Monday, October 31, 2011

Still Undecided? Nine Things to Consider

1) Your Taxes will definitely be higher.  Based on the feasibility study, that we are now supposed to ignore, the average homeowner in Peachtree Corners will pay several hundred dollars in additional taxes and fees for goods and services we already pay for and receive from the county.

2) Your Trash Hauler's rate from the city likely wont be any less than you are paying now, since the YES side anounced they have no idea if they can get it cheaper or not.

3) No one can Annex your property unless you have 2 agreeing parties. This is Georgia Law. If Norcross wanted to annex Peachtree Corners, they would have done it back in the 80'-90's when this area's technology boom was happening.

4) Code enforcement will be outsourced to a company that compensates their employees on a commission basis. If modeled after the other surrounding cities, it will be a primary source of revenue for the new city, and a nightmare to all residents. Ask some friends in John's Creek and Berkeley Lake.

5) Property values will still be based on economic conditions. Until the economy improves we will not see a change.

6) No one on the Peachtree Corners Ballot Committee stands to gain anything financial, The other side cannot say that. The proposed salaries have already gone up and we haven't even gone to the polls yet. What will happen if they are elected?

7) The Charter allows the new city to impose additional taxes, assesments, and other fees, without going to a vote to the taxpayers. It's all in the Charter and feasibility study (that they want you to ignore).

8) Our community leaders definition of "self determination" is for their own self, not yours.  As Thomas Jefferson warned, "It is the nature of government to grow."  Before the election, they talk of "self determination" after the election it will be "selfish determination".    

9) Voting "NO" is not only an option, it's a right.   It's your choice, it's your right.   Exercise your right.

Posted By: Louie

Friday, October 28, 2011

Self-Determination - What Does it Mean in Peachtree Corners?

Over the last few months the Peachtree Corners YES committee has held numerous town hall meetings in an attempt to sell the residents of PC on the idea of a city.  As the public became more informed on the topic, resistance to the idea increased and many of the ‘selling points’ were discredited. Even Mike Mason admitted at an UPCCA meeting Monday night (10/24) that we shouldn’t pay any attention to the feasibility study, he doesn’t know if we can save any money on trash or not and said that if you read the charter you will need a lawyer because it is hard to understand due to all the legalese. “Sorta” sounds like the Peachtree Corners version of ‘we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it’, doesn’t it? So, Mason said, they have now come down to one issue: self-determination. 

So what is self-determination and how does it apply to us here in Peachtree Corners? Webster’s defines self- determination as:

1. Free choice of one’s own acts or states without external compulsion, and 
2. Determination by the people of a territorial unit of their own future political status

Sounds like a great idea! Who can argue with that? After all, in the 1770’s the colonists wanted self-determination and to be out from under King George’s thumb. On TV the other night, Wayne Knox repeated the party line, saying that “the people who live in Peachtree Corners deserve the right to determine their own future and not have that future determined by politicians that we do not elect.”  I don’t know what part of Peachtree Corners Mr. Knox lives in, but in my part we get to vote for a county commissioner and a commission chairman, as well as judges, PSC commissioners, school board members, sheriff, a district attorney and others who have a direct and indirect influence over our lives every day. The essence of their argument is that we in PC only get to vote for one commissioner out of 4 serving a county of 800,000 people and thus are subject to the whims of the other three. By their logic, perhaps we should consider becoming our own state- after all we only get to elect one state representative out of 180 and one state senator out of 54 representing a population of almost 9.7 million Georgians.

The reality is that if the new city does only the three services the Charter and YES organizers promise (zoning, code enforcement and trash), then those are the only areas where PC would have anything resembling self-determination. A trash plan mandated by the city and charged on your property taxes is the same thing we already have. Code enforcement contracted out to a for-profit company that works on commissions is arguably worse than what we already have. That leaves zoning and most of the property in Peachtree Corners is already developed according to existing zoning. All the other services PC receives (fire, police, schools, parks, roads, libraries, etc.). will continue to be provided by the county,  and we will still only have that dreaded one voice of 4 for 800,000 people on those issues. 

