Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Crier - Chambers' flip-flop downs Dunwoody vote
By Dick Williams, The Crier, 2/5/08
A state House committee, by a 7-6 vote, defeated a bill Thursday setting a referendum to create a city of Dunwoody. The bill, in its third year before the General Assembly, was expected to pass along party lines, but state Rep. Jill Chambers (R-Doraville, Chamblee), a resident of Dunwoody North, changed her vote of April 2007 and voted against allowing Dunwoody residents to choose their own form of government.
The bill passed the House Government Affairs Committee last year, with Chambers voting for it. When the bill reached the House floor, Chambers denounced it and then voted for it. The state House voted the bill down. In last year's vote, the length of the debate and the hour caused many representatives to be absent.
Last week, Chambers and one other Republican voted against the bill. The reaction of state Rep. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) was blunt.
“Bottom line,” he said “I was ambushed by a fellow Republican whom I have supported financially and on her legislation. Her actions speak for themselves.”
Last week’s vote in the Government Affairs Committee was expected to follow party lines, with Republicans in the majority to pass it. Far fewer opponents attended to testify against Dunwoody. Millar was the lead proponent, occasionally asking for facts from members of the Citizens for Dunwoody. The committee also heard from Dr. Paula Yeary, whose Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia updated expected revenue and expense estimates in the event the new city were approved by voters. Her numbers showed a sizable surplus.
Several DeKalb County state legislators and Commissioner Kathie Gannon - whose district includes Dunwoody - spoke against the bill.
Some, like Gannon, supported a referendum for Dunwoody, but opposed including the Perimeter Center business district in the city boundaries.
State Rep. Stan Watson (D-DeKalb) who chairs the county legislative delegation and is running for chief executive officer, agreed with Gannon.
“For the record,” he said, “I am in favor of a city of Dunwoody. For the record, I am not in favor of including the PCID.”
Watson also said he had been “disrespected” because the Dunwoody bill were brought to the floor of the state House instead of going through the delegation as local legislation.”
State Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-DeKalb) angrily charged that the legislation was “done in the dark.”
“We will have an economic boycott against the entire Dunwoody community and the PCID,” he said.
Speaking for the referendum was Oliver Porter, who chaired the Governor’s Commission on Sandy Springs.”
“I’ve looked at the numbers and Dunwoody can support itself,” said the author of a book on new cities. “There are three major developments in Perimeter impacting roads, schools and neighborhoods while increasing the population by 50 percent. Dunwoody can’t vote on those. That is Dunwoody’s business district. To take the PCID out of Dunwoody is to take Peachtree Street out of Atlanta.”
Still, it was Chambers’ incessant questioning that dominated the proceedings.
Contrary to a written agreement that she would support the 2007 Dunwoody bills with no changes, Chambers questioned if Dunwoody would receive $1.6 million in Homestead Option Sales Tax funds if DeKalb County sued to retain the dollars. The county has been fighting the issue with other cities for seven years.
Chambers noted two bills in the legislature to do away with utility franchise fees and taxes on insurance premiums. Those bills would affect not just Dunwoody but every city in the state.
“Her point about what happens if the insurance premium tax was eliminated has been around for a decade,” Millar said, “and the industry lobbyist says that legislation isn't going anywhere soon. It’s the same with franchise fees. Cities depend on them.”
When DeKalb’s Finance Director, Dr. Michael Bell, told the committee that the county pays $500,000 a year for street lighting in Perimeter Center, Chambers said she was shocked.
“Gosh,” she said, “I’m astonished to find out about the electricity cost. I’m just astonished.”
She also complained that nothing in the legislation specified that Dunwoody would contribute $1.5 million a year to Perimeter Center, as DeKalb does now. In the proposed budget of the Citizens for Dunwoody, the contribution is specified.
A resident of Dunwoody, Bob Speice, appeared to please committee Democrats. One of them, state Rep. Alan Powell, asked him to testify a second time. Speice said he thought the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association did a great job on zoning issues and made another layer of government unnecessary. But he said he didn’t believe citizens were informed.
“I can say the dissemination of information in Dunwoody is poor,” Speice said. Veterans of the Dunwoody Homeowners’ Association do not recall him as a volunteer there.
In the end, Chambers championed the argument that a city of Dunwoody could cause a tax increase for its residents and for the rest of DeKalb County. She said she couldn’t in good conscience cause that.
A companion bill to the referendum legislation was a measure outlying how county properties would be transferred. The committee voted to table it.
Porter and others said later that the properties bill was not necessary if the referendum bill passed and Dunwoody residents decided to create a city. The precedent for property transfers to new cities was established by Sandy Springs, Milton and Johns Creek, the new cities in Fulton County.