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 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

2017 Fulton County Property Tax Assessments

Yesterday I received my 2017 Fulton County Property Tax Assessment in the mail the same way thousands of my neighbors and constituents did. And within minutes of reading my own assessment I started receiving texts from several of those neighbors who were upset or had questions about their bills.

For the record my 2017 estimated property tax bill is more than $2100 higher than my 2016 tax bill. The new total is just over $7400 with roughly $1300 (18%) going to the City of Alpharetta, $2000 going to Fulton County (27%) and $4100 (55%) going to the Fulton County School system.

So I understand why many people were surprised and some were upset when they got their new tax assessments this week. I certainly didn’t like finding out I may have to pay almost $200 a month more in taxes this year either. However as a real estate agent with a healthy knowledge of property values in our area I am comfortable with the assessed value assigned to my home by the Fulton County tax assessor. That hasn’t always been the case though.

I bought my home in 2003. It was during a real estate downturn and my purchase price was substantially below the tax assessment for that year. I filed an appeal based on the lower actual sale price and as I recall it was eventually lowered to reflect the recent sale.

By 2008 my assessment had increased substantially to reflect the market and then the real estate market plummeted so my tax assessment was once again well above the true market value. I filed an unsuccessful appeal based on the prevailing market conditions but it took a couple of years before the assessment was eventually reduced to reflect the true market value.

Of course by the time my assessment was reduced the market had started recovering and I believe my tax assessment was substantially lower than market value for several years afterward. As you might expect I did not appeal for higher assessments when I felt the assessment was too low.

In my experience the assessments weren’t always what I considered to be the prevailing market value but the fluctuations seemed to average out about right over time. Generally that is the case because assessments tend to be a lagging indicator of property values as they fluctuate in both directions because it usually takes a few years for an assessor to adjust every parcel in a county with nearly a million residents.

So if you feel your property tax assessment is too high you may be right. It should eventually even out over time but if you are certain the assessor has made an error in your case there is an appeal process available to you.

I suggest that anyone concerned about the amount of their tax assessment start by checking one of the publicly available online tools to estimate their market value based on recent sales. Zillow has a reasonably good valuation tool at www.zillow.com/find-your-home/ but there are many others too. You can also ask a local real estate agent if you know one who might be willing to assist you.

No online estimate is a guarantee of a successful tax assessment appeal but it could help. On the other hand if you discover that other estimates are similar to the tax assessor’s valuation it may be hard to support your appeal. Either way you have 45 days from the date of your assessment to file an appeal.

The official date of my assessment was May 19, 2017. As a result my deadline to file a written appeal is July 3, 2017. Check your assessment notice to verify the date if you are considering an appeal.

You can find a printable version of the form for filing a tax assessment appeal is available at bit.ly/taxassessmentappealform. For additional information you can also check the state Department of Revenue website here: https://dor.georgia.gov/property-tax-real-and-personal-property

An alternative would be to hire a business that offers to handle your tax assessment appeal for a fee. I have never used such a service and have heard differing opinions on their value but it may be worth exploring for those of you who feel an inaccurate assessment could cost you a great deal of money.

Please understand that there is absolutely nothing I or anybody else with the City of Alpharetta can do about your assessment but if you have any questions about the process please let me know and I will do my best to get you a straight answer.

What’s the point?

I have never understood the disdain most urban planners have for suburban America. My neighbors and I enjoy living in homes on about a third of an acre around a cul-de-sac.

We enjoy living in a city with low crime rates and great public schools. We like having a yard where our children and grandchildren can play catch without walking or driving to a park.

I love waking up to the sound of a dove cooing outside my window and sometimes catching a glimpse of a fox when I walk to the mailbox. I get a kick out of seeing an owl perched on top of my son’s basketball goal when I pull into my driveway at night. And even though I get frustrated when my pansies become fodder for my woodland neighbors it is thrilling to catch an offending deer in my yard and stand there waiting to see which one of us will blink first.

Yes, I love living in the suburbs and apparently my neighbors do too. Many of them are educated, relatively affluent people who moved from all over the world to call Alpharetta home. They could have chosen anywhere in metro Atlanta but they have set down roots in Alpharetta because this is where they wanted to live and raise their families.

Of course very few of us have always lived in Alpharetta. Over the years we have lived in apartments, town homes and houses in cities populated by a variety of ethnic and economic demographics in cities all over the world. Each was appropriate for that particular stage of our lives. But at no point in time did any of us ever think our preferences were superior to those of people who chose to live differently.

That’s why I’m always amazed by people who profess to know what’s best for everyone else. Especially the city planners who make a living by telling everybody else how they should live. A perfect example is Richard Florida whose book Rise of the Creative Class gained him celebrity status more than a decade ago but is now peddling a book titled The New Urban Crisis which proposes solutions to the negative consequences caused by his previous recommendations.

So it was refreshing to run across this video titled The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us the other day. The video is nearly an hour long so most of you may not have time to watch the whole thing but it provides a perspective from Joel Kotkin, a founder of the website NewGeography.com, that I have never heard explained so well anywhere else.

Joel Kotkin

If you can’t watch the whole thing you should at least watch the last four minutes. Mr. Kotkin’s response to the final question beginning at the 52:28 mark provides a poignant summary.

You can have some more density in suburban areas but if you densify them too much then whats the point?

Why would I live there?

I couldn’t agree more. An overwhelming majority of American adults people prefer to live in suburbs when given the choice. They prefer suburbs to dense urban cores.

So when great suburban cities like Alpharetta add density to the point of losing the character that makes them more attractive to us in the first place… whats the point?

What’s the point?