Alpharetta’s Glass Recycling Decision

 

A few weeks ago our Mayor and City Council instituted a new glass recycling program for every residential trash customer in the city of Alpharetta. As is often the case I was the lone dissenting voice in making the change.

Shortly after the decision my mother asked me why I had voted against the new program. After explaining my vote to her I realized that many of my constituents probably wondered why I had voted against it too.

So I wrote a blog article explaining my thought process. However I decided not to publish the article at the time because I figured it would just annoy my fellow council members and there was nothing to be gained by rehashing the topic.

Then last week Alpharetta residents began receiving their new trash bills. As a result I started getting numerous complaints from residents who are now being forced to pay for a service they did not want.

As a member of city council the public is now rightfully holding me accountable for a policy I did not support. So I decided to publicly explain why I did not support the change now.

The recycling discussion began last year when Alpharetta’s trash disposal company could no longer continue collecting glass under the existing conditions. Our mayor and council were told glass recycling had not been economically viable for some time.

We were also told that the recycling centers could no longer afford to sort through all of the material to remove glass from the other material. Therefore the City of Alpharetta needed to decide how we wanted to collect recyclables in the future. After discussions with the city’s waste disposal vendor the three options below were identified.

Option A: Residents Put Glass In The Trash

Under this option, you would simply place glass products into your trash rather than into your recycling container.  The option does not require any additional containers, provides the same level of convenience for residents as you have today, and comes at no additional cost to residents.
Option B: Residents Drop Glass Off At A Collection Center

Under this option, you would have to hold or store glass recyclables at your home.  Periodically, you would load them into your car, drive to a collection center that would be established at our Public Works Department located on Hembree Road, and unload the glass into the collection container.  Glass could not be placed into plastic bags or mixed with any other recyclable or waste product.  While the option comes at no additional cost to residents, it is less convenient than the curbside service you have today and requires you to temporarily store the glass at your home.
Option C: Continue Curbside Glass Recycling At Additional Cost

Under this option, you would be provided an additional 18 gallon plastic bin into which you would place any recyclable glass products.  On your normally scheduled collection day, you would place the bin at the curb along with your other trash and recyclables.  This option provides the convenience of curbside collection, but requires a third waste bin and a $3 per month increase in your waste service bill.  Additionally, it would require Republic to add another collection truck to the three already servicing each route, so there would be more heavy trucks in our neighborhoods.

So with those available options our mayor and council decided to seek public input before making a decision. In February of this year the city began soliciting feedback from residents to help inform our decision. The three possible options were presented to the public.

In March the city began a survey of residential trash service customers distributed in their bills and collected online. The City received 2,096 responses to the survey which represented approximately 13% of current customers. The results are below.

Recycling bar chartRecycling poll responses

As you can see Option A was the most popular option. Nearly 40% of the city’s customers who responded said that they would prefer to put their glass in the trash at no additional cost. That option would have effectively maintained the status quo. Glass would continue going into landfills with no additional bins, trucks, fees or inconvenience.

Option C had the second most supporters. About 37% of respondents preferred the option of having a separate bin for their glass which would be picked up by an additional truck at their curbside for an extra cost of $3 per month.

Option B had the fewest supporters at about 24% of respondents who preferred the option of a voluntary recycling program.  Under that proposal each resident would be responsible for collecting their own glass and taking it to collection centers.

Once the survey was completed the city staff presented the results to mayor and council in a public meeting. During that discussion it was clear that a majority of our council preferred Option C which was the second most popular choice among the opinions we received. It was also the only option that required all 16,000 of our customers to shoulder the additional financial burden for a new recycling program regardless of whether they wanted it or not.

During the meeting I pointed out that according to the survey 63% of our customers surveyed did not want the service they would be forced to pay for under Option C. I also explained that while I was sympathetic to recycling glass in an effort to keep it out of landfills, Option B would allow the 69% of people who wanted to recycle glass to do so at no additional charge without forcing thousands of households to pay for something they did not want.

It was my position that we should further investigate Option B which would avoid having to impose an extra $3 per month fee on all 16,000 of our customers. Most of whom don’t use much glass, didn’t want extra collection bins, didn’t want extra garbage trucks on the road or weren’t going to recycle glass anyway.

My suggestion to consider an option that seemed to provide the most flexibility and the least cost to all of our 16,000 customers found no support from the rest of council. So staff was directed to work out the details of implementing a plan that had received support from only 37% of our customers surveyed.