Does all this sound like enough self-determination to warrant higher taxes and fees on you and your family and taking the other downside risks of another government body? 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

12 Myths and 3 Facts About a New City of Peachtree Corners

In discussing the pros and cons of Peachtree Corners becoming a city, residents have given many reasons for and against becoming an incorporated city. But how many of these are not valid reasons for becoming a city?

Myth #1. “We will have more police protection.” - Not true. Fire and police protection will remain the responsibility of Gwinnett County, as they always have. Unless residents vote later to take responsibility for police protection, and vote themselves taxes 5 to 6 or more times the projected city rate of 1.0 mills, this will not change.

Myth #2.  “We can have Peachtree Corners as a mailing address.”- If you live in 30092, you can do that now. In fact the post office is in Peachtree Corners, Georgia,.

Myth 3. “I will vote for it because of the schools and the kids.” - Becoming a city has nothing to do with schools or children. Gwinnett County will continue to provide public education, as they do in every city except Buford which has always had its own school system.

Myth #4.  “More sidewalks.” - Not true. Roads and sidewalks will continue to be handled by Gwinnett County.

Myth #5. “It will keep the taxes down.” - Not true. Taxes will be raised not only for property taxes, but ad valorem on cars as well, plus franchise fees and a 2% tax on power bills, which we do  not have now.

Myth #6.  “It will keep out development and businesses we don’t want.” - This is nebulous and debatable. Zoning in place cannot change and current county zoning is totally adequate.

Myth #7.It will raise our home values.” - Pure speculation. The economy, the home itself and location determine home prices.

Myth #8. “Voting No is no option. - Of course it is.

Myth #9. “Peachtree Corners will disappear if we are not a city.” - Of course not.

Myth #10.   “Vacant buildings will fill up.” - Really. How would this happen?

Myth #11. “We will be annexed into Norcross.”  - Not unless a majority of residents vote to do this.

Myth #12. “We will get away from Gwinnett County.”  - Not true. Gwinnett County will continue to provide all services except planning and zoning, trash collection and code enforcement. County taxes will not go down/

Now, let’s look at the facts.

Fact #1. “Taxes will go up.” - VoteYes supporters admit this. City taxes are zero now and can be raised. The tax on power bills is zero now - it will go to 2%. Franchise and business license fees can and will be raised. Ad valorem taxes on vehicles will be raised.

Fact #2. “Another layer of government will be added.” - What is another layer of government if not a mayor, city council and dozens of city employees.

Fact # 3. “We don’t need a city.” - We don’t need a city because Gwinnett County performs all the services the new city would perform, with no increase in taxes.

Become an informed voter. Read the facts, and ignore the myths.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

AJC Op Ed Piece on the Proposed City of Peachtree Corners

On October 19th, an Op Ed piece on the new city was published by the AJC.  Here is an excerpt:

“Shall the Act incorporating the City of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County according to the charter contained in the Act be approved?” The “act” in question is Georgia House Bill 396, a compilation of nearly 35 pages of legalese otherwise known as “the charter.”

What this really means is that you aren’t just voting on the innocuous-sounding idea of a “limited-services” city; you are voting on the charter, a document which lays the groundwork for the formation of a full-fledged taxing, spending and regulating city.

Posted By: Ali

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Full List of 29 "Services" the New City of Peachtree Corners Plans to Provide

The proposed City of Peachtree Corners is billed as a “City-lite”.  The City will focus on 3 services: planning and zoning, code enforcement and solid waste disposal.  This seems pretty limited on the surface, but a quick read of the Charter shows that these services are really a very small part of the story.  Section 1.12 of the Charter lists the following “services” or “powers” the new government would provide the citizenry of Peachtree Corners:

1. Animal regulations...

2. Appropriations and expenditures. To make appropriations … to authorize the expenditure of money for any purposes authorized by this charter and for any purpose for which a municipality is authorized by the laws of the State of Georgia…

3. Building regulation. To regulate and to license the erection and construction of buildings and all other structures; to adopt building, housing, plumbing, electrical, gas, and heating and air-conditioning codes; and to regulate all housing and building trades...

