Monday, October 11, 2010

Milton pays its way while preserving pastures.

By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Say "commercial growth" in Milton, and everyone's ears perk up.
Small wonder.

The city's 38 square miles include some of the most pastoral horse farms and pastureland in metro Atlanta. A key reason many people voted to incorporate in 2007 was to take the reins of zoning from Fulton County.

While neighboring cities such as Johns Creek and Alpharetta go out of their way to attract business, Milton continues to guard its growth.

-- The city council deadlocked 3-3 last month on a zoning ordinance that would have essentially prohibited any new gas stations or convenience stores. The measure is due for more discussion later this year.
-- In August, the council passed an ordinance placing a long list of restrictions on new cell towers, including detailed line-of-sight studies, an application fee and liability for up to $7,500 in engineering or consulting costs incurred by the city.
-- More than 85 percent of the land inside the city is zoned residential or agricultural. The city's sewer system likewise supports 14 percent of the city's acreage. The remainder is on septic tanks.

Governments traditionally encourage business development because, on the whole, it is more valuable than residential property. More commercial value brings in more tax revenue and helps offset the tax burden on homeowners.

But, Milton may have found a way to turn that on its head.

By preserving the aesthetics of a rural community, the value of property actually can increase, said Milton City Council member Julie Zahner Bailey, a champion of preserving the city's pastoral posture.

Milton falls in one of only two ZIP codes in Fulton County to show an increase in value this year. The value in the 30004 ZIP was up 3 percent, while the county's overall tax digest fell 9 percent from last year.

Bailey likes to add that she is also a champion of appropriate growth.

"Of course commercial areas are important to Milton," she said. "They, too, are part of the character of the city."

At the same time, she added, citizens have indicated there are some characteristics uniquely important to the community, characteristics that require careful planning in commercial growth.
Milton businessman Mike Moss has his own ideas about the city's attitude toward commercial growth. He said he favors a moderate tack that encourages smart growth, like the developments in Crabapple in the southwest section of the city. The area features office space, medical offices, restaurants, retail services mixed with town homes and single-family homes.

"We have to work with and through business," Moss said. "We shouldn't just block them out."
Commercial property also can also be offset by large residential tracts, like horse farms.
Large tracts reduce the impact of homestead exemptions on property, said Fulton County chief appraiser Burt Manning.

Milton offers a basic $15,000 off the assessed value of an owner-occupied home. Large properties, like farms, get only the one exemption, whereas three homes on the same amount of land would get three exemptions, or a combined $45,000, Manning said.

Mayor Joe Lockwood said Milton can sustain itself by operating as any smart household, within a budget.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the difference between when we were Fulton County and became the city of Milton, we can all day long get the same service for the same dollar that we were getting before," he said.

The trick now is managing expectations.

"What we have to consider is now that we're a city, a lot of our residents expect more, parks, infrastructure things like that," he said.

Milton's fiscal 2011 budget calls for $17.4 million in spending, down about $400,000 from last year. The city levies 4.731 mills on property. By city charter, that rate cannot rise without a special referendum.

City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said Milton has been able to exceed the services residents had lived with under Fulton County government by focusing money within the city limits. Federal and state grants can be directed to help pay for local, rather than countywide, projects, he said.
"That bar keeps going up as it should," Lagerbloom said. "But as the bar goes up, along with that bar is the need for additional funding to manage the expectations."

Lagerbloom said there are at least two potential sources of additional funding outside of property taxes.

First, the city receives its portion of the local option sales tax, $3.5 million, based on an official population of 15,000. That estimate is way off, said city officials, who put the actual count at more than 30,000.

When the new census numbers come out later this year, receipts may not double but they should grow substantially, Lagerbloom said.

Impact fees are another source of possible revenue the city is studying, Lagerbloom said.
"They're not fun to talk about, but they're easier to talk about in a non-election year," he said.
Impact fees for transportation would be assessed against those that are causing the roads to be used more frequently, like a business, Lagerbloom said. If a business is expected to draw more traffic on a street, he said, the business should help pay for its upkeep.

The city already charges a usage fee for garbage haulers to help defray the costs of maintaining roads.

"Realistically, we could always use more money to put into our roads," Mayor Lockwood said. "But if you compare, look 10 years ahead, I think we'll be ahead of where the county would have been if we weren't here as a city."