Several weeks later staff brought a proposal for weekly curbside glass recycling to us for a final decision. In the motion proposed I had to decide whether I supported imposing the most expensive, most intrusive and least efficient option available on all 16,000 of our customers at an additional cost to them of more than a half million dollars a year.

I voted no. The decision passed 6-1.

Was I right? Was I wrong? Who knows?

But I am satisfied I represented my constituents well. And after explaining why I voted the way I did to my Mom, she was satisfied too.

That’s good enough for me.

 

 

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New GA 400 Exit on Kimball Bridge Road?

GA 400 Flex Lanes on Kimball Bridge Rd

Over the weekend Alpharetta City Council Candidate Ben Burnett invited me to an event hosted by residents along Kimball Bridge Road. For more than an hour the residents shared many questions and comments about a number of concerns but the hottest topic of conversation was traffic along the Kimball Bridge corridor.

KBR design

As many of you may recall the voters of Alpharetta approved a municipal bond project which included road and intersection improvements for the stretch of Kimball Bridge Road between Waters Road and Northpoint Parkway. We talked about those plans and discussed the neighborhood concerns about adding a roundabout where the red light at New Prospect Elementary School is now.

Neighbors also brought up the topic of developments along Northwinds Parkway and Kimball Bridge Road west of GA 400. So Ben and I explained the plans for road improvements being discussed with the Georgia Department of Transportation as part of the TSPLOST project list.

You can find the full list of those projects here. And as we discussed proposed road improvements for the west side of Kimball Bridge Road it became apparent none of the residents along Kimball Bridge Road had any idea that the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to replace their bridge over GA 400 with one that will include on and off ramps for managed toll lanes onto Kimball Bridge.

In fact the residents in attendance were shocked. So I explained that Alpharetta’s Director of Engineering and Public Works had presented plans for the exits to our mayor and council during a public workshop in May. Then I encouraged residents along Kimball Bridge Road to start paying close attention to the Department of Transportation plans because the work is expected to begin in 2020 and if they wait much longer it could be too late.

For those of you not familiar with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Managed Lane Program for the GA 400 corridor you can read more on their website here. You can also watch video of the public presentation we received at our May 22nd meeting on the Alpharetta city website here. If you follow that link and click on the agenda item number 10 below the video it will skip to the Kimball Bridge discussion which began at the 2:51:30 point of the video.

These days there are so many changes taking place in Alpharetta it is nearly impossible for our residents to keep up. And it could have been a real mess if the families most impacted by toll lane exits on Kimball Bridge Road had not found out until it was too late.

Neighborhood meetings are a great way to keep the lines of communication open between council members and our constituents. I am glad to know Mr. Burnett appreciates that.

 

Alpharetta’s Lack of Election Coverage

It has been nearly a month since I wrote this article about Alpharetta’s ongoing City Council election. Since that time I have seen no local newspaper coverage of the most important election the City of Alpharetta has had since 2011 when Mayor Belle Isle and I were elected.

But six years ago when we ran for office both local papers ran profiles of every candidate within two weeks and there were forums and debates. On September 7th of 2011 the Alpharetta Revue ran a profile of some unknown candidate named Jim Gilvin on September 7th of that year. You can still read that article here but only if you promise to forgive the 20 year old real estate picture accompanying it.

And as I go back and read that profile now I am surprised to see how similar the current election is to that one.

Traffic and high density development still seem to be the most critical issues. One of the current candidates promises to provide a much needed voice for the residents of Alpharetta and the commercial property owners, builders and developers are once again displaying giant signs for the other candidate.

Easterling Hodge E Andrews

Yet even though so many of the issues are still the same the local media coverage has been much different. Actually it has been nonexistent.

There hasn’t even been a newspaper article about the city council race except for the article announcing there was one. Alpharetta is halfway through its most important election in six years and there has been no profile of the candidates.

Not one local reporter has thought to ask Councilman Kennedy why he didn’t let his constituents know he wasn’t running for reelection until it was too late for other candidates to qualify. Not a single media outlet has bothered to ask candidate Ben Easterling what prompted him to qualify as a candidate for Councilman Kennedy’s seat on the first morning of qualifying when no one in the public had any idea Councilman Kennedy wasn’t running.

I know I’m just an elected official who blogs on the side but it certainly seems like those are the kinds of things local newspapers should do to inform their readers. At least they used to.

