Fayette’s missing puzzle piece

Ben Nelms's picture

There are always plenty of issues present in Fayette County, from political to economic to lifestyle. And there is much to talk about in Fayette and the variable components wrapped up in its future.

Yet there is a missing component, in fact a significant component, which seems to always fly below the radar. This component is one of the issues being addressed in the ongoing Fayette Visioning Initiative.

But first things first. Fayette County is on the cusp of an incremental but steady increase in economic growth unlike anything it has seen before. This will come as new endeavors such as Pinewood Atlanta Studios evolve. It will take some time but it is already beginning to happen.

Fayette enjoys Georgia’s second highest median family income level, the second highest median home/condo prices and one of the state’s best school systems.

And while the tendency to boast about such statistics exists and can often be heard in government and civic settings, there is an underlying component that does not bode well for Fayette’s future.

A missing piece of the puzzle in Fayette’s future may not be taboo to mention, but it is at least politically very incorrect. So be it.

That missing piece rests with the reality that, on the main, Fayette has not been able to attract young families or couples who will be starting those young families.

An example of this reality came at a recent governmental meeting where one of the public speakers noted that the birth of a child in their subdivision had been cause for a celebration among the residents.

This was not a senior subdivision. As the years passed, this subdivision had transformed into one populated by older adults.

A big reason why many young couples do not move here: home prices. The very thing that makes Fayette so desirable for so many well-established families to move here is the very thing that many young families, or young couples who want to start a family, simply cannot afford.

The high home prices across Fayette County, even in the face of the Great Recession, are out of the reach of many young couples and young families.

This is nothing new since, historically, a large number of families moving into Fayette do so when their children are in the higher grades in elementary school or already in middle school or beyond. This fact of life has been noted at several school board meetings.

The reason is simple: fed by the economic engines of Atlanta and Hartsfield, Fayette’s population increase over the past few decades has included significant numbers of people already established in their jobs and earning a higher income so that when transferred to metro Atlanta they can afford to move into Fayette with its higher home prices and mortgages.

Once already-established families are here, some of them do continue to have more kids, but the school system enrollment numbers speak for themselves.

Fayette schools have lost more than 2,000 kids since 2007. We broke even last year but, even with the local economy beginning to rebound, we lost another 300 this year.

A loss of kids translates into fewer state dollars coming to the school system — $1 million for every 250 students. A 2011 enrollment study by the Carl Vinson Institute at UGA showed Fayette losing another 1,650 students by 2021. With current enrollment now at the level seen in 2000-2001, Fayette has already lost a dozen years of enrollment growth.

If the study is correct, and I hope it’s not, Fayette by 2021 will have lost a quarter-century of enrollment. The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimate shows 24.3 percent of Fayette residents under age 18. That’s down from 29 percent in 2000.

The after-effects of the recession are waning, yet even with decreased home prices brought on by the recession making housing here temporarily more affordable, Fayette is still losing enrollment. And as home prices rise, it makes affording our prices even more out of reach for many.

Those of you reading this column might reflect of your economic status when you were in your 20s. How many of you could have afforded to make the mortgage payments on the home you live in today?

There is another facet of the education equation. It rests on the flip side of the age and income coin.

The 2012 census estimate shows that 14.6 percent of Fayette’s population is 65 years of age or older while the state average is 11.5 percent.

(Compare Fayette’s numbers to Forsyth – the state’s most affluent county with the highest income and housing prices and the top school system — with 10.2 percent).

Add to Fayette’s numbers the Atlanta Regional Commission estimate from 2008 forecasting that Fayette County, with the third fastest growing senior population in the 10-county ARC area, will increase its senior population by 450 percent by 2040.

You read it right – 450 percent. Even if the recession altered those numbers, anyone interested in a glimpse of Fayette in the near-term future can do the math on that one to see just how the ranks of seniors will alter the age demographics of this county in the next couple of decades.

After all, no other age group or combination of age groups can compare to those numbers.

Simply put, Fayette at this point is slowly turning into a retirement community. And that’s fine, except for the school system.

Back in 2000, 43.1 percent of Fayette County households included children. By 2010 that figure had dropped to 36.3 percent.

