DeKalb County Insights- Budget, Presidential Hotel, Septic-to-Sewer

 By Nancy Jester, District 1 Commissioner

Presentation to Doraville City Council

I had the honor of speaking to the Doraville City Council last week. I want to thank Mayor Donna Pittman and the Council for the opportunity to update the city and residents on the latest news from the DeKalb Board of Commissioners (BOC). As District 1 is nearly entirely made up of cities, I feel that it is very important to have an open, working relationship with each municipality as they are major stakeholders in the county. The council members asked some excellent questions and I welcomed them to reach out to my office anytime with questions or ongoing issues in DeKalb.

Some of the topics that I discussed at the Doraville meeting are likely issues that will be of interest to all residents in District 1. The New Year is always a very busy time for the BOC. We are currently working on a number of issues including the 2018 budget, a legislative agenda for our county delegation of legislators, sewage capacity issues, and our EPA/EPD consent decree. At the same time, we want to continue to provide the highest level of customer service to our constituents. Here is a recap of some of the subjects discussed at last Monday’s Doraville council meeting.
The county’s annual budget will be voted on by the board at the end of this month. At this point, I will be voting against the administration’s proposed budget. I do not support the fact that the county portion of millage rates will increase for every city in District 1, while unincorporated DeKalb will have the same millage rate as last year. The driving factor behind these millage increases is the county’s general fund which is proposed to increase by an additional point. I am not happy with the structure of this budget and the county knows my feelings regarding this point. My hope is that the cities will share my concerns by writing to my fellow Commissioners, the CEO, and the DeKalb Municipal Association (DMA).
Legislative Agenda
The county has set its legislative agenda and reported them to our DeKalb Delegation at the General Assembly. One agenda item that I am strongly opposed to is a request to impose a moratorium on new cities and annexations. However, I do think that the cities and the county need to sit down together and talk about what annexation should look like. Everyone should be on the same page so that we don’t end up with city borders that create “islands” or “peninsulas” which can lead to hardships when trying to provide county services in some of these areas. Another major concern I have with annexations is the pilfering of commercial areas without taking the residential areas with them when a city expands. I think these are things that the cities and county could work together on with positive results for everyone.
Presidential Hotel
Everyone knows what and where the Presidential Hotel is. It is the tall eyesore that sits at the intersection of 285 and 85 (Spaghetti Junction). With its prime location and size, I’ve always considered that building a “gateway” into DeKalb County. But the structure continues to sit empty and be subject to vandalism, squatters, and other criminal activity. I have made it a priority to “do something” with this building. Unfortunately, due to the way the building was constructed, it would cost more to tear the building down than the property is worth. This reason alone made selling the building very difficult. Many know The Presidential Hotel has had a long history of issues ranging from illegal rave parties, critical code violations, and ownership issues. Finally, the property was put into bankruptcy and given to a trustee to oversee. I am very excited to say we now have a potential buyer of the property who plans to re-purpose the building as senior housing. A second building will also be built on the property. This is a great proposed development, and if it goes through, we will have a much more attractive “gateway” into DeKalb.

Septic to Sewer Petition Process

Significant portions of DeKalb County still have homes on septic systems. The cost for residents to connect to the county sewer system has been inordinately expensive and there were no good means to get streets or neighborhoods connected to sewer without costing homeowner many thousands of dollars. It is in the county’s best interest to move more residents away from septic tanks and on to county sewage. And having more customers on sewage means more revenue at a time when we so desperately need to enhance our infrastructure. After a nearly 18 month process, we were finally able to amend our sewer ordinance to cap the fee of connecting to the county sewer system at $7500 per household to be paid over a 10 year period on the homeowner’s tax bill. This cost will not cover the lateral connection on the owner’s property, but we are working on a grant program that could help offset this expense. The process for a street or neighborhood to get on county sewage is a petition process, and our first petition has been completed. So we now have our first “test” case of how this new program will work.
Extended Stay Motel Ordinance
The BOC has passed a new ordinance imposing some new regulations on extended stay motels. We have restricted the number of consecutive days a room can be leased to an individual, required increased security measures to be implemented, and mandated that the owners of extended stay properties to adhere to better record keeping. The proliferation of extended stay motels in DeKalb is a quality of life issue that affects us all. We worked very diligently with the local hotel and motel owners to craft this legislation. I believe it will be a benefit to everyone.
Late Night Establishment Hours
One of the BOC’s last actions of 2017 was to change pouring hours at late night establishments. As of the first of this year, the hours of operation at these establishments have been cut back to put our unincorporated areas of the county on par with the serving times in most cities. Unfortunately there were a few bad bar owners who were abusing their late night status and were staying open well past their 4:00 closing time. Additionally, some of these bars were causing quality of life issues for neighbors living near these clubs. Curtailing serving hours will not stop the bad owners from continuing to break the law, but we must remain vigilant with our code enforcement department to ensure that everyone is following the letter of the law.