Commercial digest in north Fulton cities*
Sandy Springs -- $2.9 billion
Roswell -- $1.2 billion
Alpharetta -- $2.5 billion
Johns Creek -- $847 million
Milton -- $348 million
Mountain Park -- $13.7 million

*Figures are assessed value, meaning they are 40 percent of fair market value.


Anonymous said...

Milton holds two zip codes; 30009 &30004

GNR said...

The article doesn't dispute that, it is only stating that the digest for 30004 increased by 3%. It makes no statement regarding 30009 at all, so it is not known if 30009 is the other zip code that increased.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you can hang it all on the zoning restrictions, but as a 30004 resident...I am glad to hear of the 3% increase.

Anonymous said...

Where in Milton, have property values increased by 3%? You can buy a home in White Columns now for under 500K. Homes in North Valley are well under 1 million. Where do they get their stats?

Anonymous said...

If any have, my guess would be Avensong.

They have little competition at their price point. I would bet that, as a percentage, their loss was not nearly as much as more expensive neighborhoods and that homes sell much faster than in other neighborhoods.

There is no shortage of homes in the upper 300-500K range in N. Fulton.

Anonymous said...

The sad truth is that those 300 to 500K range homes were valued at 500 to 800+ just a couple of years ago!

Anonymous said...

Go Julie!

Anonymous said...

you must mean go away julie

Tim Enloe said...

" If a business is expected to draw more traffic on a street, he said, the business should help pay for its upkeep." - Chris Lagerbloom.

I agree with what our city manager has said here, but we should go a step further and require that the board of education carry the costs for the traffic they generate as well.

Tim Enloe
770 653 0552

Anonymous said...

Y'all are missing the point-
This is not supposed to be accurate, it is the annual "planted story" to make Hizzoner look good.

Hilarious and predictable. "We just need a...ummmm.....budget!!! In fact, I have heard several staffmembers work on that almost every year, so..., so Milton has a budget and I am positive it is a good one, because they have mentioned it to me at my office in Crabapple, the Olde Blind Dog..."

Nearly as funny is Bailey saying she is "also for commercial" for a city: she just fails to mention she has never actually voted for any, ever, no matter what the circumstances.

Tim Enloe said...


I enjoyed reading your perspective.

What do you believe should happen?

The better question would be what should Milton become in your opinion?


Tim Enloe
770 653 0552

Anonymous said...

Milton just need to have a healthy balance! Obviously, no one wants heavy commercial developement in its residential areas. But I, after living here for 20 years, personally enjoy being able to go to a decent restaurant, get my hair done, do my banking and other daily errands without having to drive 10 miles. My husband gets a big chuckle every time he sees Julie in the Birmingham Publix. She fought that tooth and nail and now, that is the biggest convenience we all enjoy at our end of town!

Tim Enloe said...

6:42 - Would you like to see more retail within Milton and if so, where do you believe such should be placed?


Tim Enloe
770 653 0552

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't want new big retailers, wal-mart, target etc outside of the Hwy 9 corridor. But I wouldn't mind more specialty shops and boutiques, even an Ace Hardware type store in the Birmingham Crossroads, or Crabapple areas.

Tim Enloe said...

7:15am -

Thanks for the response.

I would encourage you to attend a CPAC meeting. We are always eager to hear what Milton citizens have to say.

Our next meeting is this Wednesday at 6:30pm at city hall.

Please come!

All the best -

Tim Enloe
770 653 0552

Anonymous said...

Credit to Julie that the Birmingham Publix isn't large-scale retail like a Superstore Wal-Mart. She "fought tooth and nail" so that the retail center would not overwhelm the community and that it would fit the character of the area.

That you see Julie shopping at local retailers demonstrates her support of the viability of Milton's economy and commercial entities.

Anonymous said...

julie will lose the next election even past supporters have seen the light

Anonymous said...

julie will lose the next election even past supporters have seen the light

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to "credit Julie" for how the Birmingham Publix turned out. It would never have been a Wal-Mart sized supercenter. There were plenty of other voices who demanded that that commercial development retain the aesthetic of the area. They went about it in a professional, reasonable manner. Julie's greatest skill is in creating logjams and quagmire's and hamstringing the process. Not what a new city needs.

That I see Julie shopping at local retailers does not demonstrate her support of the viability of Miltons economy and commercial entities...she just needs a gallon of milk like the rest of us!

Anonymous said...

It's "Mr." Hizzoner to you Neal "OB" Obrien.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Neal, what the hell are you talking about with the comment about Hizzoner and the budget, what does that have to do with the price of diapers and soap opera's in China?