For Fayette’s highly-vaunted school system this translates into cold cash. Seniors still pay the full price on city and county property taxes, but they pay only half, and sometimes none, of the school system property taxes that people under age 65 pay.

And for those of you who think seniors should continue to pay the full tax rate until they drop dead, consider whether you would like to take on that growing group who have already paid the full property tax rate all their lives.

This is also the age demographic who go to the polls in higher numbers should the matter go to a referendum.

With a school system large or small, it can still be a premiere system. The underlying issue is that, as Fayette’s population continues to age, there must be a way to attract young couples and families to re-populate the county.

Many in Fayette proclaim that they do not want starter homes or apartments. The rationale for that perspective is sometimes clear and above board while, for others, it is shrouded in perspectives linked to affluence or race. In my line of work I’ve heard both perspectives, and I hear them often.

The time has come for a new conversation about attracting young couples and young families to Fayette County.

Perhaps the Fayette Visioning Initiative can tackle the problem of Fayette’s missing puzzle piece.

[Ben Nelms is a reporter for The Citizen.]

PTC Observer
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I don't think that's it Ben

"A big reason why many young couples do not move here: home prices"

If you go up on the Northside of Atlanta, you will find young families galore moving into $500 to $700,000 homes. Families with small children. So, why don't they move here? These homes are in DeKalb and Fulton Counties. Not all areas of these counties are riddled with crime. Examples, include the new town of Brookhaven, it's booming. Sandy Springs is another.

Why do young families move to Coweta? Home prices? Don't think so, just look at Summerhill and other planned areas of Coweta. They are not cheap. What do you find there, young families with young children.

I say that Fayette County is a "buffer" county between Clayton and Fulton Counties. A buffer to crime. It's a long way to run from Coweta to Clayton.

Until we address the crime issues here in this county, not turn a blind eye and deny its existence, then we will have more young families moving to Coweta. Our school population will continue to decline as Coweta continues to rise.

stranger than f...
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Crime in Fayette County - Perception versus Reality

PTCO - You may be right that families with small children avoid Fayette County in favor of Coweta because they perceive aversive criminal enterprises. However, crime statistics do not bear this out. Coweta County has three times as many violent and personal property crimes as does Fayette, and there are no trends in types of crime increasing in our county. I direct you to Sheriff Babb's page:

http://www.fayettesheriff.org/Crime_Statistics.php

It seems that the fiction of a crime-ridden Fayette County is accepted as fact by many bloggers on this site. Perhaps Fayette County needs to educate even our residents in objective statistical reality.

Robert W. Morgan
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That FBI chart make you wonder if anyone is paying attention

They do work for Eric Holder's Justice Dept., so i'm guessing there is not much focus on the % of certain crime committed by blacks. Hardly anything political in that to take advantage of either. When 13% of the population is getting credit for 50% and sometimes 60% of violent crimes, it should force responsible members of society (regardless of what color they are) to ask and confront those difficult questions. One of which is - is it really racist to worry about being robbed by a black man? Or is that based upon historical data? Hmmmmmm.
Another of which is - is it true that a black county commissioner is 3 times as likely to assault another commissioner? Or school board member? If the answer is yes, then is that panty waist judge that is drawing our districts liable for any damages?

Whitey does seems to have an unsurmountable lead when it comes to Forceable Rape, Arson and offenses related to alcohol, but all the other stuff like robbery and murder they fall way behind. And the poor Asians, not even in the game.

PTC Observer
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Mr. Morgan

Sometimes your "logic" leaves a lot to be desired.

Davids mom
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Come on RWM

What is the statistic of crimes committed by FAYETTE COUNTY blacks? Please share. The broad brush painting of all blacks by national statistics is just the kind of ignorance that educated blacks are fighting to eradicate in the minds of young black students regarding 'white' people. There are harmonious communities in Fayette County where citizens of different ethnicities reside. Have you and your ilk looked at the statistic of who are the victims of this statistic of 'black' crime? Do you really believe that because the media is not publicizing the victims of 'black' crime (the majority of the victims) that the black community or our law enforcement agencies have 'little concern'? Hmmmm - since Eric Holder is 'black' I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the major law enforcement efforts are being made in the 'black' communities. Oh - there is still a higher crime rate in 'black' communities - if the demographic coincides with educational level; income; job opportunities.

