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BCN: Six-Month Report, July 2019
Posted on Jul 22nd, 2019

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods has been active on numerous issues that affect us. As the organization founded to provide a unified voice to address and protect our common interests and quality of life issues, our mission is paramount to our initiatives.
 
Property Taxes by Beth Beskin:     
 
Several new tax laws passed by the General Assembly in 2018 became effective this year and are reflected in the Annual Notice of Assessment you should have received in June. There are new homeowners’ exemptions for the City of Atlanta, Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools, each of which is different.
 
The City of Atlanta 2.6% tax cap bill applies to the Atlanta General portion of your bill (see Box C at the bottom of your assessment notice). It provides that your effective property tax assessment will increase by no more than 2.6% per year and rolls your starting assessment, or “base year,” back to the lowest of tax years 2016, 2017 and 2018.   The 2.6% cap is reflected as additional homestead exemption, which raises the previous $30,000 City of Atlanta homestead exemption by whatever amount is necessary so that your assessment effectively increases by no more than 2.6% per year. For this first year, your base year amount will be multiplied by 1.0423 for 2019 (to reflect the rate of inflation for those years), then will increase no more than 2.6% annually. The base year amount can be complicated for homeowners who previously appealed their property taxes and had a “frozen” assessment for some or all of those years, so please speak to the Fulton County Assessor’s office or your property tax advisor to make sure your numbers are correct. 
 
The Fulton County homestead exemption was increased to $50,000 from $30,000 for homeowners age 65 and older. Please remember that the Fulton County portion of all homeowners’ bills has been capped to increase no more than 3% per year since 2005, so an odd-dollar exemption for the Fulton Operating part of your bill, rather than either $30,000 or $50,000, reflects holding your net taxable value for Fulton County purposes to increase no more than 3% per year, with the additional amount offset by an increased Fulton County homestead exemption.
 
The Atlanta Public Schools (Atlanta School Operating) homestead exemption increased from $30,000 to $50,000 this year (after the first $10,000 in assessed value), and will remain at $50,000 for three calendar years, through 2021.
 
Although the Annual Notice of Assessment reflects the new tax laws and homestead exemptions, your estimated tax is calculated based on last year’s millage rates. In June, the City of Atlanta voted to keep this year’s millage rate the same as last. Fulton County and APS have not yet set their 2019 millage rates. 
 
APS will conduct public hearings on the 2019 millage rate on July 22 and July 29. Fulton County has advertised that it will conduct a public hearing and set its millage rate at its meeting on August 7, 2019.  The estimated tax reflected at the bottom right of your bill may change if Fulton County or APS changes their millage rate from the 2018 amount. 
Please note that the last day to file a written appeal of your 2019 property tax, as set forth in the Annual Notice of Assessment, is August 2, 2019.
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Public Safety: Requested that the City of Atlanta update Buckhead residents and businesses as to actions that could be taken to make us safer. Over 600 Buckhead residents attended the Mayor’s Town Hall Meeting in March where Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields outlined steps that would be implemented immediately. This has resulted in a reduction in crime in the Buckhead community. In accordance with BCN’s new advocacy role, an 11-point Public Safety Resolution was approved and was presented to the City’s Public Safety Committee on May 14 by Ret. APD Sgt. Valerie Sellers. One of the points made was to make certain that there is not a need for our Atlanta City Jail in our criminal justice system—prior to any re-purposing of the jail. This request was subsequently sent in a formal letter to the Mayor, the City Council, and the Fulton County Commission on May 30. Since that time, there have been over a dozen media reports discussing the fact that Fulton County’s Jail is, in fact, overcrowded and that conditions are “dire” (in the words of a former inmate). The first meeting of the Task Force to address the future use of the Atlanta City Jail is tomorrow, Tuesday, July 16th, 4:00 p.m. at Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Avenue, SW, Atlanta, GA 30305. BCN will be there. Please feel free to join us. 
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Streets by Debra Wathen
The Streets Committee has focused our attention in three areas:
 
?1.    Because of the deplorable state of our streets and the huge number of potholes, we sent a survey asking for Buckhead residents to send in areas of concern in their neighborhoods. We compiled a list of over 200 areas needing attention. This list along, with photosof many of the items, was sent to the Public Works Department, The Chair of the Utilities Committee and the Mayor’s Chief Operating Officer. As a result, many of the potholes have been filled and several sink holes have been addressed, but there is still much work to be done to get every item addressed. Continue to send any street issues to 1) Debra Wathen: 6wathens@bellsouth.net, 2) your City Council Representative, 3) report them to 311.
 
2.    In order to Protect neighborhoods from being sacrificed to commuter traffic, we have worked the surrounding neighborhoods on the Moores Mill / West Wesley intersection. Working with RenewAtlanta, the new plan is now more neighborhood friendly and is more in keeping with a residential neighborhood. RenewAtlanta has significantly reduced the footprint of the intersection and agreed to landscaping in order to maintain a better neighborhood feel for the intersection. 
 
3.    With safety as a priority, the Streets Committee has started to look at viable traffic calming alternatives to make neighborhoods safer for its residents and improve their quality of life.   These including items such as speed cushions, No Left Turn signage and reduction of neighborhood speed limits. 
 
