Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The TOA District 1 Candidate Questionnaire

We are a mere two weeks from the general election and, though the contest for mayor has garnered far and away the most attention and the District 5 race has slung far and away the most mud, other important races are on November’s ballot.  Out here in the hinterland where I live, the District 1 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission is up for grabs (the one for which I unsuccessfully campaigned in 2002 and 2006).  So, as a public service, here is what doubtlessly will be the only candidate questionnaire concerned specifically with that race.

See Farley Jones’ response here; her campaign web site may be viewed here.

See Doug Lowry’s response here; I have neither found nor seen mention of a campaign web site for him.

The questions were submitted to each candidate via email.  The candidates’ responses are presented exactly as received by me, without any editing whatsoever.  Farley Jones submitted her response as a Microsoft WORD document; I simply opened this file as a WordPerfect document, which I then saved as a PDF and placed on Google Documents.  Doug Lowry provided his response as both a Microsoft WORD document and as a link to something that he placed on Google Documents himself.  I was unable to get the link to work correctly in a blog post, so I similarly opened his Microsoft WORD document in WordPerfect, saved it as a PDF and placed it on Google Documents.

Contrary to what some may beleive, the questions are in no way “gotcha” questions, as each of them deals with specific policies and/or ordinances proposed, enacted, or ignored by the Unified Government.  Additionally, several of the questions have particular relevance to District 1.  To wit:

  • Question1 concerns a specific provision of the Unified Government’s Charter vis-à-vis the millage rate in the “general services” district, which encompasses the entirety of District 1.

  • Question 2 concerns property tax “circuit breakers,” an idea put forth repeatedly by the current Mayor.

  • Question 3 concerns the “conservation subdivision” ordinance, which pertains to the county’s AR zones and thus to District 1.

  • Question 4 concerns the Commission’s practice of using development moratoria to craft policy in an ad hoc manner based on personal likes and dislikes, rather than using them for legitimate “emergency” situations.

  • Question 5 concerns the agreement reached between the residents of the Dunlap Road area and the Unified Government – subsequently broken by the latter – concerning expansion of the landfill.  The landfill is located in District 1.

  • Question 6 concerns the status of Ben Epps Airport vis-à-vis the Clarke County Airport Authority.  Since city-county consolidation, the commissioner representing District 1 has been the Commission’s representative on the Authority (until the last redistricting, the airport was located in District 1; it is currently located in District 4).  Also, the question concerns implementation, or rather the conspicuous lack thereof, of a specific provision of the Unified Government’s Charter.

  • Question 7 concerns Fire Station No. 6, the only Unified Government fire station located in District 1, which has been closed for going on 20 months.

  • Question 8 concerns the upcoming SPLOST 2011 ballot resolution.

The questions themselves are:

1.  The Unified Government’s Charter plainly states that the millage rates charged in the county’s various tax districts should reflect the level of government services available in those districts (see            Section 1-105(b)). Instead, for years City Hall has charged those who live in the “general services” district the same millage rate as those who live in the “urban services” district, even though they receive far fewer services. Do you support reducing the millage rate in the general services district to compensate for this lack of services? Why or why not?

2.  The current mayor has repeatedly called for a “circuit breaker” mechanism that would link one’s property taxes to one’s income. Regardless of the practical difficulties that may accompany the implementation of such a plan, do you support this approach in theory? Why or why not?

3.  The “conservation subdivision” ordinance enacted years ago slashed the property values of rural residents by making land in the AR zones essentially un-developable. In the several years since the ordinance was adopted, not a single such subdivision has been built, or for that matter even proposed, because the requirements are so draconically restrictive (and no, the Orange Twin development did not meet the requirements for a conservation subdivision). Do you favor revisiting this ordinance? Why or why not?

4.  Instead of limiting their use to emergency situations, the Commission has imposed a wide array of development moratoria as a means of crafting policy in recent years. These measures routinely are instituted with little to no advance notice, either by adopting them at special called sessions held on nights when votes would not normally be taken or by adding them to the agenda of regular voting sessions at the last minute. Either way, this practice has the effect of rendering the existing zoning ordinances meaningless, since they can be (and have been) suspended at any time. Do you support this practice? Why or why not?

5.  The written agreement signed on behalf of the Unified Government with the Dunlap Road citizens group promising that the Athens-Clarke County landfill would never be expanded proved utterly meaningless. Given the two decades-long history of broken promises to those who reside in the formerly unincorporated areas of the county, why should they have any belief that the Unified Government will finally live up to the commitments previously made to them?

6.  For almost two decades, the Commission has steadfastly ignored those provisions of the Unified Government’s Charter that call for extending services into the formerly unincorporated areas of the county (see Sections 8-115 and 9-103) and for turning control of Ben Epps Airport over to the Clarke County Airport Authority (see Part II, Chapter 4, Section 23). Do you support adhering to these explicit provisions of the Charter? If so, what will you do to implement them? If not, should the Charter be amended to eliminate these provisions? Why or why not? If the Charter should be amended, should it be through a popular referendum or unilaterally by a vote of the Commission?

7.  Fire Station No. 6, located at the intersection of Athens and Olympic Drives has been closed for more than a year and a half due to the snowstorm on 01 March 2009. This extended closure may well have played a part in the environmental damage resulting from the J&J Chemical Company fire. Rather than rebuild the station with the insurance money and its own funds, the Unified Government postponed any reconstruction activity for almost fifteen months, during which time it unsuccessfully sought an Obama Administration “economic stimulus” grant to rebuild the station. Was this the appropriate strategy? Why or why not? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

8.  Even though the mayor and commission ostensibly sought to pare down the Unified Government’s original $170 million SPLOST 2011 proposal, when the project list came up for a vote they actually added another year to the levy and increased its amount to more than $195 million.  Do you favor passage of the SPLOST 2011 ballot resolution?  Why or why not?

