A Snapshot Of The DeKalb Incorporation Debate

Want to know why half of DeKalb County is thinking about incorporating as cities? Ask Bruce MacGregor.

MacGregor leads the Druid Hills Civic Association, one of the largest and most powerful homeowners’ associations in the county. His 75-year-old association has about 4000 homes — perhaps 10,000 residents — surrounding the Centers for Disease Control and Emory, with a lawyer-to-actual-human ratio roughly equivalent to a Washington D.C. suburb. Two current DeKalb County commissioners are past presidents.

And he told me he can’t seem to get the DeKalb CEO to pick up his phone.

Tonight at a town hall meeting at Clairmont Hills Baptist Church, MacGregor gave the applause line of the night, when he said that he would rather see the county reform itself than Druid Hills form a city. But there it is — HB 655, a placeholder bill filed by State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur (potentially D-Druid Hills).

MacGregor has a basket of misgivings about incorporation — the process sucks, it’s expensive, incorporation doesn’t address schools, it doesn’t really lower taxes, most of the county’s services aren’t really a problem and incorporation fights can piss people off — but when you’re being ignored and in pain, it’s defensive kung-fu. The civic association has several disputes with the county that should be solvable with a little communication, but county leaders have been curiously unresponsive, he said.

“People are concerned about schools and land use,” he said to a crowd drawn largely from northern and central DeKalb County. “It seems that we’re beginning to be overruled on land use by people outside our area. … If everyone north of us incorporates, we’re orphaned. We lose control of our destiny.”

We’ve been hearing about the proposed incorporation of Lakeside for months now — Bernie Knight says they’re half-way to reaching a $30,000 fundraising goal for the legally-required impact study — but there are half a dozen other city proposals quietly smoking in the waiting room. Theoretically, someone living in the right neighborhood could have as many as three different cities vying for their support. Lakeside, Druid Hills, Tucker, LaVista Hills and an omnibus city of Briarcliff covering about a fifth of the county are all in play. Maps are “fluid,” State. Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) reminded people, but several proposed cities have overlapping areas in common.

A City of DeKalb also remains on the table with HB 687, although the legislature has apparently signaled its dislike for the idea with rejections of earlier proposals. A City of DeKalb would effectively halt all further incorporation and annexation in the county. A different bit of legislation — HB 22 — would change the incorporation rules, effectively making it a bit more difficult to do. “(HB) 687 is about strategically planning for the county,” said State Rep. Pam Stephenson (D-DeKalb) as she referred to the impact of other incorporations on the county as a whole. “Without intellectual honesty in the discussion … we will continue to have debates without understanding what we’re debating.”

Oliver called the town hall (county hall?) meeting partially to create a forum for introducing the different groups to one another to iron out the inevitable territorial disputes and acrimonious intra-neighborhood fights. For example, pro-incorporation folks are still pushing for areas north of I-85 to join Chamblee, and they quite openly accused opponents of lying in direct mail about what incorporation might mean.  State. Sen. Jason Carter (D-DeKalb) noted how disturbing he found the divisiveness of the Brookhaven political fight. “You need buy-in for it to work.”

Interestingly, that lack of buy-in appears to be driving one more incorporation idea that’s floating in the ether — that of the area around the Mall at Stonecrest. Jason Lary presented plans for a City of Stonecrest, which would cover a swath of south DeKalb … including the entire city of Lithonia. The new city would leave Lithonia as a Vatican City-esque enclave within it.

An audience member asked Lary, a music promoter and business development executive for Kaiser Permanente, if that would prevent the city of Lithonia from ever expanding.

“Yes.”

Lary paused for a heartbeat, to let that land uncomfortably. And then he lit into Lithonia. Lary said he spent about $1.3 million over six years to help develop a civic center in Lithonia, “dragging the city kicking and screaming along. I’m not going to do that again.” He cited the drop in his property values over the last five years or so in his neighborhood near the mall — a loss of about two-thirds of his value. If the financially-troubled mall fails, he said he expects to cut his home value in half again. He said he thinks he can find more support outside of the city than within it. “You cannot conquer a people. They have to want it.”

Now … some of this could be sour grapes. Lary’s contract for concert promotion with Lithonia disintegrated in acrimony a few months ago, with city leaders describing him as disrespectful. Though there’s no telling how much support it may draw, Lary’s concept has a sponsor in the Georgia Senate. It illustrates the general level of dissatisfaction with the quality of governance in the county.

Presenters openly discussed the  specter of future indictments of county officials and a general sense of lack-of-responsiveness from county government as a driving factor toward incorporation. The schools question also emerged, noting that a proposed change in the law may allow cities to eventually form their own districts and disassociate from the county system. (Fun fact: ousted DeKalb school board member Jay Cunningham stood quietly in the back aisle of the church, watching within an arm’s length of the double-door exit.)

I came to this meeting looking for a sense of strategic vision from county leaders. Commissioner Jeff Rader addressed some of those issues obliquely, but it was apparent that he wasn’t speaking from consensus. As I spoke with county functionaries in the crowd, I heard the standard refrain, that the county system of government — a strong CEO elected separately from a relatively weak board of commissioners — doesn’t work and that it needs to be changed … except that no one from the DeKalb legislative delegation wants to make the proposal.

So, I asked State Rep. Howard Mosby after the meeting why that was. He smiled a bit, and said that the delegation had studied the issue. “Well, the form of government, it depends on the people,” he said. The implication was clear, even if he was being polite: if the people in office aren’t any good, it doesn’t matter what kind of government you have. 

69 comments

  1. bgsmallz says:

    “State. Sen. Jason Carter (D-DeKalb) noted how disturbing he found the divisiveness of the Brookhaven political fight.”

    A footnote here…I really respect Jason Carter, but aren’t all political fights divisive by nature? The real question is why did this become an internal political fight when all the other incorporation movements were generally community discussions on whether it was a good idea or a bad idea?

    For the first time in any of the incorporation referendums, those opposed to incorporation went all in on making it into a political slugfest. All it really took was two wealthy donors from historic Brookhaven. The well funded “No” group, made up of mostly Democrat party donors, brought in a hired gun…a pretty well known conservative/GOP strategist and spent tens of thousands of dollars turning a local referendum into a political slopfest, pitting conservatives against conservatives…where the false question of ‘another layer of government’ became something greater to fear than throwing money down a well. Folks rallied around self-defeating rally-cries like ‘we’re not Dunwoody’ and ‘those other cities didn’t have Buford Hwy’ and ‘we’re not the REAL Brookhaven.’