 

Alpharetta Has a Choice to Make

Most people who live in Alpharetta don’t realize they have an important decision to make about the future of our city on November 7th. That is when the election to replace Councilman Mike Kennedy will be held.

For the last six years Councilman Kennedy has served as Mayor Belle Isle’s appointed liaison to oversee Alpharetta’s community development department. A lot has changed in those six years.

This will be only the second time over those six years that Alpharetta voters have even had a choice to make. And if you think your vote won’t matter this November I’d like to remind you that the margin of victory in that election four years ago was decided by 7 votes!

Look, I get it. Most people are sick of politics. I’m one of them.

But six years ago I set aside my distaste for politics and politicians because I care about this community and wanted to give my friends and neighbors a choice about our future. So I very much appreciate the two candidates who are now making that same sacrifice on our behalf.

Of the 63,000 people who live in Alpharetta Ben Burnett and Ben Easterling were the only two people willing to step up and give the the rest of us a choice about our future. I am grateful. We all should be.

I have also had the privilege of getting to know both candidates over the past few years and in my opinion they are both good men. I believe they are both men of faith who are good husbands, fathers and public servants.

I first met Ben Burnett during a contentious zoning issue which affected his neighborhood on Mayfield Road. Ben was an active advocate for his neighbors and after the issue was resolved he continued to stay in touch. Eventually Mr. Burnett expressed a desire to serve his community in an official capacity so I took Mr. Burnett up on his offer by appointing him to Alpharetta’s recreation and park commission in 2014.

Ben Burnett served our city well on the recreation commission and when a position as an alternate opened up on the planning commission I nominated him to fill the vacancy based on his knowledge of zoning processes. Mayor Belle Isle and the rest of city council then unanimously supported Mr. Burnett’s appointment to the planning commission where he helped review zoning applications.

The other candidate running for Alpharetta city council is named Ben Easterling. I first met Ben Easterling in 2012 when I was appointed as the city council liaison to our recreation and parks department. At the time Mr. Easterling was Councilman Chris Owens’ appointee to the recreation commission and he served in that capacity until assuming the chairman’s role later that year. Ben Easterling has also served the city of Alpharetta well with his positions on the recreation commission.

The people of Alpharetta are very fortunate to have two such qualified candidates willing to run for city council this year. And the timing is critical. Alpharetta is at a crossroads.

In the wake of the great recession there has been a tremendous amount of growth and development in a few short years. And what we see being built now is just the beginning. Many of the developments already approved have yet to break ground.

Which means that whoever is elected on November 7th will be responsible for helping to manage all of that growth while also helping to set the course for future decisions. And at such a pivotal moment we are fortunate two candidates have stepped forward to give voters a choice.

Alpharetta now has a choice to make thanks to Ben Burnett and Ben Easterling.

 

 

 

Healing the Heart of Democracy

For years I have been concerned about the state of our nation and what it means for the future we will leave to our children. That concern was the main reason I ran for public office.

By running for city council I saw an opportunity to make a difference, however slight. And by offering to serve my community on a local level I hoped to positively impact the future for my children.

The beauty of serving at a local level is that most of the issues have an immediate impact the community we call home. National politics usually dominate network newscasts but it is the local decisions about roads, parks and zoning applications that have the greatest impact on a city. So I try to stay focused on local issues that I can influence and generally refrain from writing about national issues here unless they have a direct impact on Alpharetta.

One national issue that has weighed heavily in my mind lately though is how politically divided our nation has become. Rather than a nation of “We The People” it seems like too many Americans are caught up in “Us versus Them” or “Good versus Evil”. The political divide has gotten worse over my lifetime and lately it seems that divisiveness is resulting in violence.

Last year as I began reflecting on how our nation got to this point I came across a book titled Healing the Heart of Democracy written by Parker J. Palmer. It provides some great insight into how our nation’s political discourse has reached such a troubling point and even though it was written in 2011 it seems especially relevant after the 2016 presidential election and thee ensuing turmoil.

Healing the Heart of Democracy

The author of Healing has a very different political perspective than mine and I nearly stopped reading it at one point because it was challenging to read so many views I disagreed with. But fortunately Mr. Palmer’s ability to identify the root of many problems facing our nation kept me reading even when I didn’t agree with his proposed solutions.