4. Contracts. To enter into contracts and agreements with other governmental entities and with private persons, firms, and corporations...

5. Emergencies. To establish procedures for determining and proclaiming that an emergency situation exists within or outside the city and to make and carry out all reasonable provisions deemed necessary…

6. Environmental protection. To protect and preserve the natural resources, environment, and vital areas of the state through the preservation and improvement …

7. Fire regulations. To fix and establish fire limits and from time to time to extend, enlarge, or restrict the same…

8. General health, safety, and welfare. To define, regulate, and prohibit any act, practice, conduct, or use of property which is detrimental…

9. Gifts. To accept or refuse gifts, donations, bequests, or grants from any source for any purpose related to powers and duties of the city…

10. Health and sanitation. To prescribe standards of health and sanitation and to provide for the enforcement of such standards…

11. Jail sentences. To provide that persons given jail sentences in the municipal court may work out such sentences in any public works or on the streets, roads, drains, and other public property in the city; to provide for commitment of such persons to any jail; or to provide for commitment of such persons to any county work camp or county jail by agreement with the appropriate county officials…

12. Municipal agencies and delegation of power. To create, alter, or abolish departments, boards, offices, commissions, and agencies of the city and to confer upon such agencies the necessary and appropriate authority for carrying out all the powers conferred upon or delegated to the same…

13. Municipal debts. To appropriate and borrow money for the payment of debts of the city and to issue bonds for the purpose of raising revenue to carry out any project, program, or venture… 

14. Municipal property ownership. To acquire, dispose of, lease, and hold in trust or otherwise any real, personal, or mixed property…

15. Municipal property protection. To provide for the preservation and protection of property and equipment of the city and the administration…

16. Nuisance. To define a nuisance and provide for its abatement whether on public or private property…

17. Penalties. To provide penalties for violation of any ordinances…

18. Planning and zoning. To provide comprehensive city planning for development by zoning; and to provide subdivision regulation and the like as the city council deems necessary…

19. Public hazards removal. To provide for the destruction and removal of any building or other structure…

20. Public improvements. To provide for the acquisition, construction, building, operation, and maintenance of parks and playgrounds, public grounds, recreational facilities, public buildings, and charitable, cultural, educational, recreational, conservation, and sport institutions, agencies, and facilities; and to regulate the use of public improvements…

21. Public utilities and services. To grant franchises or make contracts for or impose taxes on public utilities and public service companies and to prescribe the rates, fares, regulations…

22. Regulation of roadside areas. To prohibit or regulate and control the erection, removal, and maintenance of signs, billboards, trees, shrubs, fences, buildings, and any and all other structures…

23. Retirement. To provide and maintain a retirement plan for officers and employees of the city…

24. Roadways. To grant franchises and rights of way throughout the streets and roads and over the bridges and viaducts…

25. Special areas of public regulation. To regulate or prohibit junk dealers, pawn shops, the manufacture, sale, or transportation of any intoxicating liquors, alcoholic beverages, and the use of firearms; to regulate the transportation, storage, and use of combustible, explosive, and inflammable materials, the use of lighting and heating equipment, and any other business or situation…

26. Special assessments. To levy and provide for the collection of special assessments to cover the costs for any public improvements…

27. Taxes: ad valorem. To levy and provide for the assessment, valuation, revaluation, and collection of taxes on all property…

28. Taxes: other. To levy and collect such other taxes as may be allowed now or in the future by law…

29. Taxicabs. To regulate and license vehicles operated for hire…

All of these "services" and "powers" require employees, offices, computers, networks, switchboards, transportation, maintenance equipment, maintenance employees, code enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors,  benefits, human resources, payroll, accounting, collections, contracts managers, etc. etc. etc. 

Ask yourself how long one mil will pay the bills on all this? How much debt will the new city incur in start up costs alone?  How long will a mayor of the largest city in Gwinnett with all this responsibility work for $9,000 a year?

