As 2018 wraps up and a new year looms, we asked a dozen local newsmakers to peek into their crystal balls and see what’s ahead. Here’s are their thoughts on 2018 and their ideas for what’s to come in 2019.
Sandy Springs City Councilmember Chris Burnett
In 2018, our city, state and nation continued to enjoy the benefits of a strong economy and while I expect some slowdown in 2019, I remain optimistic that Sandy Springs and metro Atlanta will continue to thrive, given the significant desirability of our region.
Locally, through top-quality performances and culturally intriguing programs, we will position City Springs and the Byers Theatre as the premier destination for our citizens to gather as a cohesive community. Transportation needs are always a crucial initiative and transportation-sales-tax-funded road projects will continue in earnest in 2019.
Next year, we also expect to formalize a strategic plan to economically stimulate the northern end of Sandy Springs with a focus on affordable housing for empty nesters and for the first responders, teachers, medical and service personnel that are crucial to our community.
Finally, we will continue work on infrastructure improvements, such as road paving, sidewalk installation and park and greenspace projects, to further enhance our quality of life and we are hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the city of Atlanta to improve the reliability and cost of our water system.
2019 will be another busy year for Sandy Springs and I am personally excited about what the future holds for our great city.
Brookhaven City Councilmember Linley Jones
2018 was a banner year for the city of Brookhaven! Years of public input and effort paid off as voters went to the polls and approved a park bond that will fund top-notch parks throughout our city.
2019 promises to be equally exciting as Brookhaven undertakes these major park improvements along with significant projects from the Ashford-Dunwoody Corridor study, including a constantly-flowing right turn lane from Ashford-Dunwoody Road southbound onto Peachtree Road. These projects will, of course, incorporate the sidewalks and paths that are assured to provide us all with great connectivity and mobility in the years ahead.
The city is also preparing to break ground and start construction on the Peachtree Creek Greenway, the beltline path that will one day connect our city to paths throughout the metro area.
These projects and many more promise to make 2019 yet another banner year for the city of Brookhaven!
Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell
As the Buckhead Coalition celebrates its 30th anniversary, we must confess use of the well-known adage, ‘build it and they will come,’ for that’s exactly what we urged when organizing in 1988 … and it happened. Described back then as a sleepy bedroom community, Buckhead caught the attention of some of the country’s leading developers satisfying the hunger for such an address.
We went through the need for office space that provided millions of square feet, a phenomenon that scared the inexperienced, and economically dampened some of the plans. But, following the downtimes described by some as recessions, we came out of it with even those at the end of the cycle renting up to 90 percent capacity.
More recently, we experienced the boom in rental apartment construction, which has increased our inventory some 150 percent in the last seven years. This expansion has been satisfied, so we’ve moved on to the next phase, that of hotel and specialty space (such as assisted living, self-storage, medical).
What’s next for Buckhead? Probably more of the same. The community is so successful, our attention is turned to governmental partnerships. This is coming into being with all levels — city, county, state, federal – finally showing interest in infrastructure, particularly having to do with traffic and transportation … think MARTA! We will also benefit from the coalition’s relationship with City Hall to be selected for the futuristic Smart Cities Program, bringing “Buck Rogers”-type innovations into play.
Dunwoody City Councilmember Pam Tallmadge
Parks: I look forward to the new amphitheater at Brook Run Park. This facility will be an outdoor venue to revitalize music, drama and dance programming; it is an outdoor focal point for all our citizens’ activities. I stand by the Dunwoody Nature Center and Donaldson Bannister House building projects, educational programs and events. I will continue to support Spruill and Stage Door Players in talks of expansion and design. I cannot wait to see the new Perimeter East Park designed, developed and finished.
Trail Connectivity: There is a grand plan to have all the city connected by multi-modal trails. The key deliverables are: the Peachtree-Dunwoody Road Pathway provides interconnection from the Hammond Drive area northward to major employers such as Cox Communications. The Ashford-Dunwoody Road Pathway, along the Perimeter Mall frontage, connects the Dunwoody MARTA station with numerous office developments on the east side of Ashford-Dunwoody Road to restaurants and shops to the north of Perimeter Center West. In the pipeline is connectivity from Georgetown to Perimeter Center East.
Village Overlay: I believe it is crucial that the village has a makeover. My dream is added greenspace, less asphalt and walkable entrances.
My wish for 2019 is for everyone to get involved somewhere, somehow. Join a committee or club … the list is endless.
Fulton County Commissioner Lee Morris
Property taxes will continue to be a major issue in 2019. While many appealed sharp increases in 2018 and will therefore not see increases in 2019, property values will continue to increase in many neighborhoods.
New voter-approved homestead exemptions will apply in 2019, providing relief to many: the so-called “floating homestead exemptions” for the city portion of our bills within Atlanta and for Fulton County Schools’ portion within Sandy Springs; the increase in basic homestead exemption for Atlanta Public Schools’ portion within Atlanta; and the new $50,000 senior exemption for the county portion. The General Assembly may look for other ways to provide relief, especially for seniors struggling to stay in their homes.