    It was really sad to see those who had been so committed to their community wage a no holds barred political war that had the main purpose of devaluing our area and creating fear about your neighbors and our community.

    But let’s blame that on incoporation itself, right?

    Anyway, the political makeup of the proposed Briarcliff and Tucker areas will be ripe for the same type of divisiveness…and all it will take is a couple of high end folks in Druid Hills or Smokerise to fund it.

    One other note…for all the talk of ‘divisiveness’ in Brookhaven, I think it is a bit overblown. This is a little super-local…but there were ~2,900 votes in favor of Brookhaven south of Windsor Parkway compared to ~3,000 above it. There is a very large group from one end to the other who wanted this to happen and have been working together to see it start right. Frankly, many of my friends who voted ‘no’ (gasp! we disagreed and we still talk?) did so because they had been convinced it was ‘moving too fast’ or that ‘we didn’t have the resources’ (see the GOP strategist at work in those?) and have easily moved on to a healthy skepticism partnered with optimism and cooperation.

    (As long as I’m writing a novel, I’ll ask again why the groups and pols from Lakeside/Briarcliff/Tucker aren’t doing the study together and then using the data and the skilled folks from the CVI to help define boundaries for their bills? It saves your political capital for later. Why draw a line based upon hypotheticals when you can present a couple sets of boundaries for two cities that you KNOW will work because they have been vetted?)

    • Dave Bearse says:

      DeKalb County overall lacks commercial-industrial tax base relative to residential. Dunwoody by dint of geography got the most lucrative tax base in the county, Perimeter. I don’t begrudge Dunwoody that.

      Brookhaven proponents brazenly included commercial tax base that had no business in Brookhaven. Most, but not all, of the tax base that didn’t belong in Brookhaven was stripped away, but not without a fight. Brazen greed paying off, even in small measure, was a greed-fest green-light.

      That was no more clear than in the case of Lakeside, the first proposed city after Brookhaven. Proposed Lakeside cut Tucker into two pieces, with a majority of Tucker commercial property into the proposed city, natch. Lakeside proponents likewise included Lawrenceville Highway commercial property that was nearly completely cut off from the remainder of the proposed city by CSXT.

      In the second Lakeside iteration, proponents pulled back the northern border to leave a three mile long less one-half mile wide area between the proposed city and Gwinnett County consisting almost exclusively of apartments and modest townhomes. The Lakeside proposal was to foist the geographic inefficiencies of serving that area.

      There’s no incentive for those that are greedy to work together, because it’s less than a zero sum game. And it’s a zero sum game because of the inefficiencies of loss of economy scale in delivering services (not that the County in some instances is doing what it should to maximize economy of scale).

      • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

        “DeKalb County overall lacks commercial-industrial tax base relative to residential.”

        That’s because the rich industrial and commercial areas fled to places like Gwinnett as DeKalb crime, and other adverse factors escalated making workplaces dangerous and businesses unprofitable. And you know that.

        That’s because greed is politically apathetic.

      • bgsmallz says:

        First, if by ‘brazenly’ you mean, they proposed including commercial areas that are directly adjacent to the city and only accessible via Clairmont Road (which is…gasp… in the city), then we agree. MAN…how BRAZEN!!! I can’t believe they would draw in commercial property that can only be accessed by the city right of way! Fiends! <—sarcasm

        By 'fight' if you mean agreeing to remove those areas from the study because the neighborhoods adjacent to those areas asked them to…then we agree. Just so we're clear, choosing not to fight is a fight in your mind. Great…thanks for playing.

        Frankly, you are accusing my neighbors of brazen greed and fighting based upon the fact that commercial area wasn't included in the study because someone asked it be removed…Seriously?…I would take that personally if you had any real proof other than your opinion laden observations of events that didn't actually occur.

        By the way, flip side of economy of scale is the law of diminishing returns…the county has certainly mastered that.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          I was wrong about the Brookhaven boundary—all of the commercial property east of Clairmont that I objected to was stripped away per the city map on the city’s website —the greed was indeed checked.

          Save the gasping nonsense about deliberately taking in the commercial property fronting an arterial road at the expense of the adjoining residential property for rubes that don’t know any better—it was theft by taking, with charges dropped when it was returned.

          • bgsmallz says:

            So in your mind…something analogous at its worst to window shopping is theft by taking? Gasping nonsense, indeed.

            I would counter that those who hold on to a belief that is clearly contrary to any actual timeline and/or the actual events (a.k.a. “reality”) are the ones who are the rubes, but frankly, it’s a waste of time trying to reason with those who attempt to distort facts to support their stubborn opinions rather than allowing their opinions to morph based upon the facts. Good day and good luck!

            • Dave Bearse says:

              Outside evaluation of my theft by taking claim is as simple as using Goggle Earth to locate the large Century Center office complex in the northeast quadrant of the I-85/Clairmont Road interchange on Goggle Earth, and determining its location relative to Brookhaven.

  2. George Chidi says:

    To that last point: someone raised the very point about a combined study, and I suspect it will happen. That said, I can see some nonpartisan CVI folks looking for the cyanide and hemlock pills to keep from being accused of gerrymandering the lines.

    • bgsmallz says:

      Ha. That’s a great point. I hate to think of anyone going through that.

      Wouldn’t it be possible to have shared services agreements built into the legislation? To the extent that, for example, no one can agree on Northlake Mall. Wouldn’t you be able to put it in the city of Lakeside and create a shared services agreement where Tucker would still get tax revenues for shared services provided for 20 years until, like the Panama Canal, it reverts fully to Lakeside? Or just make Lakeside make 20 years of revenue payments to Tucker? Etc.

      Obviously that’s too complex to work…even as a new city advocate, I have to admit incorporation tends to be ‘winner take all’ by nature….but I’ll take any chance I get to compare Northlake Mall to the Panama Canal.

  3. tracy white says:

    The “Lakeside people” have said they have nothing in common with the people over at Emory/CDC and continuing to call it the City of Lakeside really grates on the nerves of many people. The “Tucker people” were miffed that LCA tried to grab “their turf”.