Looking back it became clear that if I couldn’t bear reading the book because I didn’t always agree with Dr. Palmer then I wasn’t ready to hear his message any way. Below is a selection from the book’s introduction that I found particularly relevant:

But these days, “We the People” have a great deal of trouble talking across our lines of difference about the common good—so much trouble that many of us doubt the very concept of a “common good.” Deformed by a divisive political culture, we’re less inclined to differ with each other honestly than to demonize each other mercilessly. That’s why it’s so seductive to gather with folks who share our view of what’s wrong and do little more than complain about all those “wrongdoers” who aren’t in the room.

If we want to “create a politics worthy of the human spirit,” we must find ways to bridge our differences, whether they are defined by age, gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology. Then we must seek patches of common ground on the issues we care most about. This is more than a feel-good exercise. If we cannot reach a rough consensus on what most of us want, we have no way to hold our elected officials accountable to the will of the people.

Every time we fail to bridge our differences, we succumb to the divide-and-conquer tactics so skillfully deployed by individuals and institutions whose objective is to take us out of the political equation. Question: Why are billions of dollars spent annually on cable TV performances of political “infotainment” that are all heat and no light? On disseminating disinformation and agitprop online? On PACs that can produce and purchase air time for fact-free attack ads that offer no solutions? Answer: To make “We the People” so fearful and suspicious of each other that we will become even more divided and politically impotent.

There is a lot of wisdom in those three paragraphs. Especially to someone who has been actively involved in local politics for the past few years.

If you are as concerned about the divisive nature of American politics and the effect it is having on your friends, family and community I encourage you to read Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer. The book not only provides clarity to some of the core issues facing America but also offers ways suggestions for ways we can act locally to do something about it.

I try to keep an extra copy on hand if you would like to borrow one or you can order it here on Amazon for less than $15.

 

 

Alpharetta Six Years Later: 100,000 Cars & 1235 Apartments

On June 19th  Mayor Belle Isle and the Alpharetta City Council approved the seventh high density mixed use zoning case to come before us since I was elected in 2011. The vote Monday night was 4-2 in favor of the project with Councilman Jason Binder joining me to vote against it.

northwinds site 2

That latest project was called Northwinds Summit and will contain 140 apartments, 32 condos, 1.2 million square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of retail and a 140 room hotel. It is projected to add more than 14,000 cars a day to the intersection of GA 400 and Haynes Bridge Road. Northwinds will be right across the street from the Tech 360 project approved last month which will add another 13,000 cars. Those projects will now draw 27,000 more cars a day to what was already one of the busiest intersections in Alpharetta.

And while 27,000 more cars a day may seem like a lot it is only a fraction of the traffic residents should expect from projects approved over the past six years. The seven urban mixed use projects approved alone are projected to add more than 100,000 cars a day to our already congested roadways.

But even that number doesn’t include the thousands of cars coming from all the acreage recently clear cut on Old Milton Parkway. Or the cars coming soon from property cleared on Kimball Bridge Road. Or cars coming from more developments approved on Webb Bridge Road. Or the houses, town houses and condos being built on Mayfield Road, Rucker Road, Canton Street, Academy Street and nearly every other congested corridor in the city.

City Center 4-3-2017

When I ran for office in 2011 there were three candidates running for Mayor and six candidates running for three city council positions. For ten weeks the nine of us spent every possible moment hosting events, knocking on doors and attending debates to explain why the people of Alpharetta should vote for us. The one issue that all nine candidates acknowledged as a top priority for everyone was Alpharetta’s traffic.

Every candidate promised we were going to do something about the horrific traffic that has plagued this city for years. Yet here we are six years later and city council has approved developments that will add well over 100,000 cars a day while we are still years away from traffic improvements that could ease congestion.

Don’t get me wrong.  Development is not bad and I am not anti-growth.

I am proud of much that our mayor and council have accomplished over the past six years. Cooperation between the City of Alpharetta, our business community and the commercial property owners who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars help make Alpharetta a shining star in the state of Georgia.

But when I promised to do something about traffic I was committed to supporting a pace and scale of development that our infrastructure could support. Many of my fellow candidates promised the same thing.

Rush hour in Alpharetta is already frustrating and over the next five years it is going to get worse before it gets better. Construction is about to begin along every major roadway in the city.  Critical corridors like Rucker Road and McGinnis Ferry may need to be closed for a while as bridges and roundabouts are constructed. All of this will happen just as new developments start to add tens of thousands of cars to our traffic. You can find more detailed information about the planned projects at this link.

