Annexation is out

It’s been the talk of the town for months, yet the 2015 legislative session came to a close last month, and the Decatur annexation bill is dead.

The annexation of Decatur was formally introduced to the city commission Mar. 23, 2015, after a year of speculation from commissioners and Decatur area residents.

The proposed annexation would have expanded Decatur’s city limits, with the addition of areas that border the city including Patel Plaza and DeKalb Medical.

“It’s been ongoing,” Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss said.

After moving past the city commission, the bill went to the Georgia House of Representatives for approval. It was sanctioned and sent to the Georgia Senate, where it died April 2 until next year’s legislative session.

“When the gavel strikes, all those bills will be dead for the 2015 session, but they’re still alive next year,” she said.

“The way the legislature works is in two-year cycles,” City Schools of Decatur (CSD) Legislative and Community Liaison Courtney Burnette said.

Due to the legislature’s biennial nature, bills that die in the first year can be approved the following year. If the bill had moved past the Senate, the next step would be a referendum, allowing voters in the proposed areas to vote on the annexation in November.

The Decatur annexation bill will be revived for voting along with many others in 2016.

Merriss’ role in the process was to provide information for the city commission on the issue of annexation. When the city commission came to a decision-making point, Merriss and her staff explained the procedures, costs and revenues that would surface from annexation.

“We do research on how many people, value of property, how would we provide service, what would be the challenges,” she said.

The City of Decatur collaborated with CSD to analyze the influx of students that would flow into the school system if the annexation bill passed. They also determined the increase of students in future years, regardless of annexation.

“The implications for the city schools were an important part in both looking at the city commission and the school board,” Merriss said.

The projections included the need for new educational facilities in the near future and their possible locations.

“Even though we’re not going to annex, the city is still going to go for a GO [general obligation] bond to pay for the construction of Decatur High and Renfroe,” Winnona Park Elementary Principal Greg Wiseman said.

A general obligation bond is a municipal bond allowing local governments to use available resources including tax revenues.

Decatur High and Renfroe Middle are expected to have the largest increase in students in upcoming years. The master plans for Decatur and Renfroe are in their early phases and will progress based on funding and growth.

The early grades are already bursting at the seams.

“They’ve got issues with the number of students coming up through the elementary school grades,” City Commissioner Fred Boykin said.

For the past few years, the incoming kindergarten class has been twice the size of the outgoing senior class.

“Every year, we look at our projected growth,” Burnette said. “If you look at our current enrollment, there are 590 more students in our K-3 schools than our high school today.”

The growing population of students will internally impact the schools.

“The larger you get, you have to work really hard to keep the same level of interpersonal relationships,” Wiseman said.

At the middle school, the class structure will remain the same, but challenges in student-administrator interaction could arise.

“As a principal, it is really important to form relationships with students, but I see that becoming more difficult as we continue to grow,” Renfroe Middle School Principal  Derrick Thomas said.

Now that annexation is off the table until next year’s legislature session, the focus lies on growth within Decatur.

“We still have an influx of students regardless,” Wiseman said.

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