    LCA needs to learn some manners. If they’d asked first who wanted to be included before presenting the package they’d have a lot more support.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      See above. It’s not about what other people want. It was about Lakeside seeking to steal whatever it could.

  4. Tom Taylor says:

    What a lot of folks are missing here….Who carries the bills for all of these proposed cities? The only one that has a chance right now is Lakeside because Senator Millar is the sponsor. All of the rest on the sponsors of these “placeholder” bills vigorously opposed the incorporation of Sandy Springs, John’s Creek, Milton, Chattahoochee, Dunwoody & Brookhaven. To be fair, Senator Carter voted for Brookhaven.

    Going to be interesting to watch how folks who opposed every incorporation since 2004 are going to sell the argument that cities are a good thing.

    • bgsmallz says:

      Mary Magaret Oliver sponsored and wrote a bill during the 2012 session that would have specifically given Atlanta and other cities within a certain radius of areas veto power over new cities.

      I wonder if she asked permission from Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council to drop her placeholder bill or if that only applies to real citizens?

      • Tom Taylor says:

        She wrote a bill HB-22. It never went anywhere. Not even a hearing on it. And my friend Elena Parent had the same bill in the 2011-2012 session, same result. Went nowhere.

  5. Scott65 says:

    “Theoretically, someone living in the right neighborhood could have as many as three different cities vying for their support.”
    That would be the situation I find myself in. Our area is bordered by Atlanta on one side, Druid Hills on another, and “Lakeside/Briarcliff” on another. I have to say that none of these options are overly appealing. I am satisfied with the level of service I receive. Trash pick up twice a week, county now funds recycling once a week, yard debris picked up once a week. Taxes are low relative to some other areas. This doesn’t seem that bad to me. What does seem bad, however, is being lumped in with other people who dont logically have the same wants and needs as I do. Druid Hills has a legitimate gripe about preserving their historic neighborhood. My neighborhood does not have that problem, so I dont particularly want to be a part of that fight (and added expense). Briarcliff/Lakeside makes absolutely no geographic sense nor do the home owners have that much in common, unlike say Sandy Springs which was very unified. The other thing that bothers me is that each entity is trying to carve out only the more prosperous real estate (have a look at some of the contorted maps…look like congressional districts) leaving the county with no tax base and a lot of the more poverty stricken areas to have to provide services for. I’m sorry, but that just isnt right. I also question the motives of “Lakeside” as far as the racial component although you’d never have anyone admit it but things I hear make me think its festering in the background. To me Sandy Springs is the model…a unified area with common needs almost entirely unified in their desire to be a city…a place were it makes sense, and other than Druid Hills…none of these proposals pass that test

  6. Tom Taylor says:

    The only thing that everyone at this meeting agreed on last night was that the DeKalb County government and the DeKalb County School System are broken, disfunctional goverment entities.

    • Scott65 says:

      I cant address the schools (dont have kids…so pay little or no attention), but last time I looked…these were people we elected. Instead of wailing and gnashing of teeth thats been going on…how about working to fix whats broken instead of breaking it more…just a suggestion. I’m sure the people who were there thought that…but those are the ones that are “motivated”…there are a lot of us that weren’t there that might not agree with that 100%…although there are definite changes that need to be made

  7. Scott65 says:

    Sorry for another post but there is something else that came to mind. As someone who used to have to pull permits on a regular basis…I used to dread having to deal with new cities, and I know for a fact that new businesses also would skip over these new places because every new city at first tends to micromanage everything, the red tape is enormous, and the wait time is horrible. That said, Dekalb has laid off so many people in their permitting dept. that the wait times were (dont know if this is still the case) 90 days which is way too long. I just wish that all this energy going into forming cities would go into making the county better…it would be a hell of a lot cheaper and way more people would benefit from it

    • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

      Scott65: There is no will by the DeKalb Delegation to resolve the real issues in DeKalb County, and I truly wish it were not so.

      Look at this remark that Mr. Chidi graciously calls ‘oblique’ by Comm. Rader:

      “The county needs to maintain an equilibrium to ensure we continue providing services as the will of the people moves forward.” The first comment Comm. Rader made at one of the Dunwoody incorporation meetings was that it would raise the taxes in the County for everyone. Not that reducing the County by 40,000 people should reduce expenses, mind you.

      Fulton is 95% incorporated and the General Assembly was tasked to protect property owners from it’s bloated overhead by increasing the Homestead Exemptions, last year. #FAIL.

      In DeKalb, there is not will to undo Maloof’s benevolent dictatorship of a strong CEO form of governance. In DeKalb, most don’t even know there is a problem, and that IS the problem.

      • Scott65 says:

        If there is no will in the DeKalb delegation…is that not why we VOTE? If there is no will, there should be a lot of will to vote them out. As to the services…have any of you driven around in South DeKalb? To read this thread, you’d think the county was giving them a better deal. In short, they are not. They suffer the same problems (if not worse) there. Simply put, because these people that want to form citys have the money to do it, they can basically rob from the poorer areas leaving them behind. This does not make the region better, but instead reinforces the us vs them mentality which is good for no one. The “we pay more so we should get more” argument is a slippery slope. There are several very wealthy people in this country using that same argument. Bottom line is that the poorer parts of the county dont get any better service and in fact get worse (you think they filling more potholes in S DeKalb???). There is more police presence there in part due to the poverty and higher crime rates. Thats what really needs to be addressed…but I dont see anyone with appetite to deal with that, even though thats a solution…not just walling yourself off from the problem because…that problem is still there and making it worse wont help

        • bgsmallz says:

          Uhh…Seriously? Have you even heard of the Browns Mill Aquatic Park? Feel free to take a look at how much of the budget for parks goes to running the two golf courses in South DeKalb and the Water Park…and then feel free to ask the question why the county chooses to run those facilities rather than opening community pools like Briarwood or Lynwood Park (both of which…gasp!…serve a significant minority population). …the CEO proposed building a soap box derby track over other things such as fixing known EPA violations at Murphey Candler Park.

          Generalizations and broad based attacks play fine when you are talking national or even state level politics with your friends. However, it shows a keen lack of understanding of the issues facing DeKalb.

          If I’m greedy or insensitive because I think that more than 5% of the taxes I pay for municipal services should be reinvested in municipal services in my community, then so be it. But here’s a news flash…over 90% of my tax bill still goes to the county..not to mention sales taxes, fees, etc. You tell me how that in any manner qualifies as ‘walling myself off’ and I’ll be more than happy to continue the conversation.

