Monday, October 17, 2011

Facts are Stubborn things


One of the biggest issues I hear people ask in the debate over whether to create a city of Peachtree Corners is why should we incorporate now. A regular line of argument from anti-city people is “what is the rush”?

When they are told that the threat of annexation from Norcross is one of the main drivers in the push to incorporate they discount the idea as fear mongering by the UPCCA. They claim that Norcross is not interested in any residential areas in Peachtree Corners but only in Tech Park. They claim that no one wants to annex Peachtree Corners and that there is no need to do much of anything because no one is ever going to annex us.

The soothing reassurances from the anti-city crowd reminds me of some B grade horror movie where the very nervous girlfriend (i.e. soon to be victim of someone with a mask and a chainsaw) is told not to worry about those strange sounds coming out of the woods nor to worry about her two friends who have been missing for hours. She is told those sounds are just her imagination playing tricks on her and that her friends are probably out taking a walk. Of course we all know how the story ends for the poor girlfriend who takes the bad advice despite her misgivings that were based on evidence of something bad about to happen.

Of course I am convinced that annexation is just a matter of time but I decided that it might be insightful to research why other cities have incorporated to see if my belief was supported by actual research and not just my assumptions and personal bias.

During my research I found a very insightful and interesting academic paper that was actually a summary of over 200 academic studies of the reasons for incorporation across the United States for the last 50 years.

This paper was quite lengthy (24 pages) and to analyze it in detail is beyond the scope of this blog plus probably beyond the scope of many people’s attention spans. But there were a few very interesting rationales given by the paper about why cities incorporate I wanted to share. I have highlighted the most poignant parts in red and have provided as much of the excerpts as I believe can stand without falling asleep.

Excerpts are in italic

To avoid annexation
Several new cities incorporate to prevent potential annexations to existing cities. Beche

(1963) notes that most new incorporations in Colorado in the 1960s were motivated by the threat of annexation. Mumphrey et al (1990) found that many incorporations are "defensive incorporations," created to stave off the threat of annexation. Mumphrey, et al, further note that incorporations set the stage for eventual incremental annexations as the city grows, and they find evidence that annexation and incorporation interact spatially at the state level. In the 1980s, no county experienced annexation without incorporation, according to the authors. The mapping suggested a highly regionalized pattern of this interaction.

"There is apparent overlap in the two urbanization processes," the authors conclude (Mumphrey, Wildgen, and Williams 1990, 17). Though they could not determine causation definitively, they found it reasonable to suggest that incorporation "is used as a political
prophylactic, or preemptive, to halt annexation" in many cases (Mumphrey, Wildgen, and Williams 1990, 17).

Some cities incorporate to avoid the higher property taxes associated with proposed annexation. Miller's (1981) analysis of several Lakewood Plan cities in Los Angeles
demonstrated that many new cities incorporated to avoid annexation attempts by the City of Los Angeles.

The primary purpose of these new cities was to limit property tax burden on homeowners and businesses, and limit the size of government bureaucracies and welfare programs.

However, Sokolow et al (1981) note that measures such as California's Proposition 13, which effectively freeze property tax levels, reduces this incentive for incorporation.

Liner and McGregor's (1996) research supports the theory that incorporations occur to avoid annexation. They suggest that municipalities can be almost predatory in their stance toward neighboring unincorporated territories. they perceive adjoining land as part of their potential future economic base and thus, often seek to annex it. These municipalities are described as monopoly-like in their behavior.

Thus, one reason communities incorporate is to avoid annexation to an existing city.

Communities may find annexation undesirable for many reasons, including anticipated tax increases or an anticipated loss of autonomy as the community is absorbed into a larger city.
Depending on the state laws involved, communities may perceive that it is easier to incorporate than win a political fight to defeat annexation.

To Increase or Decrease Service Levels
The most commonly noted scholarly explanation for new cities is service provision (e.g. Miller 1981, Stauber 1965.). In this line of thought, communities incorporate because they want
more services, such as more police, better roads, more libraries, etc. Conversely, communities may incorporate because they want fewer services (and the lower taxes associated with that
choice (Miller 1981)).

In short, residents choose to incorporate to provide service levels that

more closely fit the community's preferences. Gaining city status also may qualify a community for grants and funds from state or federal sources that were previously unavailable, grants which
can be used to increase services. This literature is often identified with public choice theory.

Tiebout whose emphasis on consumer-voter mobility as an indication of preference led to the popular phrase “voting with your feet.” Tiebout set about to describe a “market type” solution to
determine the level of expenditures local government should spend on public goods. Due to the constraints of fixed factors or resources (such as land or beach or space), local government can only offer a limited pattern of preferences. Assuming that consumers are mobile, knowledgeable,
unrestricted by employment, and have choices, a consumer-voter selects the community that offers the pattern of services and goods he/she desires. Thus, a large number of communities or incorporations are desirable and necessary. Consumer-voters move to communities that best expresses their bundle of services and these communities in turn, send their agents (leaders) to purchase the goods and services (policies) preferred by their residents.

To Stop Land Use Change

Some communities incorporate to control land use and growth, often to stop undesirable land use proposals or changes, in some cases land use change that may result in socioeconomic and/or racial differences. Fischel asserts that zoning vies with public education as the two local issues of greatest interest to voters.

In a study of incorporations since 1910, Fischel found that the dominant motive was land use control (Teaford 1979) (Fischel 2001) (Teaford 1979). A study of the incorporation of Wimberly, Texas supports the emphasis on growth management.

Despite vigorous opposition, the town eventually agreed to incorporate because they wanted to preserve town character, prevent excess signage, protect scenic ridge lines, and protect
waterways and community centers (Caldwell 2002).

One of the most striking thing about this exhaustive research paper was that the reasons given why cities have chosen to incorporate over the last 50 years are some of the exact same reasons supporters of incorporation Peachtree Corners supporters have stated – Zoning, Service Delivery, avoidance of annexation by a surrounding city.

I found the rationales and behavior that existing cities have for annexing surrounding area particularly powerful – “They suggest that municipalities can be almost predatory in their stance toward neighboring unincorporated territories. they perceive adjoining land as part of their potential future economic base and thus, often seek to annex it. These municipalities are described as monopoly-like in their behavior.”

I feel sympathy for those that moved to Peachtree Corners to specifically avoid living in a city. Unfortunately 50 years of research and annexation efforts currently underway by Norcross to annex residential areas to their south clearly show that it is just a matter of time before the residential areas of Peachtree Corners will be annexed. People’s emotions may be telling them that annexation will never happen but it truly is just a matter of time. I think a famous quote by John Adams sums up the dilemma faced by many opponents of incorporation.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams, 'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,' December 1770
US diplomat & politician (1735 - 1826)

Many of the opponents of incorporation have shown a white hot passion to prevent a city of Peachtree Corners from happening. They have very strong convictions for why they want to stop this effort and one of their main arguments is that there is no need to incorporate because annexation will never happen. They have an almost religious fervor to their argument despite historical data and trends that show annexation will ultimately happen.

The residents of Peachtree Corners have a choice. We can continue to keep our head in the sand and our fingers in our ears and believe the anti-city crowd who claims the threat of annexation (and the 6.4 Mil rate that comes with it) is just a scare tactic by the UPCCA or we can accept that 50 years of data and current annexation efforts by Norcross of areas to their south clearly show that if we do not incorporate (along with the 1.0 Mil rate that comes with it) we WILL be annexed.

On November 8th make a decision based on facts and data and not one based on emotion