City projects

The long term affects of that congestion along with the impact such rapid growth will have on schools and crime rates are going to be immense. I am concerned that it is just too much too fast. And I know a lot of other Alpharetta residents are concerned too because they ask me about it everywhere I go.

People ask me what’s going to be built on the latest piece of land where the trees are suddenly gone. People ask me why the city didn’t do something about traffic before approving so many developments. People ask me why I’m usually the only council member voting against some of the mixed use apartment projects.

Then people ask me the one question I just can’t answer,”We’ve lost so many trees and traffic just keeps getting worse, why does the city keep approving all of this?” All I can say to that is,”I don’t know.”

 

 

 

Fulton County Commissioners Freeze Tax Assessments

Last Wednesday the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to freeze the county’s tax assessments at last year’s level with exceptions for newly constructed buildings and improvements made in 2016. This will be a disruptive process for every municipality and school system who relies on those assessments for budgeting purposes but it was the right thing to do given the bad situation. I appreciate the Fulton County Commissioners doing the right thing for our residents and would specifically like to than Chairman John Eaves and Vice Chairman Bob Ellis for their leadership on this matter.

The financial burden for an uneven and unreliable Fulton County tax assessment process will now fall on the governments and schools systems who rely on property taxes to pay employees and provide services. The City of Alpharetta will have to do a little shuffling of priorities based on the lower tax digest but we are financially sound and there shouldn’t be any noticeable impact to our residents.

That may not be the case for some other cities and school systems. A representative from Atlanta Public Schools specifically expressed concern that a frozen digest would be an undue burden on them because their budget already anticipated the projected growth of 3% in their tax digest.

If anything good is to come from this year’s tax assessment mess it will hopefully be that state legislators and Fulton County Commissioners will work closely with the affected municipalities and school systems to make sure this never happens again. We shall see.

Below is the Fulton County press release explaining last week’s decision  in greater detail.

During its June 21 meeting, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted to correct the 2017 Tax Digest, as provided by law.

Through a unanimous vote, the Board of Commissioners directed the Tax Assessors to utilize the 2016 digest as a base year, making modifications to capture new parcels added since 2016 and new construction and improvements completed as of January 1, 2017. The Assessors were also directed to reinstate 299(c) exemptions removed in error and add the 2017 values on commercial properties whose valuations were the result of an intensive assessment process conducted in 2016.

The Board’s action came after hearing concerns expressed by thousands of residents. Since notices were issued in late May, more than a thousand Fulton County residents attended a series of town hall meetings. Many others reached out to the Board of Commissioners through emails, phone calls and letters to express their concerns with the process.

The Board of Commissioners learned of numerous issues with the 2017 digest, including a high number of increases above 50%, “unfreezing” of properties whose values were frozen through appeal, inconsistent application of the CPI freeze, and other issues.

The corrective resolution adopted by the Board was sponsored by Chairman John H. Eaves, Vice Chairman Bob Ellis and Commissioner Liz Hausmann.

“Today’s vote was not just a monetary or fiscal matter, it was a moral issue,” said Chairman John H. Eaves. “Our vote not only corrects the 2017 tax digest, it in effect sets property assessments at 2016 levels to bring emergency and immediate relief to our taxpayers which they demanded and deserve.”

“Thanks to everyone who recognized the urgency of this issue and worked to come up with a solution,” said Vice Chairman Bob Ellis. “The action by the Board today is the best and most appropriate action we can take to allow the necessary time to correct numerous errors in individual assessments, work towards changes to our property tax system and eliminate the severe and unjust impact that inaction would have caused on the lives of so many of our Citizens.”

Commissioner Liz Hausmann said, “This action serves to protect Fulton County property owners from an undue high tax burden this year, and allow the Georgia legislature to work on a simpler, fairer system in the next legislative session.”

All Fulton County property owners will receive updated assessment notices once the corrections are completed.

The Board of Commissioners sought to balance the need to find a solution for 2017 assessments while allowing taxing jurisdictions, including cities and school boards, to capture the value of new construction in their communities. Those agencies will be notified of the changes. Steps will be taken to minimize impact on other taxing agencies.

During a meeting on Monday, June 19, 2017, with the Fulton County Legislative Delegation, the Georgia Senate State, and Local Government Operations Committee, members of the Board of Commissioners expressed their plans to work with the Georgia General Assembly during the 2018 Legislative Session to explore property tax relief measures and improvements to the tax assessment process.