          • Scott65 says:

            We are talking two different things…you are talking DeKalb Government, and I am talking people of S. DeKalb. My guess is very few of them play much golf, and generally dont get much use from a water park. What you are saying is DeKalb Government is crooked, which I wont dispute with you, but still back to my point…wouldn’t it be better to vote them out in an election rather than create new carved out cities, unless you think there is some reason this wont happen if tried

  8. Tom Taylor says:

    If the county would have put as much effort into providing services to the areas like Dunwoody & Brookhaven as they did in opposing them, there would have been no need to incorporate. Having been on the Dunwoody City Council and now as a State Representative from Dunwoody, that city has paved more roads in the area in 4 years than DeKalb did in the past 20 without raising taxes.

    To your point on permits, yes, in any startup (business or government) you will have bumps in the road. But look at the successes that all of the North Fulton and North DeKalb cities have proven to be. Service levels far superior to the counties they are in, balanced budgets and even surpluses, and lower taxes.

    • George Chidi says:

      I’m not arguing your point, per se. But one of the things that even proponents of incorporation were careful to note was that taxes don’t necessarily go down after an incorporation. Each of the new cities were incorporated under millage rate caps, which affects taxation, of course, but I suspect there are other tradeoffs.

      So, I ask for a bit of detail. Service levels far superior … what empirical measurement do you use to support that assertion? You may be right, but I want to understand the basis for the claim. Same for the tax rates.

      • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

        As a resident of Dunwoody, I vigorously opposed incorporation, at my own expense.

        Now, I can unequivocally say that while DeKalb property taxes have increased, substantially, City taxes have not. Oh sure, small franchise fees went up, but that is splitting hairs. So have my taxes gone down? No, yet they would be even higher if we stayed unincorporated. The tax increases in DeKalb are not due anything other than County spending.

        As Rep. Taylor mentions, more roads have been paved, sidewalks built, and better Police patrolling is a result of incorporation. Add to that, a new zoning code will be introduced that is friendly to business and should increase property values over time by allowing slightly larger homes on existing lots, if that’s what the market supports.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Amazing isn’t it? Who would have suspected that the some of the wealthiest best educated areas in the state would be successful on their own?

      • Scott65 says:

        yeah…its alot easier when you remove any responsibility for those less fortunate by walling yourself off from the problem…leaving it for someone else to deal with…yeah, I bet its a lot easier

  9. Tom Taylor says:

    Miles of roads paved per year, police service levels and response times (from over 40 minutes to less than 4 minutes), the ability to submit and track work orders for problems like potholes online, police that actually show up when you report a crime (DeKalb police will no longer show up to auto theft, auto break ins, etc, They just take a report over the phone).

    This is not criticizing the DKPD, the same thing that I heard at the meeting last night was the argument here, the police are good folks…but spread way too thin. For an insight into how the police feel about this check out their blog at: http://dekalbofficersspeak.blogspot.com/

    If you look at your tax bill there is a line called Unincorporated District Tax. It is what all county residents that do not live in cities pay for municipal services. When Dunwoody incorporated in 2008 that rate was 2.74 mils. Upon incorporation that line was reclassified as Dunwoody City Tax at the same rate, 2.74 mils to provide those municipal services. Since 2008, the county has raised that Unincorporated District Tax to 6.39 mils, a large increase. I do not perceive that county services have increased proportionate to the higher millage rate. The rate in the city is still held at 2.74 and capped by the City Charter at 3.04. The only way that it can go above that is by a ballot referendum of the voters.

    • rwf says:

      Rep. Taylor

      I have heard this argument regarding county taxes several times, but have been unable to see it on the tax bills. In particular, on the 2012 tax bills, the Unincorporated District Tax for ALL of unincorporated DeKalb is set at 0.38 mils, to go along with the 10.43 mils for County Operations and 3.75 mils for Police Services (among others). The Dunwoody bill has only eliminated the 0.38 mil Unincorporated tax and the 3.75 mil Police Services tax, to be replaced by the Dunwoody City tax of 2.74 mils. The difference results in Dunwoody paying only 1.39 mils less than unincorporated areas of the county.

      So,what I don’t understand is how UNINCORPORATED Dunwoody could possibly be taxed at a rate of 2.74 mils when everyone else was at 0.39 mils (or whatever it was back then). That is a huge difference! And I do not understand your claim that the county has raised the Unincorporated District Tax to 6.39 mils, as all the unincorporated county residential tax bills I have reviewed only show 0.38 mils. Could you please explain this discrepancy as this is a critical issue for those areas of the county considering incorporation.

      A very simple tax review, including a spreadsheet of the various tax rates within the County and a collection of random residential tax bills, can be found at:

      http://cityoftuckerinitiative.blogspot.com/2013/04/dekalb-county-property-taxes.html

      • bgsmallz says:

        With all due respect, you aren’t going back far enough in your research. The county manipulated the tax rate on incorporated areas in 2012 by changing the rates for the different line items charged. You need to go back prior to 2012 and look at the Police line and others for reference.

        http://www.thecrier.net/news/article_7ab2f590-d016-11e1-8c36-0019bb2963f4.html

        Every city…including Lithonia, St. Mtn, Decatur, Dunwoody, etc. objected to that manipulation and the Atty General has been asked for a formal opinion on whether or not it violated the law. The bottom line is that the county used a surplus from the 2011 budget to roll back the police line item (but not roll back police expenses) in order to raise taxes on those living in cities. It’s shady business for sure.

        Bottom line…look at tax bills going back to 2008 or 2009 as a starting point. Only looking at 2012 does your readers a real dis-service.

        • rwf says:

          OK. This is what I am trying to understand. Let’s review the numbers, (which will be tough in this format) for unincorporated DeKalb. I’m only go to use General Fund, Unincorporated and Police Services as they are the only line items actually in play.

          Year Gen Fund Uninc Police Total
          2009 8.00 mils 3.50 0.00 11.50
          2010 8.o0 3.50 0.00 11.50
          2011 9.43 0.45 5.94 15.82
          2012 10.43 0.38 3.75 14.56

          So, in 2008 I have to assume the unincorporated rate was 2.74 mils, which Dunwoody turned into the City of Dunwoody tax. In 2011, the county dropped the Unincorporated District tax over 3 mils, transferring 1.43 mils into the General Fund (which Dunwoody pays) and the balance into Police Services, with additional new taxes to increase that line item to 5.94 mils. (The difference for Dunwoody now goes from 2.74 less 1.43 to a new difference of 1.31 mils).

          Then in 2012, the County reduced the Police Services number 2.10 mills, reduced the unincorporated number .07 mils, and increased the General Fund 1.0 mil. So, looking at only those three line items, the unincorporated tax actually went down 1.26 mils, and Dunwoody’s went up the additional 1.0 mil, because Dunwoody continues to pay the General Fund tax. So now the 2.74 original difference Dunwoody used at their startup has been reduced 1.43 plus 1.0, or a total of 2.43, so the grand difference (millage rate wise) for Dunwoody is now only .31 mils (2.74 less the 2.43 increase in the General Fund rate.)

          So this still does not help the numbers Rep. Taylor has put out there. Yes, the county jerked the cities around by increasing the General Fund millage and dropping the Unincorporated District millage. But if my math above is correct, Dunwoody is now only saving the .31 mils, not 2.74.

          And, overall, going from 2009 to 2012, DeKalb unincorporated taxes have only gone up a total 0f 3.06 mils. Rep. Taylor consistently uses the 6.39 figure as the tax increase for unincorporated DeKalb, which I cannot find or reconstruct anywhere.

          Hence my dilemma.

          • rwf says:

            I’m going to try to reconstruct the little spread sheet to make it easier to read. The comment widget doesn’t see multiple spaces or tabs.

            Year—— Gen Fund——- Uninc——Police——- Total
            2009—– 8.00 mils——– 3.50 ——–0.00——- 11.50
            2010—— 8.o0————– 3.50——- 0.00——- 11.50
            2011—— 9.43————– 0.45——- 5.94——– 15.82
            2012—– 10.43————- 0.38——– 3.75——– 14.56

            • bgsmallz says:

              You’re conclusion is way off. First, you can’t leave off the fire district charges, b/c those have swayed in the wind, too. Second, you are confusing the millage rates for the tax burden…which is exactly what the county wants you to do.

              Look at the chart you drafted above. You show the county cutting taxes to the unincorporated services fund from 3.5 to .38 from 2009 to 2012. So, help me understand where the county cut its budget by 90%? I missed the press release on that one. Did the county close 90% of its parks? Did they stop building soap box derby tracks and somehow I missed it?

              Also, I’m trying to figure out why if the Police fund was cut by 40%, how come the Police force wasn’t cut by 20%?

              See…that’s the point. Just because the county illegally plays the shell game with the tax rates doesn’t mean taxes went down. It just means they are even more blatantly full of crap than we thought they were (which is saying something). Go to the county’s commissions budget report this year…http://web.co.dekalb.ga.us/boc/CommitteeDoc/2013%20budget%20analysis%202013.01.15.pdf

              Let me hit you with some of the highlights…
              -“the use of the fund balance may require a tax increase in 2014 at a cost to those in the unincorporated part of the county”
              -“165 positions will be authorized but unfunded”
              -“One aspect of the proposed 2013 millage rate is that the entire proposed increase is placed within the General Fund. This does increase the budgeted reserve to three weeks; however the gain in fund balance co-exists with the same swing in the other direction in the Police Fund. This situation would lead one to believe that in 2014, the General Fund tax would need to go down and the Police up, affecting only the unincorporated area of the County”

              Translation…pretty soon we are going to have to break it to folks outside of cities that we did not find a goose that lays golden eggs.

              What hasn’t changed is the millage rate Dunwoody pays. (there is a handy chart in the BOC budget document)

              So, to recap…the county raised the total tax burden in 2009, raised it again in 2011, and then illegally raised the burden only on residents in cities in 2012…plus they know they are going to have to raise taxes in 2014 on unincorporated residents because their shell game can’t last forever.

              Focusing on the millage rate misses the forest for the trees. The county has an proven unsustainable appetite to spend and not balance budgets…that creates the need for more taxes. New cities with millage caps do not have such an appetite and have shown to be able to balance their budgets even through the recession. There is only one entity here doing the raising…and it isn’t the cities.

              • rwf says:

                I would ask that you please let Rep. Taylor speak for himself.

                Your arguments and statements are misguided at best and do not respond to the issue I have raised. However, if you choose to continue to speak for Rep. Taylor, please try to use reason, logic and facts in your arguments rather than resorting to . . . well, lets call it hyperbole and leave it at that. If the rates I have pulled from the county tax statements are incorrect, or if my math doesn’t work, then please try to explain why they are wrong. I am completely open to correction.

                To your points, as near as I can understand them:

                When we are debating what the potential taxes are going to be in the proposed new cities, the only figures available for discussion are the millage rates, as exemplified by Rep. Taylor in his own statements. We simply have no choice but to focus on millage rates when trying to explain tax issues to the average homeowner.

                If you would take an intelligent look at the simple spreadsheet I posted, you could answer your own questions about how the county DIDN’T cut its budget by 90%, but used the shell game to move the dollars around. No question the county is using, or abusing, the various millage rates in order to continue to maximize revenue after the new cities are formed. One obvious way to do that is move Unincorporated District revenue over to the General Fund, so that they can continue to tax residents in the new cities.

                Same principal applies to the Police Services tax. The county maximizes revenue by reducing the direct millage rate used for Police Services, and moving some of the Police budget over to the General Fund. Another shell game.

                Another point that is somehow missed across the board is that, while the county tax or millage rates have certainly increased in the last few years, the actual property taxes most homeowners are paying are 15-30% less than what they paid two years ago, and are often equal, in very broad terms, to the taxes they paid 4 or 5 years ago. Obviously, this is due to the bust in property values, and the considerable reduction in home assessments.

                And with regard to the county raising taxes, county revenue for the last few years looks like this:

                2008 – $636,456,000
                2009 – $606,749,000
                2010 – $558,601,000
                2011 – $540,864,000
                2012 – $556,700,000

                I hardly call this an example of a county with a “proven unsustainable appetite to spend and not balance budgets.” The county has struggled to provide the same level of service over these past several years, while their revenue has dropped 12.4% since 2008. None of us may like how the county operates, or all the services it provides, or the corruption in our elected leaders, or the self-serving political power plays they engage in, but this is the county government we’re stuck with.

                I am working to understand basic tax issues within the county, how Dunwoody has successfully managed the recession, and how all this may work to the advantage or detriment of the new proposed cities. My questions are for Rep. Taylor, as the numbers he has been consistently espousing simply do not add up. I need only refer you to his short and sweet answer to my previous question posted today, May 7 at 5:54 pm.

                • bgsmallz says:

                  Agree. I’ll disregard the ‘take an intelligent look’ comment and just assume that we are still having a wonky, non-personal discussion.

                  I’ll sum up my point in that numbers without context are pretty pointless. Rep. Taylor’s numbers in the context of 2007-08 tax rates and are spot on. And if you take an “intelligent” look at your chart, in 2011 the unincorporated rate for the same services Dunwoody provided (police + other) was 6.39. That’s the real number regardless of the shell game the county played in 2012. How do we know that? Because the county basically admits that its budgets based upon the millage rates set in 2012 are unsustainable without flipping the burden back to unincorporated residents in 2014.

                  Numbers without context stink. Let’s look at your example and include 2013…keeping in mind that this doesn’t include bond issues, enterprise fund issues, schools, etc.:
                  2008 – $636,456,000
                  2009 – $606,749,000
                  2010 – $558,601,000
                  2011 – $540,864,000
                  2012 – $556,700,000
                  2013- $558,885,854

                  2 straight years of spending increases!!! The recession is over bay-bee!!! Now, let’s look at why using 2008 as a starting point is not ‘intelligent’.

                  2000- $400,100,000
                  2001-$419,200,000
                  2002- $445,600,000
                  2003- $490,900,000
                  2004- $502,900,000
                  2005- $497,000,000
                  2006- $580,890,000
                  2007- $609,980,000
                  2008 – $636,456,000
                  2009 – $606,749,000
                  2010 – $558,601,000
                  2011 – $540,864,000
                  2012 – $556,700,000
                  2013- $558,885,854

                  See how that works? You start at 2008 and it makes the county look responsible. That’s like telling a 600 lbs man that he’s looking great because he doesn’t have to bathe with a rag on a stick anymore.

                  And just to add some other context…the county has lost over 15% of its population since 2008 to incorporation and annexation. Not to mention the fact that the 2010 census showed that unincorporated DeKalb’s population actually decreased over the past decade.

                  Let’s see…the county tax base had unprecedented property value drops, the county lost 15% of its population to incorporation, and people moved out…yet somehow the county increased its per captia spending on unincorporated residents by 20 to 30%.

                  Quick quiz: How did the county accomplish this feat?
                  (a)Raising millage rates by over 30% in total?
                  (b)Raising fees on everything from business licenses to tickets to pavilion rentals?
                  (c) Raising tax rates on incorporated residents for services not provided to them?
                  (d) all of the above?

                  • bgsmallz says:

                    i forgot a possible answer in my quiz…MODIFY!

                    Quick quiz: How did the county accomplish this feat?
                    (a)Raising millage rates by over 30% in total?
                    (b)Raising fees on everything from business licenses to tickets to pavilion rentals?
                    (c) Raising tax rates on incorporated residents for services not provided to them?
                    (d) Draining the general reserves and destroying the county’s credit rating?
                    (e) all of the above?

                    Yep…that’s a model of spending and budgeting restraint.

      • Tom Taylor says:

        It is not 0.38 mils, it is 3.8 mils, and prior to 2011 the police tax was not a separate line item. Mike Jacobs and I sponsored the bill to change that at the request of the County Commission because the CEO was raiding the Police budget to put in the general fund. Look back at a 2008 or 2009 tax bill.

        • rwf says:

          The number on an actual 2012 tax statement issued by the county is .0003800, which translates to .38 mils. On a typical $250,000 value house, that tax is $38.00.

  10. Tom Taylor says:

    As to schools, before the Governor removed the 6 Board members, you had 2 of 9 that were convicted felons. And if you don’t pay much attention to the schools because you don’t have kids, you should. Schools account for about 68% of your property tax bill, and DeKalb has the highest school millage rate in the state….yet is on academic probation. That hits everyone’s property values, whether you have kids or not.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      For the record, DeKalb Schools millage rate is about 20% higher than the rates of other comparable districts, but Rockdale County Schools have the highest rate in the state.

      • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

        The Michael Thurmond Conundrum:

        The voters that voted ’em in are to blame for not voting ’em out.”

        This speaks to my point about the ‘will’ to improve the problem. The same people that voted in, and kept the former DeKalb School Board, is accountable for the DeKalb Delegation.

        Good, bad or, otherwise.

        • Scott65 says:

          My guess is most of the people had no idea because no one dug deep enough until things got bad…but then again, clayton county’s sheriff might make me rethink that. What I guess I’m saying is that people lack information on these sort of things

        • Scott65 says:

          …and none of those people would be in these cities??? 6 out of 9 makes me think there is a whole lot of blame to go around.

          • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

            @Scott65

            “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” – Winston Churchill

            From somewhere behind the Great Wall of Dunwoody a certain GOP Party official flat out stated to me, personally: “We don’t want more voters, we want more informed voters.”

            The Founding father never really factored stupidity and apathy into the magnificent Constitution. A potentially fatal flaw to the Republic, is, and always will be, ourselves.

            Education, hard work, and strong families, can and will overcome the “tyranny of low expectations.”

            • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

              “fathers” unless I subliminally invoked the Heavenly Father…

              Bring back edit and the like button, O Ye Lord Tanalach!

            • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

              To your point, “and none of these people would be in cities,”and then off to make the doughnuts…

              New cities offer a louder voice for citizens and that leads to people becoming more accountable because their is a linkage to their vote and what occurs. Add to that that the new City has absolutely none of the burden of County legacy systems. Outdated, patched together systems and processes include pensions, batch data processing instead of interactive IT, and most importantly layers of impenetrable bureaucracy.

              There is no wall around these new cities, yet their are shackles and chains holding back big county government.

          • Tom Taylor says:

            By law the Governor could not remove them selectively. 2 of the 6 that he removed were great, he had no choice. 2nd is that the 3 not removed had only just been elected and were not there when all of the problems occurred.

  11. griftdrift says:

    As a new citizen of one of the new cities ( can we still call Sandy Springs a new city? ) I’d like to comment on a couple of these.

    From a services perspective, I can only provide anecdotal evidence but my experience is there are many things that are better. An example. Although I just moved to Sandy Springs I’ve worked here for years. There was a nasty pothole on Hammond and only a few days after I cussed it, it was filled. Having lived in both unincorporated Dekalb and City of Atlanta, I’ve never seen that happen.

    Yeah it’s just a pot hole and one data point does not make a conclusion. However, pot holes and such are the things that affect daily lives, create irritation and are things that governmental units closer to the citizenry can affect efficiently and effectively.,

    Which leads me to the things they can’t.

    When I closed on my house and got my first tax bill, I got sticker shock. First of all, it was pretty high. Secondly, I was surprised to see the majority of it still went to Fulton County. I know enough about how these things works to understand Sandy Springs still uses Fulton for water and what not, but did not understand the extent at which it still affected the tax bills. As George said, your taxes ain’t going down.

    But as Tom said, a portion of those taxes are redirected and can be used with more focus. That’s a positive you can see.

    And with Dekalb the main mover in the city movement is the horror that is the school board. Well, the detail many don’t understand is your new city ain’t going to fix that either. Unless the Constitution is changed, cities can’t form school systems ( waves to Dunwoody! ). So as other have said, you still have to work within the system to fix that one.

    My bottom line is a new city can heal a lot of wounds but the greater work is still within the larger county and state problems.

    • Scott65 says:

      Sandy Springs is the poster child of how to correctly start a city…but that was over a decade in planning before they even were able to break from Fulton…there is no such consensus now

      • griftdrift says:

        Yeah. But as I’ve written recently, everyone learned from Sandy Springs and the making of a city is much quicker. See Brookhaven. Not that it won’t be contentious. The populations of the proposed cities are less homogenous for lack of a better word.

        • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

          My word – homogenous. Your point is spot-on.

          A small, focuses advocacy effort forced pro-incorporation folks to refine and substantiate their claims in Dunwoody. Unlike Brookhaven, upon incorporation, there was a general consensus to work together to make Dunwoody a great place to live. All of this is due to a larger homogeneity; we are a mostly Conservative community.

          Brookhaven lacks that homogeneity, and a few of the folks against incorporation have not realized they are largely outliers now.

  12. Tom Taylor says:

    Grift, agree that taxes do not go down with incorporation, but my point is that while the unincorporated areas have had their Unincorporated District Tax go up from 2.74 mils to 6.39 mils in the past 4 years, Dunwoody has maintained where it was 4 years ago, at 2.74. No, they did not go down, but neither did they have a huge percentage increase, no increase at all.

    So while we have demonstrable higher levels of service, residents of Dunwoody have the lowest taz burden of any residents of DeKalb County, even the unincorporated areas.

    To the pothole issue, this is a link to the webpage where citizens can report and track issues like that. Just an example of more focused and responsive government.

    http://dunwoodyga.gov/Departments/Public_Works/SeeClickFix_Report_a_Problem.aspx

    Another example of level of service improvements is Interactive Defense utilized by Dunwoody PD. I travel a lot and can sign up online and have the police check my house while I am out of town. They even send you emails confirming it. These are great improvements over what we had before.

    http://www.dunwoodyga.gov/Departments/Dunwoody-Police-Department/Community-Outreach/InteractiveDefense.aspx

    Not saying incorporation works for everyone, but it sure works here.

  13. George Chidi says:

    Something I’ll be looking at later: the relative costs of police services.

    DeKalb has a well-documented police retention problem. Part of it stems from perceptions of political cronyism and in-group favoritism within the department, part of it is a question of resources (quality of patrol cars, facilities, training opportunities, what not), but I think much of it is about pay. The county pays less than its neighbors. Couple that with an unusually taxing work environment, and you have 10-year veteran officers pulling extra duty as private security because they haven’t had a raise in five years. (Or running interference for drug dealers.)

    Meanwhile, the county spends absurd amounts on recruitment, training, POST certification and what not, only to see its better officers decamp after a few years. I suspect — but do not know — that the retention problem costs them more than the immediate pay disparity. (But I also suspect that pension obligations may be a factor here.)

    Crime is down, broadly (laugh if you like; I know the numbers.) One might expect costs to decrease proportionately, but they haven’t.

    I wonder what the spending per capita on public safety is in Dunwoody, relative to the county at large.

  14. Tom Taylor says:

    Don’t know the cost per capita in the unincorporated areas of the county, remember that the cities of Dunwoody, Brookhaven (soon), Doraville, Chamblee, Decatur, Clarkston, Stone Mountain and even Pine Lake and Lithonia have their own police departments. The portion of Atlanta that is in Dekalb has APD.

    What I do know from the Carl Vinson study for Dunwoody was that we (residents of Dunwoody tax digest) were paying (in 2007, the last data point before incorporation) $13.1 million into the DeKalb PD budget, that was the share borne by our tax digest here. For that we got between 1 and 2 officers in Dunwoody, and slow response times. Again, we were part of the North Precinct which included the Buford Highway corridor, a high crime area where the county had to deploy more assets.

    The difference that we have now is that our police budget is just over $5 million and we have 6 + officers on each shift dedicated to policing within the city limits. Plus a crime supression team of 4, plus 6 detectives dedicated to just the city, and in partnering with Sandy Springs and John’s Creek we have the North Metro SWAT as a combined unit. Bottom line, we are paying less than half of what we were and have exponentially increased police presence. We also do not have any pension liabilities because we have a defined contribution rather than a defined benefit plan.

    Again, have no idea how the per capita stacks up against the county, but folks here love it. The other unique variable here is that we have 47,000 nighttime residents, folks who actually live here. In the daytime that population swells to 120,000 due to the influx of folks who work here, so we might need an amateur statistician to figure out the variables here.

    And yes, our officer salaries and benefits are higher than DKPD, and each office also has their own take home car. The other side of that is that our Chief does not permit any Dunwoody officer to work any part time like as security at a bar or club. They are not allowed to do any part time work. I personally know some DeKalb officers that make more working their off-duty security jobs than they do in salary. But we also have had almost zero turnover in the 4 years we have had a police department. Only 4 officers left in for years, and none for any problems. One became a stay at home mom and 3 left for other law enforcement positions.

    Would be an interesting comparison if someone has time.