Posted by: Ali

Yes versus No - Point and Counter Point

YES SIDE: Peachtree Corners is a unique community, a great place to live, work, and play. While some expect the success of the past to continue, many of your neighbors recognize that they must act now to assure the community remains a great place to live. That means becoming a city.
Why do we need to become a city? Self‐determination. Shouldn’t we make the decisions that impact our property values and quality of life, just like the citizens of Berkeley Lake, Duluth and Norcross? No one could argue that those cities do not take actions to improve the property values of their citizens. Annexation attempts by those Cities will not stop because of the tax revenue available from the higher property values in Peachtree Corners. If annexation attempts are successful, we will lose zoning control of those areas and our property values will be affected. Some areas of our 40 year old community need revitalization. Who should we trust with that effort: the County, the surrounding cities, or the citizens of this community? By becoming a city, we will have the legal boundaries needed to stop annexation and the legal basis to determine our own future.

NO SIDE: We agree that we have a beautiful and vibrant community, but our community is our neighborhood and its surrounding area.  The proposed city encompasses Mechanicsville and parts of Doraville.  Its boundaries extend from Buford Hwy to the River and to Winters Chapel Rd.   Counting our community in the proposed new city will certainly help the property values of some of these places.  If we are really looking for a more prestigious and potentially property-value enhancing label, lobbying to become part of Berkeley Lake would serve us better than a new Peachtree Corners moniker.  (The dam is now fully funded by FEMA and not a burden to the tax payers there).
Are we in danger of being annexed? No.  Under GA code, there are 5 ways that a community might be annexed by a nearby municipality.  The first 4 require a vote by the residents to be annexed.  The last is the only way lands can be annexed without a vote by the residents.  But it only applies to areas of unincorporated land completely surrounded by an existing municipality and thus it does not apply to us.

YES SIDE: What services will our City provide? The three services the City will provide are planning and zoning, code enforcement and solid waste disposal. These are the key quality of life services that allow us to most economically influence our property values. All other government services will be provided by Gwinnett County, as they are today. This concept of a limited service city leverages Gwinnett County for services requiring economies of scale and allows the community to provide services that are best done locally. As a result, the overall cost of government is lower and assures the lowest total tax bill to the citizens.

NO SIDE: What about those great services?  The proposed city does have a limited number of services it will offer to start.  But the charter allows for easy growth beyond that.  It discusses buying buildings and land, creating parks, hiring personnel, and entering into contracts as the officers deem necessary.  In fact the feasibility study anticipates the need to create a municipal court, hire a judge, and provide infrastructure to hear cases under the new city power of code enforcement.  The study states that most municipal courts derive only 2-4% of revenues from code enforcement fines so to cover operating cost of the court additional jurisdiction would need to be granted.  Ask yourself a simple question about our community—Are there massive problems with the maintenance or aesthetics of property that can only be solved through a new city bureaucracy and guys writing tickets or making arrests?

YES SIDE: What does it cost? We will have an increase in property taxes of up to 1 mil (.001) on the assessed value of all real property. For example, a $300,000 home would have a tax of $120 per year, or $10 per month. Our maximum 1 mil rate compares favorably to Berkeley Lake, 5.386; Duluth, 5.992; and Norcross, 6.424. Solid waste disposal would provide a significant savings. All Gwinnett citizens pay $18 per month for trash pickup. Most citizens pay an additional $10 per month for yard waste, for a total of $28 per month. An estimate from a current trash hauler for comparable service was $15‐$16 per month, representing a $144 per year savings. There would also be a small increase in franchise fees on our electric, phone, cable, and gas bills. We already pay certain franchise fees, and those will now go to the City, instead of to the other entities.

NO SIDE: What about cost?  Initially property taxes will increase by one mill for all residential and business properties:
1. Business taxes and fees support residential services. If not enough businesses stay in PC, the City will likely borrow to make ends meet and then call for a tax increase vote.
2. The charter authorizes PC City to add-on to ad valorem tax for vehicles, boats, trailers, motorcycles, etc.
3. Franchise fees on utilities can and will be increased.
4. These increased costs to local businesses would be passed along in the form of higher prices to us.
5. There is no new garbage plan contract guaranteeing a lower price. There is a hope it can become cheaper.
6. Once the City incorporates, it must negotiate a Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) with the County.  There is no County tax relief for Redundant services.

