By Rick Callihan
The city of Dunwoody is now two years old. Officially recognized as a city three years after neighbor city Sandy Springs was incorporated, Dunwoody’s incorporation followed much the same path with similar goals to Sandy Springs.
A few years ago, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody were unincorporated areas in Fulton and DeKalb counties, respectively. Many residents in the two communities were displeased with county-based decisions on issues ranging from zoning to police to use of tax dollars. With a large majority voting in July 2008 in favor of becoming become a city, it became official December 1, 2008; Dunwoody became Georgia’s newest city.
Looking back at the past two years, are we better off as a city? Or would things have been the same or better remaining an unincorporated piece of DeKalb County? The answer is clear – things are better now, and we are paying less.
Promises made and kept
Proponents of incorporation (mostly members of the Citizens for Dunwoody and Dunwoody Yes organizations) promised equal or better services without increased taxes. Critics of becoming a city were sure Dunwoody residents would have to pay much more in property taxes to establish and maintain a police department and pave roads,
In comparing Dunwoody tax rates to those in other DeKalb cities, Dunwoody has the lowest rates – the same rate we had two years ago. All other residents of DeKalb County pay more in taxes than we pay. Those living in Lithonia, Pine Lake, Stone Mountain, and Clarkston pay more. Dunwoody’s millage rate is now lower than unincorporated areas of DeKalb, meaning we’d be paying more money today had we not become a city.
The three biggest improvements since becoming a city would be zoning, police services, and code enforcement. Looking back in time, nothing seemed to upset Dunwoody residents more than zoning decisions by DeKalb County. The influx of apartment permits added cars to our roads and put even more strain on our overcrowded schools.
Although thousands of apartments have already been approved for areas near Perimeter Mall (these were approved by DeKalb before our incorporation) don’t look for our City Council to ever approve a zoning change for more multi-family structures to be built.
Our city’s code enforcement team has been making regular sweeps across the city, issuing citations and working with property owners to bring buildings to current code. Code enforcement done wisely helps protect residents and keep property values up.
Dunwoody’s police department is a welcome addition to most residents. All of us can follow the police department’s activities from the city’s website. There you’ll see reports on over 30,000 calls a year. I was not able to find accurate numbers comparing the number of arrests and service calls now and before incorporation, but I have to think enforcement is way up in the past two years.
Dunwoody has its own Zoning Board of Appeals, with seven members of our community hearing and deciding cases brought forward. We have our own Planning Commission, our own Design Review Advisory Committee, a Parks and Recreation Committee, and several more. These committees are filled with resident volunteers from across Dunwoody, providing guidance and helping set policy at the local level.
In the past couple of months, City Council has approved a plan for road resurfacing and new sidewalks across the city. Although it will take many years at the current pace, I view it as progress. Prior to incorporation, it was quite rare to see a sidewalk installed or a road resurfaced in Dunwoody.
It’s not all been a fun day in the park for our young city. At times City Council will vote against recommendations made by the aforementioned committees. Some residents are frustrated with the rate of progress on street resurfacing and construction of new sidewalks. Many roads are in worse condition today than they were two years ago, but at least now a plan is in place to maintain our roadways.
Many people think our police department is too large. The Carl Vinson Institute study used as a guideline for establishing our city suggested a police budget of $2.8 million for Dunwoody, while the actual 2011 budget allocates $5.7 million for police services. At nearly double the projected cost, Dunwoody’s police department is still below average (number of officers per thousand residents) when compared to neighboring cities and the national average.
Others make claims the city often acts more like a large homeowners association than a conservatively run local government. But no matter how successful the city operates, there will always be naysayers.
Decisions to come
Many big (and many more small) decisions will be made in our city’s third year.
The council starts the year with an important decision on changing zoning on a piece of property off Mount Vernon Road from NS (Neighborhood Shopping) to C1 (allowing for drive-throughs, homeless shelters, and car lots).
Then the council needs to make decisions on our 911 service and possibly a bond issue to raise funds to acquire green space and improve our parks.
Dunwoody residents will soon face increased water rates via DeKalb’s water department. Will this keep City Council from pushing forward a plan to raise additional funds for an accelerated road resurfacing plan?
City Council meetings are held a couple Mondays each month. Like in rearing a child, those early years are important. Come out to some meetings and get involved.
Happy birthday, Dunwoody.
Dunwoody resident Rick Callihan is our local columnist for the Dunwoody Reporter. You can find his blog at http://www.dunwoodytalk.blogspot.com.