2017 is fading into history; 2018 stands before us. What’s in this year’s political crystal ball? Reporter Newspapers asked local community leaders what they think the new year will bring. Here’s what they see coming.
Sen. Elena Parent (D-DeKalb County)
The legislative session may be a quick one this year. With statewide election primaries rapidly approaching in May, candidates want to get out and campaign and raise money. I am hoping we will have productive conversations regarding expansion of healthcare coverage in Georgia through Medicaid dollars and regarding the creation of a regional transit authority to pay the way for state investment and increased transit in metro Atlanta. I am sure we will also see some Republican-primary-friendly proposals related to guns and “religious liberty.” The state is on firm fiscal footing and I am hoping that we can expand access to early childhood education and post-secondary education, as well as make reforms to K-12 that have shown to have huge impact, such as ensuring every child can read by third grade.
Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody)
As we enter the 2018 legislative session I believe the major issues we will deal with include a personal income tax cut, regional transit governance, a “clean” adoption update bill, and an expansion of healthcare options. I expect no legislation will pass as respects casinos or new cities and hope we will expand the proceeds that go from the lottery to HOPE and pre-K. In Fulton County, I am the second signature on assessment cap bills, including the school tax portion. It is my understanding there is no significant opposition to this approach. Gwinnett County continues to look at transit options and, hopefully, DeKalb will develop a comprehensive transportation solution. Since we have statewide elections, I expect there will be a number of bills dropped in order to attract the respective primary voters.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul
Transportation and infrastructure continue to be dominating issues as we move into 2018. The Georgia Department of Transportation programs along I-285 and Ga. 400 will influence our residents short-term through the construction phases, and long-term will impact the region in our ability to maneuver throughout the metro area. We want to ensure that transit is a part of the overall equation, and need to include multi-modal connectivity where possible within our local network.
Weather was impactful to our city in 2017, and we are looking at how we can improve safety through efficiencies in clearing trees and downed power lines. We also will continue our efforts to improve the speed at which waterline repairs are made. Again, safety is a driving factor.
With a nod to our Jewish community, the city is entering its b’nai mitzvah year, and as we reach this “adult” milestone, we will continue to press for recognition among the postal service as our own, unique city, deserving of an independent designation.
Finally, the City Springs project ignited re-development along the Roswell Road corridor south to our Atlanta border, and we want our northern end to keep pace. During the Next Ten planning process, our residents were clear in their support of improvements throughout the city. As we implement the plan’s recommendations, we plan to work with developers and the community to create positive change along the north quadrant.
Sam Massell, Buckhead Coalition President and former Atlanta mayor
The recognizable municipal mantra is concern about traffic, crime, and taxes. As the state’s capital city – its largest city – and the central city in the region, Atlanta’s operation materially affects over six million people, thus these issues deserve the best-in-class concern and attention.
A half a century since we introduced mass transit, which we nurtured to reasonable heights based on local funding, we are fortunate now to recognize state and area governments are considering partnerships. More mobility, which we recognize as “man’s fifth freedom,” will broaden employment opportunities, entertainment experiences and more, and will cement sound economic health.
Now, with our city’s nonpartisan elections for mayor, city councilpersons, board of education members and municipal judges completed — some contests ending with 50 percent versus 50 percent, with just a handful separating winner from loser — our challenge in the Atlanta mode will be to bring these opposing factions together, which we shall do to the benefit of all.
Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs)
Since we will have statewide elections in 2018 for all the seats in the General Assembly, the governor, the lieutenant governor, as well as others, I predict that the legislative session will be shorter and faster than usual. As far as our community, I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass fireworks legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year and will give local control back to city and county officials as to the times of day that fireworks may be used. I am grateful to Mayor Rusty Paul and the Sandy Springs City Council for unanimously passing my resolution in support of this fireworks legislation and am building a coalition of support for it around the state. I will also be working with the Senate to pass my “child hearsay” statute that will clarify the effective date as to when evidence in child abuse cases may be admitted in court. A number of judges across the state have inquired about this bill, and I am not giving up on it. I am open to other legislative ideas that may arise during the session.
Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta/Sandy Springs)
Health and Human Services: I have been serving on the lieutenant governor’s Healthcare Reform Task Force and there are many opportunities for Georgia to improve. We are consistently ranked poorly in health status compared to other states. I have been working with Attorney General Chris Carr’s Taskforce on making progress on the opioid crisis. I am working on improving competition in the individual health marketplace and improving communication between the agencies and private sector stakeholders.
Veterans, Military and Homeland Security: I have been working with the committee members as well as people in the military and veterans sector to make Georgia a more military-friendly state, since 10 percent of our citizens are involved with the military. These efforts include trying to protect our facilities from the next BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission).
Public Safety: I have been working with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and others to improve our disaster preparedness during natural or manmade crises. I am also working to improve training for our law enforcement officers. I have been working with the Elder Abuse Taskforce on their legislative agenda. Science and Technology is working primarily on very important cyber security issues.
Sandy Springs City Councilmember Chris Burnett
In 2017, our city, state and nation have thrived in a strong economy and I am optimistic that these trends will continue in 2018. Significant work has been done this year in reshaping the future direction of our community, starting with the Next10 Plan and the evolution of City Springs, which opens in a few short months.
The city and the City Springs Foundation will work hard to assure that the Performing Arts Center provides high-quality programing for our citizens and that the facility is efficiently managed and serves as a catalyst for further improvements in the downtown corridor. Transportation needs are always a crucial initiative and TSPLOST-funded projects should begin in earnest in 2018. We will also explore opportunities to redevelop the northern end of Sandy Springs with a focus on affordable housing for empty-nesters and for our first responders, teachers, and medical personnel that are crucial to our community.
Finally, we will continue work on infrastructure improvements like road paving, sidewalk installation and park and greenspace projects to further enhance the quality of life in our great city.
Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris
Because the county did not aggressively re-value properties for years as we recovered from the recession, and to comply with state law requiring properties to be valued for tax purposes at fair market value, 2017 proposed valuations resulted in huge increases and many apparent errors.
The Board of Commissioners stepped in to use the 2016 values for 2017 taxation, but as property values continue to increase, we should expect large proposed valuation increases for 2018. (An increase in value of an individual property may or may not result in a tax increase, of course, as most jurisdictions “roll back” the tax rates to be revenue-neutral overall.)
Among many other steps, Fulton’s proposed 2018 budget includes $3.4 million for additional staff for more review and analysis of properties and quicker in-person resolution of disputes, and for software upgrades to promote transparency so taxpayers can see how valuations are determined.
Also, the commissioners are asking the General Assembly to enact relief by extending a “floating” homestead exemption (which already applies to Fulton County’s general fund and Sandy Springs taxes) to the other 14 Fulton cities (including Atlanta), and the two school systems. A floating exemption rises with valuation increases. We have also asked them to consider other homestead exemption issues. If you have an opinion about these matters, contact your General Assembly members.
Brookhaven City Councilmember Linley Jones
The city of Brookhaven has great plans for 2018 (and beyond) for our parks, roads, sidewalks and community planning. Our greatest challenge will be funding and continued implementation of these plans, as well as addressing the issue of steady growth in the metro area that creates traffic and housing problems. It is critical that we address the issues created by metro area population growth in a way that preserves and enhances the livability of our city for its citizens.
Sandy Springs City Councilmember Andy Bauman
Our community will continue to face many of the same challenges in 2018 (and beyond) as we did in 2017 (and prior), all related to the dramatic growth and development of the metro region, including: traffic/transportation; having sufficient resources for public safety and public education; and protection and preservation of our natural resources.
For Sandy Springs, however, 2018 offers the unique challenge – and opportunity – to establish a spirited sense of community with the opening of our new City Springs City Center. After years of planning and construction, the vision becomes reality as we come together in the new park and in the performing arts venues. Just imagine: Saturday mornings strolling through the farmers market while children play in the interactive fountains; or, attending a concert in the “Byers Theater,” sure to be recognized as one of the finest performing arts venues in our region; or walking from your neighborhood for brunch or dinner at one of the many new restaurants that have opened in the revitalized City Springs district. It’s been a long and at times difficult process to get open, but my hope is that our citizens will fully embrace and utilize our wonderful new facilities.
Dunwoody City Councilmember Terry Nall
The year 2018 may be marked for its substantial increase in projects, as it should be one of our busiest years since becoming a city. Dunwoody is planning projects for Transportation, Parks and Trails, Zoning and Public Safety. We have engaged a project management firm to help us keep pace with the complex design and construction efforts.
Transportation: DeKalb County SPLOST funding begins April 1, providing increased funding for transportation projects. In 2018, we will see left turn lanes added with sidewalks extended at the intersection of Mount Vernon and Vermack roads, as well as sidewalks added and sidewalk gaps filled on major roads and school routes. Design work will begin on two additional intersections, as well as continued paving of deteriorated roads.
Parks and Trails: The Brook Run/Pernoshal Park Trail will connect to the Perimeter Center East Park through the area behind the new townhomes now under construction. Dunwoody Park will get a new pavilion. We will complete the baseball complex in the expanded area of Brook Run Park behind Peachtree Charter Middle School. Design and construction work for Brook Run Park’s Great Lawn will get underway, including a band shell and picnic pavilion, rectangular sports fields in the unfinished back area, and a new access entry from Barclay Drive. We will seek public comment during the planning phase of a new park on the site of the current Austin Elementary School (due to its move in fall 2019).
Zoning: We will review the Dunwoody Village Overlay District regulations to ensure they promote our master plan and the placemaking we seek for Dunwoody Village. A master plan for Winters Chapel/Peachtree Industrial area will be finalized.
Public Safety: We will continue to review the ongoing DeKalb County EMS response delays and consider solutions, if county EMS improvements are not sufficient.
DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester
DeKalb County and the cities within have opportunities and challenges as we look to 2018. The main challenges facing DeKalb County include: meeting the requirements of the federal consent decree regarding the sewer system; improving the public safety portfolio for fire and police; improving code enforcement to eliminate blight and negative business activities; and reducing waste; particularly within the General Fund.
DeKalb County has a maturing relationship with the cities within the county, particularly those newly formed in District 1. The newly formed cities are still working on their relationships with the county and the school district. The cities should take an assertive posture in enforcing their codes; particularly regarding their codes on school district property. The results of these service and enforcement activities will ultimately determine the success or failure of the county and its cities.
Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst
2018 will be a signature year for Brookhaven as the city will break ground on the Peachtree Creek Greenway, which is sure to become a signature destination for residents and visitors alike. We’ll also cut the ribbon on some exciting parks projects, including a brand new Skyland Park, and make significant improvements at Murphey Candler and Georgian Hills parks. We will have some exciting announcements about the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival, coming up in March — it will be bigger and better than ever. And with the Atlanta Hawks in full swing at their new training facility here, Brookhaven will surely be the place to “be”!
Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-DeKalb)
Many of the challenges that our state faces in 2018 are the same as what we faced in 2017 and in prior years. We need to invest in education and ensure that our citizens are prepared for the 21st century. Specifically, in addition to our efforts at K-12 and high education, we also need to be thinking about how we can provide paths for lifelong learning. We need to invest in transportation and transit, and we may finally see some movement on the latter this legislative session. We need to work on our healthcare system, which remains inaccessible for too many.
I’ll be involved with all of these issues. I will also be pushing legislation that will allow victims of domestic violence to break their leases. It is a common-sense measure that can help someone get out of a very bad situation. I expect that it will have broad support. I will also be working on bipartisan legislation to update our state’s outdated and insecure voting system.