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Transit – Traffic – Housing: Each of these Committee chairs has created a Task Force which is meeting this summer to address the suffocating effect of traffic on our neighborhoods. BCN’S Transportation Initiative is entitled Let Buckhead Breathe: 
 
Transit:  Chaired by Robert Patterson: BCN members have met with officials of the following entities to discuss enhanced transit options for commuters to get to their jobs in Buckhead: ATL (Atlanta Transit Link), MARTA, GRTA, Cobb Linc, Buckhead CID, Livable Buckhead, Buckhead Coalition, ARC, and the City of Atlanta. 
 
Traffic: Chaired by Robert Sarkissian and David Glyfe, this committee will poll Buckhead neighborhoods to see if they would like to participate in a traffic assessment with recommendations for traffic calming and/or congestion mitigation. 
 
Housing: Chaired by Sam Lenaeus has already completed an inventory of multi-family residences in Buckhead and has documented over 64,000! Click here to view the Buckhead Multifamily Inventory. This committee will be preparing an analysis of Employer-Assisted Workforce Housing to be funded by a public-private partnership consisting landlords, Buckhead employers, and public financing. 
 
With these three components pursued simultaneously, we believe that we can greatly improve the quality of life for all Buckhead residents. 
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Zoning and Water: Nina Schwartz and Kim Shorter: These Committee chairs have been assisting numerous neighborhoods in dealing with individual re-zonings and subdivisions. All member neighborhoods are welcome to reach out to all of our Interest Area Committee Chairs for their expertise and guidance. 
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Tree Canopy by deLille Anthony: 
 
1)     Formed a committee consisting of 8 members from 6 different Buckhead neighborhoods and held three committee meetings in the first half of 2019. To join the committee, please contact deLille Anthony at delille@treenextdoor.org
2)     Drafted a Buckhead Council resolution about enforcement issues regarding the Tree Protection Ordinance and presented it to City Council. Presented the enforcement resolution at several civic association meetings and organizations. So far, the City has agreed to conduct pre-demo conferences, but pre-construction conferences and enhanced tree fencing can be obtained only by appealing. The other unenforced sections of the ordinance are still being ignored by the City.
 
3)     Worked with Trees Atlanta to create and give a presentation on “Saving Our Tree Canopy” at the Trees Atlanta “Tree Talk” April meeting in Buckhead. Attended the City Planning Urban Ecology Framework Meetings in April and June to share Buckhead’s concerns about the tree ordinance rewrite. Worked with Trees Atlanta to provide a response to the City’s first draft outline of the new tree ordinance. Click here: https://treesatlanta.org/news/protecting-our-citys-trees-now-is-the-time-for-change for more information and to sign the Canopy Pledge.
 
4)      Worked with residents to file an appeal on eight different Buckhead properties: two appeals were upheld (we won) by the Tree Commission; three were withdrawn after negotiations with the builder; one was been deferred to September based on a current zoning appeal; and two were not filed at the request of the prospective appellant.
 
5)     Reported illegal tree cutting and pruning at 285 Sheridan Drive (Garden Hills Elementary School) resulting in a fine of $7,500 which the contractor paid. The school’s foundation is working with representatives of Trees Atlanta and the Blue Heron Nature Preserve to replant trees and develop a stream bank restoration plan. Parks arborist Chris Kallio wrote a letter to the International Society of Arboriculture to report Maple Tree Inc. for not following ISA standards. 
 
6)     Identified a total of $22,710 unpaid recompense fees across three different Buckhead properties -- 182 Peachtree Way, 3517 Knollwood Drive, 4315 Garmon Road -- and followed up with the Arborist Division to make sure they got paid.
 
7)     Filed a complaint with City Law Department about the barriers to public participation in the appeals process in terms of costs, time delays, and lack of document retention within the Arborist Division. The Law Department responded by saying that the Department of City Planning will start phasing in an electronic plan review process this summer.
 
8)     Consulted with the Garden Hills Civic Association and residents on the tree impact of a proposed reversal of property setbacks at 464 Pine Tree Dr., resulting in a 17-foot front yard setback on a street where all other houses are set at least 35 feet back, many much further than that. All trees on the property will be destroyed based on proposed development plans. An appeal of the setback adjustments will be heard by the BZA (Board of Zoning Adjustment) on August 1st at Noon.
 
9)     Issued several press releases and helped facilitate the publication of eight different articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Saporta Report, Northside Neighbor, and the Buckhead Reporter about the current tree ordinance enforcement issues and the tree ordinance rewrite. Also, did two radio interviews with WRFG 89.3 FM – a 1-hour show with The Tree Next Door on tree ordinance enforcement issues and a 20-minute segment with Trees Atlanta on the tree ordinance rewrite.  
 
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Upcoming meetings for BCN: Thursday, September 12, Thursday, October 10, and Thursday, November 14. All meetings are held at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, 3434 Roswell Road, NW. They begin at 6:45 p.m. and are adjourned promptly at 8:15 p.m.
 
It is my pleasure to serve our City of Atlanta and Community of Buckhead through the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods.
 
Please join us in our important work. To volunteer, please contact Debra Wathen, Vice Chair at 404-444-2105 or 6wathens@bellsouth.net.