrounding community.  Let us choose to move forward with our neighbors of North Dekalb County in building a new city, a progressive city, an efficient city.

Please continue to support LaVista Hills for LaVista Park.

Michael Lappin

Posted in Leaf Talk

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