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Thoughts on the Opportunity School District

As most of you know, I have a keen interest in public education, and so, I have been closely following the debate about the Constitutional Amendment (Amendment #1 on the November ballot) to create the “Opportunity School District” (OSD).

Those for the amendment seem to focus on the limited nature of the OSD.  The OSD can only ever include 100 schools and can take in no more than 20 schools in any given year.  Schools can’t remain in the OSD in perpetuity and eventually must be returned to the district.  Advocates stress the urgency of the problem and make the claim that over 68,000 students are trapped in perpetually failing schools.

Those against the amendment focus on the loss of “local control” of education.  They accuse the OSD as being “more government”.

I continue to be amazed that we do not research how other states hold districts and schools accountable for their results and financial stewardship.  There are some successful models all around.

I wish my friends on the right would take note of the conservative states that have much more robust state systems of accountability and accreditation than Georgia.  I wish everyone would ask why public schools are not accredited by the state based on a system of achievement metrics and financial stewardship rules.  The state of Texas has such a system. (Click here to read about the powers the state has when districts and schools fail children and/or taxpayers.)  In Texas, the state also has broad power to intervene in failing schools and districts, including state monitors, conservators, or even dissolving a wasteful and ineffective school district.  They take these steps every year.  If we were to adopt such a system, we wouldn’t even need to discuss the OSD.  Their system of accountability, and those of many other states, make our state Department of Education look downright useless.

Back to the issue at hand.

My thought about the local control argument is this:  If you fund your school district solely using local funds, then I think that the state should have absolutely no voice or influence in your district.  Zip.  Zero.

So long as a district receives state funding, the state has an obligation to represent the interests of the taxpayers of the state to ensure that our tax dollars are being used effectively and efficiently.  Why should taxpayers from Ellijay pay for failure and mismanagement in DeKalb?  Why should someone from Alpharetta be forced to invest in the mess and procurement scandals that go on in Bibb County?  Why don’t they get a say so?  After all, it’s their money.  Don’t they have a right to make some demands?  Really, shouldn’t every Georgian be making that demand?

It is ironic to me that a number of high performing districts have stated they oppose the OSD.  What is the argument they have against preventing your tax dollars from being wasted by bloated, ineffective bureaucracies that are failing children?

It appears to me that the policy of the state of Georgia, and all those that are opposed to protecting the taxpayers and kids from failure and waste can be summarized as this:  We demand that you subsidize failure.

With every dollar of state taxpayer money sent to these failing districts, we only purchase more failure and waste.  Don’t you think if these districts could have fixed these schools, they would have done so by now?  What is motivating their recent concern for improving achievement in their worst schools?  Even the possibility of an OSD has had a profound effect.

We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  I’m quite sure the OSD won’t be perfect.  I’m sure it will have some successes and failures.  But put yourself in the shoes of a single mom, with limited resources who is made, by government, to send her child to a persistently failing school.  She is forced to see a parade of incompetent leaders and teachers come and go while nothing improves, because the school district has become a jobs program and a cash cow for vendors.  And no one holds the district accountable for failing so many moms like this.  What do we say to her?  How do we allow the system to keep up this abuse of the vulnerable parents and children in these situations?  They deserve for us to do something.  We must try.

My only issue with the OSD is that it doesn’t go far enough.  We need a complete overhaul in the way our state thinks about education and accountability to children and taxpayers.  The OSD is a step in the right direction.  I hope there are many more to come.

Big Tax Increases on the Horizon?

The county is on the precipice of setting in motion a serious of events that could substantially raise your property taxes.

It has come to light that if the county puts a SPLOST referendum on the ballot this November, and it passes, the property assessment freeze will cease to be in effect.  We know this now based on a recent review by legislative counsel of HB 596.  The legal opinion concluded that:

“…HB 596 serves to suspend the homestead valuation freeze currently in effect in DeKalb County if the new HOST and a Splost are approved in the November election.”

That means that 10 years of increases in your property value, which have been shielded from county and city taxes, will instantly become taxable.  You will be providing the county and cities with a sales tax and property tax windfall.

As you know, I have expressed my opposition to the SPLOST because the county’s project list shortchanges real needs (paving and public safety) while spending heavily on pet projects.