Admittedly, these questions reflect my own political point of view and interests, a fact I freely admitted to the candidates when I originally contacted them and for which I make no apologies whatsoever.  Besides which, in that regard the TOA questionnaire is no different from any other submitted to local candidates.  Insofar as commentary by me on the candidates’ responses, is concerned, there really does not need to be much – regular readers (and yes, there are some) are fully aware of my opinions on the questions presented.

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Anonymous said...

RE #6 'promised extensions ...'

Probably time to understand that zoning changes after consolidation countermanded this provision.

For instance, establishment of the green belt, tdrs, and an emphasis on 'in-fill' are backed-up by the M & C:

1. Refusal to extend sewer lines up Commerce Rd. forces development (if it is to occur) to the 'in-fill.'
2. Proposed septic system fee punishes the 'sprawl' folks who thought they'd escaped city sewer fees. An incentive for them to move back into the city.
3. Storm-water fee on rural constituents punishes them because they largely do not have storm sewers but pay for those intown residents who do.
4. Those in the rural area who take their own trash to the landfill saw a 300 percent increase in their rates; again, this is another disincentive.

Believe it! Whether Blake or the ABH publishes a story on it, the M&C have established strong anti-growth measures in the rural areas and strong incentives to build in-town. My problem with this is that it caters to the wealthy mostly politcally correct smug folks like themselves. The lower income rural area folks are being asked not so kindly to leave Athens.

Finally, the anti-growth efforts of this M&C will retard growth in ACC for years, and guarantee shocking increases in millage rates to stay afloat (lack of growth kills tax growth). Those increases in the millage rate will drive lower and middle income people futher from ACC.

I kinda like the 'in-fill' idea and wish sprawl didn't exist, but the notions, when implemented by the wealthy PC liberals, look a lot like a kind of smug genocide. They want us 'out' of ACC, and more and more of us are getting the message! (We don't share their PC values, anyway, so good riddance!)

James said...

No, they have not been countermanded (in a political sense perhaps, but emphatically not in a legal sense). The extensions of water and sanitary sewer lines into the formerly unincorporated area of the county were written into the Unified Government’s Charter which, of course, takes legal precedence over zoning ordinances. Of course, that is the way it should be – I fully realize that the political realities here in Athens-Clarke County are somewhat different.

I do not disagree with your other observations as to the intentions of our betters down at City Hall; in fact I have been making these same kinds of arguments for a long time now.

Anonymous said...

"lack of growth kills tax growth"

Not necessarily true. Building houses in outlying areas costs the govt. more to service than it brings in in property taxes until the value of the homes reaches something like $350k. In that regard, concentrating growth in inner areas actually saves money.

Anonymous said...

My reference to 'lack of growth' is not speaking of housing, but commercial enterprise.

Trader Joe's, for instance, recently followed a long line of business emigrants out to Oconee Cty. Granted, perhaps it's the transportation nexxus and not an anti-growth climate in ACC.

Yet, in recent memory, Wal-Mart, the 5 Pts drug store, and many other businesses were NIMBY'ed right out of town. This tax loss translates into less opportunity and will increase property taxes. Those taxes, on businesses, are already higher than outside counties, so more pressure is put on enterprises to move out of ACC.

PS: If ACC will buy my property and house in the greenbelt and 'trade me' a similar house and property inside the infill zone, I'll move back. Of course, I'd like a 10 year equalization grant to avoid the more expensive sewer and solid waste charges and a substantial nuisance settlement for the forced resettlement and in recongition of the fact that ACC failed to live-up to the Consolidation 'equalization' promise. Show me the money!

Anonymous said...

These places you mention were not NIMBYed out of ACC. They located on the loop/ 316 intersection because of the transportation link to Atlanta and the fact that the land was cheap there and they needed large tracts of it. In fact, when Home Depot sent its first quarterly property tax in after locating there they actually sent it to ACC Tax Commissioner. They thought they were in Athens. This suggests that the difference between Oconee and Athens in terms of alleged pro/ anti-business ethos was irrelevant to their initial locational decision.




"Officials from those businesses have said that the location of the Epps Bridge Road/Athens Perimeter/University Parkway was a major factor in their location decisions"

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of Doug Lowry but at least he got it right on the question of the "promise" or "agreement" about the landfill expansion.

That was illegal, unenforceable, and downright stupid and deceptive. It's also a reason I will not vote for Gwen. I believe that she knew this "promise" was never in her authority to make and she did it just to placate those in that area.

It also reminds me of folks who believe that "the government" promised them stuff about the SE Clarke Park when, in fact, it was only a statement made by a single commissioner acting on his own without the authority to make such a promise.

james said...

There are two separate issues at play here - the legality of the agreement (yes) and the legally enforceable nature of the terms of the agreement (no).

My concern is not one of the legal "enforceability" of a particular agreement, but rather one of government keeping its word.

The Unified Government was in no way forced into breaking its agreement as a matter of law - it simply chose to do so as a matter of political expediency. Only then did it seek cover by hiding behind the legal argument that it did not have to keep said promise. City Hall could legally get away with breaking its promise, so it did.

Besides which, there is more to it than that. The agreement itself entered into by the Unified Government was in no manner illegal - in fact, it was required by law. In order to get the federal permits required for the current landfill, the local governments involved (Athens-Clarke County and Oglethorpe County) had to secure the agreement of the residents of the area involved. But guess what - would those residents consented had they known that the promises made to them were utterly worthless? I think not. Those folks were simply used and then cast aside.

For more on the matter see this: