Several officials joined the North Buckhead Civic Association at its annual meeting March 20 to provide updates on projects and initiates affecting the neighborhood, including property taxes, the Blue Heron Nature Preserve’s trails and the proposed Wieuca Road and Phipps Boulevard roundabout.
About 50 residents attended the meeting, which is open to the public and was held at St. James United Methodist Church.
District 7 Councilmember Howard Shook gave updates on several city projects, including the proposed roundabout at the Wieuca Road and Phipps Boulevard intersection.
The proposal is controversial with some residents. Some have said they believe the roundabout would make the intersection more dangerous and cause worse congestion.
“I have definite qualms about it and I think it may be worse than what is there,” Sue Certain said.
Shook said that the city has brought in experts to look at the roundabout design and some changes have been made that he thinks are for the better. The consultants, which held two public meetings last year on the previous design, will be reaching out to the neighborhood and other stakeholders to discuss the changes.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress, but you’re going to tell me,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is nothing.”
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, who was elected last November, said she is working to make the city more transparent, including by pushing the city to post all departments’ expenditures online.
While the proposed and approved budgets are posted online, what departments actually end up spending is not, she said.
In response to an audience question about the investigation into the city’s procurement department, which has led to charges against the city’s former chief purchasing officer and two city vendors, Moore said she does not have any information that has not been publicly released.
“If it takes another year that’s fine with me, as long as they clean every corner out,” she said.
The city has to find a new way to retain police officers, a department that has seen a shortage as other cities and entities draw them away with better pay. Raising Atlanta’s officers salaries may not be an answer because other cities will follow that move, she said. Atlanta will have to look at alleviating officers pension and healthcare costs, she said.
“Chasing these pay issues doesn’t always solve the problem,” she said. “We’re in a bidding war with other cities.”
Kevin McCauley, the executive director of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, said the organization has raised $250,000 of the $750,000 needed to complete an internal trail network.
The trails, which would be within the preserve itself, are phase one of a two-part plan to provide more connectivity to the preserve. The other phase would build trails that would connect the park to PATH400 and Chastain Park, he said.
The internal trails are being built with Park Pride and Buckhead Coalition grants, as well as donations. He expects phase one to be completed by the end of 2018.
State Rep. Beth Beskin and Sen. Jen Jordan mostly discussed their efforts to reduce property taxes. They both have drafted different legislation that would increase homestead exemptions. Jordan’s deals with Atlanta Public Schools’ portion of the tax, while Beskin’s deals with the city of Atlanta’s portion.
There has been a floating homestead exemption on the Fulton County portion of property taxes since 2003, which limits the Fulton County tax increase to 3 percent annually.
Beskin’s, which is HB 820, would provide a new homestead exemption that caps annual assessment increases at 2.6 percent.
Jordan’s, which is SB 485, would exempt residents from paying taxes to the school district on $50,000 of their property value. The current exemption is $15,000. Residents over the age of 65 would be exempted from paying the tax on $100,000 of their property value.
If the bills are passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, they would be voted on by residents in the November election. Beskin’s bill has been passed by both the House and the Senate.
Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris reminded the audience that nothing the General Assembly passes this session will have an affect on this year’s assessments. Residents will need to be prepared for similar increases they avoided paying in 2017 when the assessments were rolled back to 2016 levels, Morris said.
To help with the property tax problem, the county is working on a more usable and transparent property assessment website, funding more positions to deal with appeals and planning to do a detailed assessment on properties with assessments increasing by 50 percent or more to ensure it is accurate, he said.
Both Jordan and Beskin discussed their positions on gun control in response to a statement by a resident calling for new measures.
Jordan, who is a Democrat, said she has sponsored bills that would outlaw “bump stocks,” an attachment that enables a rifle to fire faster, and that would restrict gun purchases by people that have been convicted of domestic violence.
“I’m trying to be reasonable about it,” Jordan said. “The safety of our children should be a nonpartisan issue.”
Beskin, who is a Republican, said she is an advocate for the Second Amendment, but voted twice against “campus carry,” a measure was passed and allows guns on college campuses in Georgia.
“A bump stock is not a weapon. I would not have a problem voting to outlaw bump stocks,” she said. “It’s going to get harder when you get to gun control of what everyone admits are weapons.”