DeKalb commissioners add moratorium on municipalities to session goals

September 20, 2016 - Atlanta - Georgia State Capitol, the Gold Dome. Downtown Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

September 20, 2016 - Atlanta - Georgia State Capitol, the Gold Dome. Downtown Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

DeKalb commissioners will ask members of their legislative delegation to support a bill that creates a three-year moratorium on new municipalities and annexations in the county.

Commissioners are also asking legislators to require that future cityhood referendums include all voters in unincorporated DeKalb, not just those living within the proposed borders of a new city. Additionally, they say, the board should have to sign off on any annexations.

The finances of the county and school system are being negatively affected by the creation of new cities and expansion of existing ones, commissioners say. The continuing trends also make it harder to deliver services, particularly where there are isolated neighborhoods that remain unincorporated, they say.

The legislation would be written in a way so that it applies only to DeKalb County, where citizen-led efforts to create at least two new cities are underway and several municipalities have outlined annexation plans.

Presiding officers Jeff Rader referred to the proposal as an “annexation omnibus” bill.

“Our approach is trying to put everything that we might like to get done into it with the hopes that some elements of it may be able to move,” he said Friday.

Of the five board members present, Commissioner Nancy Jester was the only to vote “no,” saying she did not believe the county should look to the state to solve its issues with municipalities and to try to halt the shrinking of unincorporated DeKalb.

“A moratorium is a bridge too far for me,” she said. “But I absolutely support a robust conversation with real results for how any of these processes go forward.”

The Board of Commissioners will present its package of legislative priorities to the DeKalb County House delegation on Monday. Other issues include a request for the General Assembly to repeal a state law that prohibits altering or removing Confederate monuments and to authorize a referendum on the ballot to create a half-cent sales tax to fund MARTA expansion in DeKalb.

Jester also voted against these measures. She said she doesn't agree with removing monuments she considers part of the state's history and figures the proposal won't get any traction in the conservative legislature anyway. And, she said, MARTA tax like one already approved in Fulton County puts too much burden on local residents for something the General Assembly should be funding.

“I just don’t think it can be borne on the back of two counties and the cities therein; I think it has to be looked at in the larger perspective,” Jester said.

DeKalb officials are also looking for support from legislators for:

  • instituting a permitting process for firms that wish to do work on county right of ways. As part of that, they want the ability to impose fines when property is damaged.
  • changing the way vacancies on the Audit Oversight Committee are filled.
  • creating a Charter Review Commission.

Although there was no formal vote, DeKalb commissioners are also in favor of a change in state law that increases their base salary then, in the future, ups it whenever superior court judges receive raises.

“It is a means of being able to adjust salaries of elected officials, and in some cases appointed officials, as a system rather than having to address each one of them. And the reason that you would do that is to kind of take some of the politics out of these ongoing conversations,” Rader said.

Commissioners sent a letter to lawmakers last year outlining their case for being considered full-time employees and asking for a pay increase, Rader said. He is waiting to see if legislators take any action during the current session.