Now, the stakes are even higher.  At this point, even if the project list was perfect, bringing this SPLOST forward for a vote in November is irresponsible.  To go forward would mean a devastating tax increase on 10 years of property value growth that has been shielded.

Unfortunately, the county has asked the cities to support the SPLOST referendum.  I have been disappointed that, even before the HB 596 problem became apparent, many cities have already agreed to support the county.

If the county can get every single city to agree, they can extend the tax for another year – 6 years in total.  Many city council members from cities in District 1 have expressed to me that if they agree to an “Intergovernmental Agreement” (IGA), they’ll get a more favorable distribution of the SPLOST tax revenue.  The members often tell me that they have suggested the county improve its project list.  I’m sure the county has taken their suggestion seriously.

Keep in mind, for every dollar of sales tax collected, 75-cents will go to the county and 25-cents will get divided up between the cities (Decatur, Lithonia, Pine Lake, Chamblee, Clarkston, Doraville, Tucker, Brookhaven, Dunwoody, and Stone Mountain).  For example, Brookhaven and Dunwoody will receive approximately 7-cents from each dollar of SPLOST.  Nonetheless, they believe it is in their cities interest to get a small increase in their SPLOST revenue, even if 75% of what you are paying is going to the wasteful county project list.  It’s like thanking a pickpocket for giving you a stick of gum while he takes your wallet.

But now, we are a long way from haggling how to divide up a few cents on the margin.  We are at the point where enacting a SPLOST will trigger a massive property tax increase.

Enter the Intergovernmental Agree (IGA) issue.  The only city that has yet to sign on and execute an IGA is Dunwoody.  If Dunwoody, agrees to move forward with an IGA, then your risk for a sustained property tax increase just got bigger.  If Dunwoody agrees to the IGA, the county can call the SPLOST referendum in November, and because all cities will have agreed, the term of the sales tax will be extended to 6 years.

Dunwoody City Council will meet on Monday, July 18th, to decide whether or not to sign the county’s IGA.  Those that want to sign the IGA have suggested that it’s good for Dunwoody because it improves their SPLOST revenue by $1.5 million over the 6 year period – the county’s “sweetener” to get the city on board.  I have heard the suggestion that this problem can get “fixed” in the next legislative session.  Are you willing to “hope” that this gets fixed?  Are you willing to take that risk with so much of your money on the table?

If Dunwoody signs the IGA it allows the city to be used as a pawn by the county in a game that has serious wasteful and taxation implications. Worst of all, if this goes forward to the ballot and passes, your property taxes will go through the roof.  And, Dunwoody will have agreed to give them an extra year on that one, all in exchange for a few more of your dollars over 6 years.

Please let your Dunwoody councilmember hear you on this matter.  We cannot encourage the county to move forward with such a risky and flawed proposal.  We cannot support the removal of the assessment freeze.  I hope that you will join me in my efforts to oppose this.

County SPLOST Proposal – Unacceptable

I have been asked to share my thoughts on the proposed SPLOST list. In its current form, the proposed SPLOST list is unacceptable to me. To sum up why:

  • The county’s current proposed SPLOST project list is filled with “wants” while shortchanging “needs”.
  • Less than 50% of the SPLOST list is focused on the original intent of the legislation – funding road paving and infrastructure repairs.
  • The current SPLOST list proposes to use almost 10% of all SPLOST collections to fund a new, large government center complex.

Here’s how your sales tax in DeKalb is currently assessed:

DeKalb Sales Tax is 7%. Here’s the breakdown:

4% is a State of Georgia sales tax
1% is an Education SPLOST that goes to the DeKalb school district
1% is a tax that goes to MARTA
1% is a HOST (80% goes to property tax relief / 20% goes to infrastructure funding)
7% Sales Tax in DeKalb

So – why is there a proposal to add another penny?