The charter gives the city council the rights to set fees, assessments, and to issue debt bonds.  It reserves the right to spend money with impunity and we have seen what happens when a government can spend at will without the means to fund it—big debt.   The city will need buildings, IT infrastructure, employees, employee benefits including retirement, legal council and more to operate.  We already bought these things once for the County.  Why buy them again for a city?

YES SIDE: Why isn’t “doing nothing” an option? Ignoring the challenges that we face by “doing nothing” will leave us vulnerable to the actions and decisions of others. Historically, we have assumed our County Commissioner would always be an advocate for Peachtree Corners. But they are only 1 vote out of 5 on a County Commission increasingly focused on a shrinking budget. And, they may not always be from Peachtree Corners. Our volunteer effort, the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association, cannot sustain the effort to raise private funds for community beautification, create a community master plan for revitalization, and fend off annexation attempts. If we do nothing, we lose this unique opportunity to determine our own future.

NO SIDE: Beware of those diabolic “others”?  The Yes-folk declare we cannot “do nothing” and leave our fate to the County as we have historically done.  Presumably that is because those politicians are more diabolical and out-to-get us than any politicians that might use offices closer might be.  The notion that the United Peachtree Corners Civic Association needs/wants money is not a reason to build a city, for certain. Vote NO on a city.  It’s a sure thing.  A yes vote is just a hope that by some miracle this new government will be better than any other we deal with on a regular basis.  

Posted By: Ali

Five Concerns for Business Owners in Proposed City of Peachtree Corners

1. Occupation and Business Taxes - The city council by ordinance shall have the power to levy such occupation or business taxes… (Charter section 6.12)

2. Licenses, Permits, and Fees - The city council by ordinance shall have the power to require businesses or practitioners doing business in this city to obtain a permit for such activity from the city and pay a regulatory fee for such permit… (Charter Section 6.13)

3. Franchises (AKA Utility Taxes) - The city council shall have the power to grant franchises for the use of this city's streets and alleys for the purposes of railroads, street railways, telephone companies, electric companies, electric membership corporations, cable television and other telecommunications companies, gas companies, transportation companies, and other similar organizations.  (Charter Section 6.14)

4. Service Charges - The city council by ordinance shall have the power to assess and collect fees, charges, and tolls for services provided or made available within and outside the corporate limits of the city… (Charter Section 6.15)

5.Other Taxes (AKA catch-all the taxes you can) - This city shall be empowered to levy any other tax or fee allowed now or hereafter by law… (Charter Section 6.17)

All of these taxes, fees, licenses, and charges are ways for the new city to fund any shortfalls that a low one mil property tax does not fund.  Business owners can expect to pay higher fees and be nickel-n-dimed to death by “enforcers” out to fill the city coffer.  We have already seen several businesses petition Norcross for annexation to avoid coming under a new city hostile to business. 

Posted By: Ali

If There is a City, Will My Home Value Increase?

In today's economic environment this statement holds no water. Your values are going to be based on what someone is willing to pay for your home.  It's all a matter of supply and demand. One other thing to mention is location. In real estate we use the terminology location, location, location. In some instances, having a home inside the city limits will be a deterrent. I look to my friends who live in John's Creek, who are now wishing they were still unincorporated Fulton County.

The vote is on November the 8th.  The other item on the ballot the SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) It is a one cent sales tax that goes directly to the schools.  Invest in good schools.  Good schools will support your home values.

Posted By: Louie

How Easy is it for the New City to Raise Taxes?

The Yes-folk point to the charter provision that requires a referendum in order to increase property taxes or add services not already reserved in the charter.  But, it is all too easy to put issues on a ballot in an “off-year” election year and have them pass with very few votes. 