We will continue in 2019 to shine transparency on issues that tend to shift burdens from commercial owners to homeowners, including Tax Allocation Districts, possible commercial property undervaluation, and tax abatements provided by development authorities.
DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader
DeKalb will be focused on delivering on the promise of Special Local Option Sales Tax-financed infrastructure improvements, now that the program is at last underway.
The negotiation of a new EMS transport contract will test our ability to integrate the DeKalb Fire Department’s first-responder role with the full spectrum of medical transport responsibilities of a third party contractor, to deliver consistent high coverage and affordability Countywide.
The unknown prospects for more municipalization will challenge the sustainability of service delivery strategies, as the uneven distribution of tax base and service demand across DeKalb complicates maintenance of uniform service levels.
Continued investment in the water/sewer system will increase pressure for a rate increase, so DeKalb must meet the demand of new customers to offset our system rehab costs.
Finally, our growing reserves must be maintained, but a property tax cut should soon become a priority.
State Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs)
As we begin a new legislative session in January, I believe one of the most important decisions we will make is to help choose and appropriate the funds for a new election system. We must have integrity in our elections.
Transit will also be an important topic as we begin implementing House Bill 930 from last session that creates the new Atlanta Region Transit Link Authority or “ATL” for the 13-county metropolitan region.
The recommendations of the Senate School Safety Study Committee will also be a significant topic this session, and I hope will result in significant safety improvements for all students in Georgia.
State Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell)
I am confident 2019 will be another great year for Georgia.
My communities of North Fulton and Cherokee County are consistently ranked as the best places to live, work, raise a family, enjoy public safety, etc. This is a testament to the hard work by our first responders, educators, elected officials, business owners and citizens.
Continuing to build upon our strong conservative foundation will allow our communities and state to thrive. My prediction for 2019 is a renewed kindness and professionalism to rise from the ashes of rhetoric.
As the number one place to do business for the past six years, Georgia will continue this trend by allowing people to fulfill the American Dream. We are truly blessed and should all recognize the abundance by serving others joyfully and more often.
State Rep.-elect Matthew Wilson (D-Brookhaven)
This is going to be an interesting session under the Gold Dome. With so many new faces and perspectives, not to mention a new governor, there will be a lot of uncertainty about which issues the leadership will choose to tackle this year. Clearly, we need to focus on what we all promised we would do and strengthen our public schools.
Governor-elect Kemp promised to raise teacher pay and I am all on board, but it will take a coalition of both Republicans and Democrats to get it done. There is, of course, plenty more work to be done to determine how the state can better equip our teachers and students with the resources they need to succeed.
I am also hopeful we will truly expand access to healthcare and continue the good work of late on transit. These are all priorities for which I will be advocating, and I am ready to get to work.
State Rep.-elect Mike Wilensky (D-Dunwoody)
This session will be unique. For the first time in 20 years we have a new governor and lieutenant governor starting in the same year. We have over 30 new state representatives and about six new state senators. Also, because of the Super Bowl, this session will finish later than normal, likely ending sometime in April.
With all these changes, we must prioritize Georgia businesses and stay away from legislation that discriminates. We must make sure our local public schools retain their current funding and work to increase funding through adjusting outdated legislation.
Creating sensible gun laws that prioritize the safety of our children and families is crucial. Advancing our voting system technology must also be a top priority. Last, with the creation of the ATL board, we must continue what has been started and prioritize transit both financially and through proper planning and construction.
State Rep.-elect Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs)
We’re a nation suffering from division. Many of us have felt firsthand how painful this division can be in our families and communities. But we’ve also woken up to the reality that we must engage with our neighbors more and in better ways if we want to have a healthy democracy. We can’t hide behind our computer screens and nurse anger at each other and expect to see change.
Thankfully, so many people have begun to participate in civic life these last few years by voting, meeting their neighbors, and joining civic organizations. In my view, this renewed engagement is our only hope for a brighter future for our children.
Kevin Abel, former Congressional candidate and Sandy Springs resident
The Sandy Springs North End Revitalization Task Force has spent the last year struggling with how to revitalize the northern stretch of our city, including the question of affordable housing. As they approach the end of their study period and make their recommendations to the Sandy Springs City Council, no consensus has been reached.
Developers and some wealthier citizens would like to see low-rent apartments give way to higher-end housing and retail. Advocates for affordable housing would like to see improvements to existing developments and a recognition that the city must accommodate all of its citizens and workers, not just the upper end of the economic spectrum.
In order to be the progressive city of the future that we citizens of Sandy Springs aspire to be, we must ensure housing options exist for the full economic spectrum. Those who work in our hospitals, restaurants, schools and other local businesses deserve no less.