The 2014 DeKalb County Operations Task Force recommended that our DeKalb County Legislative Delegation pass a bill allowing for the county to call a referendum to correct a growing inequity in the distribution of the HOST tax proceeds. Increasingly, due to the way the funding formula works, the majority of that 20% for infrastructure was going to cities. The county struggled with the loss of these funds and road maintenance suffered. The motivation behind the legislation (HB 215) that allows for the SPLOST referendum was:

  1. To give even more property tax relief to homeowners (convert the HOST property tax penny to 100% property tax relief) and,
  2. To create more infrastructure funding by adding another penny sales tax – all subject to the approval of voters in a countywide referendum.

Why I oppose the current SPLOST proposal:

In theory I favor replacing property tax with sales tax. I am also sympathetic to the unfortunate skew in HOST fund distribution. I am strongly in agreement with the motivation of legislators to help fund a robust road paving program. Sadly, as the county prepares the referendum question for the ballot, the proposed list of SPLOST projects has grown to include pet projects and monuments to government bureaucracy. This includes new parks, libraries, and an exceedingly large new government center – a Taj Mahal monument to ineffective government.

In addition to mission creep in the SPLOST list, important and defensible public safety improvements receive less funding than needed. Our police and fire departments both need new training facilities, yet SPLOST only proposes to fund 40% of this need. Fire Stations located within the city limits of any city have been removed no matter their current state of disrepair. Keep in mind, most fire stations within city limits serve areas that include multiple jurisdictions including multiple cities and unincorporated DeKalb. You should also note that you pay fire service tax to the county to protect life and property even as the county refuses to build or rebuild stations that are necessary to protect you.

I hope that elected officials in the county, the cities, and our legislature won’t be distracted by or focused on “wants” but rather “needs” as they evaluate the SPLOST proposal. I hope that our partners in city government won’t support a county referendum that provides them a new source of tax dollars for their city while burdening DeKalb’s taxpayers in all of the county, including cities, with a project as wasteful as a new government center. I hope that all elected officials will understand the county must focus on repairing the broken infrastructure that everyone must endure instead of adding more capital (Government Centers, parks, libraries, etc.) to an inventory of assets that are already poorly maintained.

We can consider a SPLOST that is serious about paving roads and addressing public safety. We must adhere to the original rationale for this proposal – paving and repairing roads and infrastructure. I will not support a SPLOST, raising your taxes, to fund pork barrel spending of any sort.

NO on e-SPLOST – Here’s Why

On May 24th voters across DeKalb will see an e-SPLOST referendum on their ballot. If approved, it will be the fifth, 5-year e-SPLOST program for DeKalb County School District. What have we gotten for the almost $2 billion, over 20 years, of the e-SPLOST program? What can we expect from an e-SPLOST V?

I was on the Board of Education when e-SPLOST IV was designed and won approval. I voted no as a Board member to even take the referendum to the voters because the design was based on inaccurate assumptions and did not address the growing capacity needs of the district. I warned in 2011 that we were sentencing over a generation of children to attend schools in trailers for their entire school career.

I specifically asked that a new elementary school be built along the Buford Highway Corridor. I asked for the district to add capacity to the Dunwoody cluster, where elementary school trailers have been sitting for more than a decade, the middle school was built too small over parent objections in e-SPLOST III, and the high school isn’t prepared for the growing number of classrooms it will soon need.

I see a pattern in past e-SPLOSTs that left children, teachers, and taxpayers worse-off in aggregate despite the almost $2 billion we all paid to improve and expand our county’s schools. This pattern has existed across multiple superintendents. Despite the spending and relatively stable student population (hovering around +/-100K students), the use of trailers has grown over the years. The building needs also grow over the years because of your assets receive almost no maintenance and care.

All the spending to improve the learning environment has done little to improve academic aggregate outcomes in DeKalb. In addition to the poor aggregate achievement levels in DeKalb Schools, the one other consistent feature of the district has been the administrative staff. Yes, each new superintendent has brought in a few new people. Some of them have been a welcome change. Unfortunately, the district is plagued by the quiet undercurrent of perennial administrators that have been influential across multiple superintendents. And, no one should be shocked to learn that the exact same two outside consulting firms that brought you the last e-SPLOST debacle are also providing the guidance for e-SPLOST V.

These same failed administrators are now quietly advising the new superintendent behind the scenes and designing e-SPLOST V. Why should we expect anything different from the same people who have been so consistently incompetent, wrong, and biased? On what basis could anyone believe they should be the architects of the next e-SPLOST program? There’s a word for doing the same thing and expecting different results.

I call the current approach for e-SPLOST V, the “Kitchen Sink” referendum. Every school in DeKalb is listed as a potential for everything. The message:

“Vote for e-SPLOST V because you might get a new school. Or you might get an upgrade. Or nothing. But you have to play to find out. Go ahead, spin the wheel, and let’s see what DeKalb has in store for you. What could go wrong? And remember – It’s for the children.”

Yep, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink language right onto your May 24th ballot. The usual list of naïve and political operators are out there trying to rally support for this ridiculous referendum. There are the Charlie Browns who keep trying to kick that ball even as the rest of us know Lucy is going to yank that ball away every time. There’s the shrewd political types who received promises behind closed doors that their interests will be protected.

Hope is not a method and backroom deals are proof that e-SPLOST has never been about children. It certainly has never even been as simple as trying to put permanent roofs over our students’ heads. It’s been run by the same people with the same failed track record for years.

DeKalb Schools have seen their operating and capital coffers swell with your money as the economy has recovered. Very little has trickled down to the classroom. With all the resources that are at hand, their shouldn’t be a leaky roof, a broken HVAC system, moldy ceiling tiles, or the need for parents to send in basic cleaning supplies. But, sadly, these situations remain.

It needs to be stated and discussed that the school district has morphed, e-SPLOST, into a maintenance program as well. Even worse, the district spends your taxes on new capital projects that it doesn’t maintain. The school district should be dedicating millage to maintenance so that this cost is not shifted to an e-SPLOST program. This protects your investment.

• Until the school district replaces the failed administrators that have brought us to this low point;
• Until the school district gives us a concrete schedule of building projects for e-SPLOST V;
• Until the school district ends it’s opaque, uncooperative attitude, until the school district properly attends to the maintenance of the assets it already has;

Just say NO to this tax. The district will only make change when the spigot is turned off for a while. I’m voting no until the school district cleans up its act and gives me a firm project list. To vote otherwise is to embolden the incompetent bureaucrats who have brought you here and enable the continued trend of putting special, political interests ahead of what is in the best interests of children and taxpayers.

TAD Talk

On Tuesday (5/3/16) the Chair of the DeKalb Board of Education, Melvin Johnson, was interviewed for “Closer Look” on WABE, 90.1.

Click here to read the transcript or listen to the interview.

The interview was striking because of the blatantly false statements made by the Chair of the Board or Education and his refusal to understand the basics of school finance, how a TAD works, and the financial realities of the project.

Early in the interview, Dr. Johnson said, “all funds generated by tax dollars should go to student learning.”  He went on to say, “We are judged by how we manage our funds.  We are judged by the product and student outcomes.”  That sounds wonderful, right?

Sadly, DeKalb Schools does not even comply with state law requiring 65% of total operating expenditures be spent on “direct classroom expenditures”. And, our weak state Department of Education hands out waivers like candy.  The state legislature should really do something about that.  But, I digress.

For Chairman Johnson to say “all funds…should go to student learning” is duplicitous given the fact that such a low percentage of taxpayer dollars actually make it into the classroom.  Furthermore, Dr. Johnson hasn’t exactly been a faithful advocate for improving the percentage of your taxes actually going into the classroom.  Nope, he and the majority, kept right on spending your money on bloating the bureaucracy.  The district also has some interesting procurement habits but I’ll save that for another blog.  And while they were spending all your money for the benefit of adults and not “for the children”, they accumulated a mountain of cash.  As of the end of February 2016, DeKalb Schools has over $225 million in operating reserve cash.  For the same period the capital fund reserve is over $260 million.  With money like that, why aren’t your classrooms at half the size?  Why aren’t teachers getting bigger raises?  Why are your kids in trailers anywhere?  Why do you have to buy toilet paper to send to your kid’s school?

If they aren’t going to spend it on the classroom, they could always give us a tax cut.  DeKalb is one of only a handful of districts that can even tax over 20 mils. Right now, we’re paying 23.73 mils.  Do you think that extra 3.73 mils is helping?  If it was, wouldn’t we see fewer schools on the OSD list rather than the net +3 that were added as targets for state takeover?  DeKalb has more schools on that list than any other district.

Dr. Johnson confidently told the interviewers, DeKalb has made improvements in graduation statistics.  Yep.  That’s right.  It’s also right for every single district in the state.  Why?  Because last year, the state removed the graduation test requirement.  Naturally, the graduation metrics increased throughout Georgia.  This has nothing to do with improvements in education.

When asked by Rose Scott, “Do you feel like the board has really vetted the opportunities, talked to all the major players involved here?”  Dr. Johnson replied, “…..We have met with Mr. Perry, the developer.  We met with the Mayor and her staff of Doraville and many others discussing options and opportunities in this regard.”  That is interesting because the developer nor the city has met with the Board of Education about this matter.  In fact, the developer and city officials have been discouraged from even meeting with school board members individually.  How can your elected officials be expected to make decisions without being fully informed of the facts?

Stunningly, Chairman Johnson stated the school board would be at a loss for a million dollars a month with the TAD.  But, we know that the current taxes paid to the school district from the property is $936,000 annually.  With a TAD, the school district would keep collecting every dime of taxes they currently receive.

Next, in addition to Dr. Johnson’s financial fabrications, he went straight to fear mongering.  In a blatant attempt to manipulate public sentiment, and threaten teachers, he suggested there is some relationship between taxes “lost” at this site and the need to lay off teachers.  That is absurd and shameful.

What is most troubling is that the school board and administration do not seem to understand that this isn’t a choice about (1) TAD versus (2) No TAD.  The choice is between TAD or Tax Abatements (via a development authority deal).  Keep in mind, the abatements are given by The Development Authority and not one elected official gets a vote. The choice is between a development that has the capital ability to fund the major public infrastructure improvements to develop a commercially rich tax base that helps fund all of DeKalb (TAD) – or – a development funded through tax abatements dropping in more apartments and less high value commercial real estate.  The apartments will bring more students to the already overcrowded schools.  And with the abatement strategy, they really won’t get one dime in taxes to help provide services for those students.  The schools will get nothing except more potential expenses.

Is it too much to ask that our school district spend our tax dollars in the classroom and have a modicum of financial fluency?…

New “Pension Legacy” Tax Proposed – Urgent Legislative Alert – House Bill 711

Double Taxation – the fallacy of pension legacy costs.

I am writing to alert you to a potential property tax increase coming from the Georgia General Assembly.  House Bill 711, sponsored by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Druid Hills), seeks to add a special tax district to cities formed after 2005.  Rep. Oliver believes that newly formed cities owe, what she refers to as, “pension legacy costs”.  The notion that these legacy costs exist is false and here’s why.

  1. Newly formed cities continue to pay fully into the General Fund and the Fire Fund. Embedded in these funds are the costs for benefits, including pensions for the employees providing these services.
  1. Newly formed cities continue to pay fully into the self-sustaining funds of Sanitation and Watershed. Embedded in these funds are the costs for benefits, including pensions for the employees providing these services.
  1. DeKalb County lowered the millage rate for the Police Fund (a fund newly formed cities do not pay into) in the 2015 budget.
  1. DeKalb County did not reform the pension benefit system until December 2015 – 7 years after the formation of Dunwoody.
  1. DeKalb County used unrealistic actuarial assumptions that negatively impacted funding.

If DeKalb County believed there was a crisis in the pension plan, chiefly driven by the new cities no longer paying into the police fund, why would the county lower the police fund millage rate in 2015?  If the county believed that the crisis was caused by newly formed cities, why did pension reform not occur until just a few months ago in December of 2015?

House Bill 711 is only directed at newly formed cities.  It is punitive, based on false assumptions, and is not congruent with the facts.  Make no mistake about it, it is a discriminatory tax aimed at Brookhaven and Dunwoody.  It is a bailout that would allow DeKalb County to continue poor fiscal management.  It creates a liability for new residents and business for a service they never received.  Imagine an entirely new property tax layered onto the commercial engine of the region – the Perimeter market – and the affect that would have on business, growth, and sales tax revenue to the county, schools, and state.  House Bill 711 is wrong and would have dire economic consequences for the region and state if passed.

