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City of South DeKalb could change metro Atlanta's power dynamics

By Kathryn Rice, Ph.D. | 5/30/2014, 6:06 a.m.

First of a two-part series

Now that the 2014 legislative session is behind us, we can draw a breath because the cityhood and annexation talk has abated. But everyone knows it will begin again for the next session.

Some people are concerned, especially those of us in South DeKalb, because we know new cities will likely mean more tax revenue leaving the county and probably higher taxes for us.

Thus, we want to stop the cityhood movements.

I’d like to suggest an alternative – let’s embrace the cityhood movement.

Let’s make it work for us.

Let me be the first to suggest the city of South DeKalb, or whatever name is chosen.

Such a creation has far-reaching and long-term implications. In the twinkling of an eye, the power dynamics of the metropolitan Atlanta region change.

While Atlanta will reign as the region’s premier city, a new city, a potentially rival city will emerge.

Is that a dream? Consider these economically relevant statistics.

Based on boundaries that include 15 ZIP codes, South DeKalb has a 2012 population of 422,368 versus Atlanta’s 443,775.

Between 2000 and 2010, South DeKalb grew 3.9 percent versus Atlanta’s struggling 0.85 percent. However, the recession hit DeKalb hard; growth from 2010-2012 was only 1.03 percent while Atlanta’s picked up to 5.66 percent.

In terms of professionals (which lures attractive businesses), Atlanta still dominates with 99,855 people in the management, business, science or arts occupations, but South DeKalb is no slouch with 63,792 people in the same occupations (yes, just in south DeKalb County). Where Atlanta really dominates South DeKalb is in the number of businesses, employees and payroll. That is South DeKalb’s challenge.

Therefore, if South DeKalb decides to incorporate as a city, its prime directive must be economic development.

While my first preference would be to remain in an unincorporated DeKalb (because new cities generally mean higher taxes), the approval of new cities has resulted in a grab-the-assets environment that is forcing communities to respond to a new reality.

When I face that reality, the best answer is a new city of South DeKalb. A question-and-answer format may be the best way to address some questions that will probably arise.

If the study of a new city of Stonecrest revealed it lacks the commercial assets to sustain a city, how can a larger area afford to incorporate?

Remember this term – economies of scale. Basically that means that doing things on a larger scale saves you money because you cut costs. As an example, let’s say the cost of one policeman for one year is $50,000. A small town of 100 people will each have to pay $500 each. A medium size town of 1,000 people will each pay $50 to afford one policeman. A large town of 10,000 people will only pay $5 each for one policeman.

Because there are more people, costs are spread out and each person pays less. There are few, if any, areas within South DeKalb that could incorporate and sustain themselves individually, but as a whole, South DeKalb can probably afford to form a city. As a matter of fact, as time goes on there may not be a choice. As new cities annex valuable assets and property, the remaining citizens will bear the burden of paying for what’s left behind.