For example, earlier this year Charlotte Nash was elected to the Gwinnett County Commission to complete the term vacated by the disgraced Charles Bannister.  It was an "off-year" election. There are 155 precincts in Gwinnett County. Historically, the precinct with the highest turnout has been the one at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church.  Charlotte Nash won 51% of the vote at that precinct, and she only had 74 votes.  I'll type it again in case you thought it was a typo- 74 votes.  The other three challengers on the ballot had 72 votes between them.  Of 2000 voters registered to that precinct, only 151 (less than 8%) turned out to vote.  If Peachtree Corners becomes a city, there will be an estimated 21,000 voters in PC.  If there is an off-year election to add services and/ or raise taxes, and only 8% of the voters turnout, all it would take is for 850 people to vote yes, and the rest of us would be paying higher taxes.

When I bring this up, the Yes-folk scold me for lacking faith in my neighbors.  I love you guys, but I know how busy our lives are.  It is easy to miss these off-year votes.  This is especially true when the government desiring the tax increase can fund the spin on information and a get-out-the-supporter-vote effort.  Any opposition will have to be quickly organized and would have no funds to support it.

Posted By Ali

Quick Facts About Proposed City of Peachtree Corners

  1. There will be a special election on November 8th to decide whether or not to make Peachtree Corners a city.
  2. If approved, The City of Peachtree Corners would be the largest of Gwinnett County’s 16 cities with approx. 38,000 residents.
  3. The borders of the city would extend from Winters Chapel Rd in the south to Duluth in the north and from Buford Hwy. in the east to the Chattahoochee River in the west.
  4. The city will be funded by up to a 1 mil increase in your property taxes ($120/ yr on a $300,000 house). There will be a corresponding increase in your ad valorem taxes, meaning the tags for your cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, trailers, etc. will be more expensive.
  5. The city will also collect franchise fees on utilities such as telephone, cable tv, natural gas and electricity.
  6. The city only plans to offer three services: zoning, code enforcement and trash service.
  7. The city will need to establish a municipal court in order to levy and collect fines for zoning and code violations.
  8. The city can issue bonds and incur debt to build a city hall.
  9. The city can supply cars to employees and fund their retirement accounts.
  10. Trash service will still be billed separately on your property taxes, as it is now.
  11. If you don’t currently buy the optional ‘lawn trash’ service from your hauler, the city’s plan will not save you any money.
  12. The city doesn’t even have a trash plan, just a hope they can negotiate a better deal. 
  13. You can’t be annexed unless you petition or vote to be annexed. In some cases, you must petition AND vote.
These Quick Facts will soon be available in a brochure.  Email to order brochures to distribute to your friends and neighbors.

Posted by: Bob

Five Methods of Annexation and How They Work

In the current debate over cityhood for Peachtree Corners, much has been said and written on the matter of annexation. Some have declared, apparently with omnipotent knowledge, that if we don’t incorporate we WILL be annexed. Others have hysterically claimed that we will be ‘gobbled up’ by one or more of our neighboring cities and Peachtree Corners would ‘cease to exist’.

Missing from the discussion is the truth about how annexation happens. There are five methods by which land can be annexed into a city, briefly explained below:

1. Local Legislation Method: the General Assembly can amend a city’s charter and annex land into the city. But if the area is more than 50% residential, or the population exceeds 500 people, the annexation must be approved by referendum.

2. 100 Percent Method: must be initiated by the ‘written and signed applications of all the owners of land’ proposed to be annexed.

3. 60 Percent Method: requires written and signed applications from at least 60% of the voters AND the owners of at least 60% of the land.

4. Resolution and Referendum Method: by resolution of the annexing city AND referendum of the voters in the area to be annexed.

5. Annexation of Unincorporated Islands: only applies to areas of unincorporated land surrounded by an existing municipality.

There are additional qualifications to each of these methods regarding the amount of contiguous borders, crossing publicly owned lands, crossing rivers, etc, that are more technical than the needs of this discussion. If you would like to read more legalese on the subject check the resources are of our Blog.

Bottom line- don’t let the proponents of cityhood scare you into believing that you will annexed into Norcross (or Duluth, Berkeley Lake, Johns Creek or Dunwoody) against your will. You will get the chance to vote on any such annexation.

Posted By: Bob