*******

House Bill 711 is currently in the House Governmental Affairs Committee.  Here is a list of emails for the members of that committee and the committee staff.

bruce.williamson@house.ga.gov

tom.taylor@house.ga.gov

betty.price@house.ga.gov

jay.powell@house.ga.gov

alanpowell23@hotmail.com

mmo@mmolaw.com

howard.mosby@house.ga.gov

john.meadows@house.ga.gov

ronnie.mabra@house.ga.gov

eddie.lumsden@house.ga.gov

rusty.kidd@house.ga.gov

dustin.hightower@house.ga.gov

hughfloyd@mindspring.com

barry.fleming@house.ga.gov

amy.carter@house.ga.gov

darlene.taylor@house.ga.gov

buzz.brockway@house.ga.gov

erynders@bellsouth.net

craig.foster@house.ga.gov  (Policy Analyst)

michelle.spearman@house.ga.gov (Admin. Assistant)

*******

Understanding DeKalb’s Millage rate system

First, DeKalb County’s millage rate isn’t one millage rate that funds all aspects of the county.  DeKalb’s total millage rate is actually the sum of various component millage rates.  I often refer to these individual rates as “buckets”.  Here’s a list of some of the “buckets” for which you may pay a millage rate:

  1. General Fund – This funds services that are provided county-wide like the court system, sheriff, libraries, etc.. It is the largest fund and every resident in DeKalb, including all cities, pays the rate for this fund.
  1. Fire Fund – This funds the Fire Department that is used by the unincorporated parts of the county, as well as most of the cities, included Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville, etc.
  1. Police Fund – This funds the DeKalb Police Department for unincorporated DeKalb and any city that elects to use this service.
  1. Roads and Drainage – This funds roads and drainage services to the county and any city that elects to use this county service.
  1. Parks and Recreation – This funds parks and recreation services to the county and any city that elects to use this county service.
  1. There are also debt service rates that are apportioned county-wide and otherwise pursuant to their issuance.
  1. House Bill 711 proposes to add a new “bucket” that would be filled only by cities formed after 2005.

Sanitation and watershed services are self-sustaining and charge a fee-for-service for unincorporated county residents as well as residents of cities.  Newly formed cities have all continued using DeKalb as their sanitation service provider.  Water is only provided by the county so all cities use, and pay, for this service.

Planning and Sustainability is a self-sustaining, fee-for-service fund that provides the plan review services to residents and builders who need permits.  This area also handles business licensing services.  Dunwoody and Brookhaven now provide this service as a city.

Since the incorporation of Dunwoody and Brookhaven, residents of these cities have continued to pay fully into the General Fund, the Fire Fund, the appropriate debt service, and they continue to pay into the self-sustaining funds of sanitation and watershed.  So, the only services that these cities no longer receive, or pay for, from the county that are funded by property tax millage rates are: (1) Police, (2) Roads and drainage, and (3) Parks and Recreation.

 

 

 

Doraville Tax Allocation District

At this Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting, the Board approved an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Doraville regarding the Tax Allocation District (TAD) for the former GM Plant site. The Commission approved the TAD earlier this year. The IGA sets forth how the TAD will function and sets out the infrastructure improvements that can be financed by TAD revenues.

So, what is a TAD? How does it work?

A TAD is a defined area where real estate property tax monies gathered above a certain threshold for a certain, finite period of time, can be used for specified improvements in the defined area.

The property taxes collected by all governmental entities (city, county, and/or school district) that participate in the TAD continue to be paid to those entities. The TAD does not decrease or abate taxation on this property. As improvements are made and development occurs on the property, its value will increase. The tax that is paid on the increase in the value, gets paid, and accrues into the TAD account. Those funds can only be utilized pursuant to the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that designates the projects for which TAD funds can be used.

Let me be clear: Every dime of property taxes for this property must be paid. The TAD does not change that. The taxes that are paid today on that property will continue to be paid directly to the city, county, and school district. The taxes assessed on the increase in value of the property, also have to be paid. They go directly to the TAD for specific, pre-approved, directed uses.

The IGA that the Commission approved on Tuesday has numerous stipulations about TAD expenditures. They include a new fire station, water/sewer infrastructure, streets, and storm water management structures. The TAD is set for a period of 25 years but DeKalb has built in a review and reauthorization provision at the 10 year mark.

I want to contrast the TAD and this process with the powers of Development Authorities. Development Authorities routinely discount or abate property taxes all together for a period of time through bond-lease transactions. When Development Authorities do this, the private, business interest sees their taxes reduced or eliminated. The decision is made by an appointed board; not your elected officials. Development Authorities have the power to abate taxes for cities, counties, and the school district without approval from these entities. This just recently happened in Brookhaven when the DeKalb Development Authority (known as Decide DeKalb) entered into a deal to build a new office building at Perimeter Summit. Click here to read about it. The soccer deal was structured with the Development Authority as a tax abatement deal and a cash give away. A TAD is none of these things.

With the TAD, every dime in taxes gets paid, and your elected officials have to approve of the TAD and its expenditures. Development Authority deals mean unelected officials get to eliminate taxes for private interests.

The General Motors property has languished for the better part of a decade. There have been a few attempts to redevelop it over the years but the deals have never come to fruition. Even though General Motors went through bankruptcy reorganization, the Doraville Plant was not liquidated. The plant closed and has been sitting there for over 7 years. The site has such infrastructure deficits and GM demanded such a premium price that any development would need some form of public participation.

The business community and investors have expressed their concerns about DeKalb’s business climate. The GM site redevelopment is one of the largest projects in the Southeast. Successfully redeveloping this area will improve DeKalb’s reputation, bring thousands of jobs to the area, and improve land value; resulting in a larger commercial tax base for everyone.

I have been disappointed to hear some of the comments from the school system about this project. Perhaps more than any other governmental entity, DeKalb School District, contributed to the distress and blight in Doraville. For years, the school district ignored the burgeoning student population and now the schools in and near Doraville have proliferated with trailers. The district as a whole is a negative when businesses are considering where to locate in metro Atlanta. It is ironic that the school district does not appear willing to participate in a revitalization given its history of willfully ignoring the area.

TAD participation by the school district would lead to higher collections of e-SPLOST sales taxes. The district could negotiate for the building of an auditorium large enough to hold graduations with their portion of the TAD. Right now, no such space exists in DeKalb.

I also find it ironic that DeKalb schools would hinge their disdain for this project on their view that “teaching and learning” is their “core business”. A quick glance of the school district’s budgets over the years would show you that DeKalb has failed to ever meet the state’s mandate of spending 65% (at a minimum) of the their budget in the classroom (on “direct instructional expenditures”). I suggest that to be credible in making a statement about the core business of DeKalb County schools, start first by using the taxpayers’ money for what it is intended. Keep in mind that DeKalb has one of the highest millage rates for schools in the state at 23.73 mils. Almost all other districts are capped and can go no higher than 20 mils. Even with almost 4 mils more in taxes, DeKalb School District can’t get 65% of the budget to be spent on their “core business. The old adage – “You get what you pay for” – shows us that more money into the school’s coffers have purchased something far different than “teaching and learning”.

In the School District’s critique of this TAD, they mentioned the Kensington and Briarcliff TADs and noted that their value has decreased. Indeed the value has decreased and so the TAD has seen no accumulation of funds and so there have been no infrastructure improvements or redevelopment. The cost to the taxpayer has been zero. And all the while, every tax dollar has been paid because TADs do not eliminate taxes and money only accumulates in a TAD when the value goes up.

The old GM site represents a unique opportunity for DeKalb. Unfortunately, this property wasn’t liquidated when taxpayers footed the bill for General Motors to reorganize. We were left with a property that GM held without compromising on price. Now, we have the opportunity to redevelop this site to benefit all of DeKalb, increase the commercial tax base, provide jobs, and show that DeKalb wants to be a business friendly place. We have the opportunity to make sure the necessary infrastructure and school facilities get put in place. We have the opportunity to show that DeKalb is open for business. We can take the opportunity, mitigate risk to the public, and improve value for all the taxpayers. Let’s do this and show that DeKalb is united and a great place to do business.