  15. Progressive Dem says:

    Rep Taylor can stop patting himself and Dunwoody on the back. No other city can be compared to Dunwoody. With the kind of revenue stream and socio-economic conditions in Dunwoody, it isn’t hard to make government work. Dunwoody has a tax base comprised of 60% residential and 40% commercial. (Decatur has a goal to reach a 20% commercial tax base. I wonder if Dalton has a tax base comprised of 40% industrial/commercial?) Commercial and apartments pay the full freight –no homestead exemptions and no HOST property tax credit. In addition offices pay millions in business license fees based on employment. The Perimeter Mall area has the largest office market in the southeast US. On top of this the commercial property owners voluntarily created a self-taxing Community Improvement District that adds up to 4 mills for transportation improvements, streetscaping and extra security. The City also picks u some pocket change in franchise fees for utilities that countys can’t collect from its citizens utility bills. You can subtract from Dunwoody the costs in police protection that are associated with the levels of poverty, addiction and unemployment that DeKalb and City of Atlanta must contend with. In fact Dunwoody has some of the highest educational and income levels in the state. (Should we call them elities?) Never-the-less Dunwoody finds the opportunity for ethics charges among it elected officials, and fights over parks spending, police staffing and roundabouts.

      • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

        All true, Progressive Dem.

        Each of the factors you categorize are correct, and the Constitution allows us all to select our form of governance. Under Maloof, N. DeKalb benefited.

        How has south DeKalb benefited with Vernon or CEO Ellis? Other than Water Parks, Soap Box Derby tracks, how has the average South DeKalb County resident benefited? When I ride around I see some nice new roadways, poorly maintained, rampant lack of zoning enforcement and a tired-looking area.

        I said in the beginning and maintain today, the problems in DeKalb are universal throughout the entire County. Incorporation simply brings decision-making closer to home and empowers the voter.

    • Tom Taylor says:

      Every community has disagreements on budget priorities, period. And what roads get paved. Not unusual anywhere. As to the 60-40 split, that mirrors DeKalb County, exactly the same mix of commercial and residential.

  16. Ghost of William F Buckley says:

    Dunwoody area sees well kept or improved resales selling close to the ‘new’ asking price, which is lower than pre-implosion. Intown remains hot, with older homes and new ones remaining on market for only a short time. SW DeKalb has a pro-active step, a good step by the County.

    In this depressed area, new opportunities will become apparent as the County begons a program to rid itself of abandoned properties. Mid-Dekalb/Tucker is slower, further away from the Emory/CDC industrial complex. South DeKalb, sadly, faces uncertainty as Stonecrest Mall may founder. Arabia Mountain, which is rich, diversified, potentially considering incorporation, sells.

    Politically Conservative buyers are atypical for DeKalb, except in the northern, newly incorporated arc above I85.

    • Harry says:

      I imagine the unincorporated areas must be hurt due to bad leadership, school problems, infrastructure problems, and substantial millage rate increases? Seems like a perfect storm of bad publicity. Not to say we’re that much better off in Gwinnett, but at least we still have sort of a handle on things.

  17. EnuffGovtAlready says:

    I’m looking for the Rep’s bill to change the form of DeKalb govt?
    I appreciate that Rep Taylor is a cheerleader for Dunwoody but I’ve often found the facts are more opinions. As I understand it, pro city groups need to disparage DeKalb police because that is where they can seize the most amount of money for their city du jour. But it only take a small amount of fact checking to determine the truth is not always being told. There was a town hall at Oglethorpe Univ with Rep Jacobs where Rep Taylor credited Dunwoody police with a gang unit; they have no such entity.” Dunwoody paid $13M into the DeKalb PD budget” but I remember a month before the $13M came out Robert Wittenstein said it was $11M. The 12000 homes in Dunwoody did not pay $1K a year in taxes for police, especially when 60% of the tax base is commercial. Then there is the over used statement that we only “got between 1 or 2 officers in Dunwoody ” with of course no documentation to support the statement. The north precinct is still in Dunwoody with approximately 100 officers assigned to it. Every DeKalb police official I’ve ever talked to has termed the 1 to 2 patrols as false. All have said Dunwoody was patrolled by a minimum 3 to 4 officers and a direct supervisor followed by a higher supervisor on each of their 3 shifts just from the precinct. Every DeKalb officers I’ve questioned has consistently reminded me that many services like the motorcycle officers might have worked in Dunwoody but they were not counted as precinct patrols. The tradeoff to having a Dunwoody Police produced a number of 4 to 6 officers on 2 shifts or about the same number as pre-city but no enhanced police services.
    The Dunwoody Police budget is not “just over $5 million” . In 2011 it was $7.3M, in 2012 it was $5.7M and for 2013 it is projected to be $6.4M. Throw in another half million from the general fund each year to keep the 911 system afloat and we are not just over $5M. The crime suppression team mentioned was voted down by the Dunwoody city council. The 6 detectives must cover everything and after the Sneiderman case…well. The police presence has not increased but the police cars are designed to make the citizens believe it were so with their expensive black and white color scheme . “Pension liabilities” still exist for Dunwoody whether they are from DeKalb, GMANET, or even the LRS-legislative retirment system. DeKalb’s pension with over $1.1B under management is healthier than the truly underfunded LRS and GMANET.
    “Folks here love it”. Dunwoody police and by default the city do seem to be a leader in the area of personal communication with residents. They use Twitter and Facebook freely. The residents I have talked to enjoy this feature. I don’t crave that kind of personal contact with govt but to each his own. I have also read of the growing “Save Dunwoody” from Dunwoody campaign and many letters to the Dunwoody Crier where the populace isn’t so in love with the city or its leaders.
    And yes, officer salary and benefits are higher like 100% paid health and take home cars (with city gas) to the far reaches of the metro. “They (Dunwoody PD) are not allowed to do any part time work”. Then I guess the guy at Lee Bryant jewelry (with a city pd car) just thought the lobby was a great place for a nap. My question is, are those DeKalb officers making more in “off-duty security jobs” making that money in Dunwoody?
    The arguments for Dunwoody were repeated verbatim by Brookhaven and they are emerging with the Lakeside group. This isn’t about comparisons it’s about the political class creating more govt; the DEMs want to get stronger and the REPUBs want to get strong. Not one single complaint or problem with the county is solved by creating more govt.

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