Americans are paying attention to those who encourage the sick division in this country by the insistence on male, white, Christian dominance by any means possible. MLK combated this 'by any means possible' by using love, logic, and law.

Fortunately in a diverse environment, students are able to judge based on actions and attitude rather than 'skin color'. As historical accounts repeat the fire hose incidents, lynchings, lack of opportunity that is part of our American history - we have to point to the progress that has been attained during the past 50 years - and our goal of equal opportunity for all Americans. Your calling one group of Americans 'whitey' is just as divisive as using the N word - and is the kind of ignorance that many are working to OVERCOME.

PTC Avenger
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I agree. But of course no one

I agree. But of course no one wants to honestly have THAT conversation.

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-...

Davids mom
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A Progressive's View on Poverty

Paul Krugman shared an interesting viewpoint - and careful folks - over 50% of the national electorate agree with him. Isn't it time for Conservatives and Progressives to work together on solutions that work for the American people? This record of 0 in accomplishment of our US Congress is depressing.

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/opinion/war-on-poverty-turns-50-taking-a-su...

Davids mom
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FBI REPORT

We should all be concerned at the Child Abuse report!!! What are we doing to our future!!! Looks like we're becoming more 'equal' in the area of murder. Anyone want to discuss the other 'gaps'?

RescuedFromLisa
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Shut Down Courtney's Canine Care. Abuse, neglect of animals.

I have scoured to find this blog, specifically you. You have covered the Council's weighing in on ..'what to do to help Ms Lisa Fleming'.

In my humble opinion, the Council's recent decision to not enforce, e.g. 'waive' the very ordinances set to protect the citizens of F'ville, no less those that 'cannot speak for themselves' such as defenseless animals in Lisa's care, in a phrase: DESERVE BETTER.

I have just literally rescued a dog from? Lisa Fleming. I live in the Northeast. Dog arrived from Ms Fleming's money maker on Sunday Jan 6, 2014. Meaning, I have rescued the dog from her horrible, ignorant and money hungry clutches. Underfed, ignored specific instructions from a vet, in her care for 7 weeks, this dog has suffered. Rife with worms and pelvic bones and EVERY rib now showing, this dog lost weight, got two distinct worm infections in her care.

Lets do the math, shall we? At $10 a dog PER DAY, and... claim is 60 dogs? Ok - lets say, '25' only of the 60 are 'paying customers'. Whether another rescue group having her hold the pet, OR a local customer needing care for their pet while on vacation or whathaveyou. Doing the math on average having 25 dogs a day at $10 per pop is? $250. Per month that averages: $7500. Food likely on massive discount or, as her social site says, 'need donations of food, blankets, paper towels, etc.'

Seems to be a nice money maker, specifically if you claim you are a 501 (3c) and you have a rather astute attorney and accountant friend.. you can cook the books, and get free/reduced vet care and have quite a nice lot of cash on hand.

Yes, I am upset. There were specific vet instructions for this one pet and he got none of it. Actually she infected him with two different types of issues [worms + Giardia] no less did not adminster food and medicine as prescribed by the vet.

I ask you to think about what is wrong here. You might say.. 'oh, only one [1] dog is fairly ok'. Really? How many does it take..? Five? 25? 105?

Where does it stop.

I have sent in to the City Council, the BBB; no I wont stop. This is my 7th rescue. I have not ever seen an animal in such poor care after supposedly being in rescue.

Yes, I have rescued from rescue one dog. Now you must help do your part and help save the rest and any future animals from her clutches and greedy wallet.

And now the Council is going to give her leeway to do "more harm"?!

downtownbiz
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Plenty of homes

Complaining there are no affordable homes in Fayette County is like complaining you can't find a job because you don't want to work at McDonald's. The homes are there, just not where you want them or brand new. If people want to live here, then they should suck it up, buy a house, rehab it and make it wonderful.

I Heart Fayette
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Affordable homes do exist

Young families looking for homes in the 100 to 180K price range can find them in many Fayetteville neighborhoods. Problem is, these homes are not located in the most highly desirable school attendance areas. The recent redistricting of schools, creating an even more deliberate division between Peachtree City and Fayetteville, exacerbates a perception problem that drives growth in attendance at southern/Peachtree City schools and concentrates high density housing in northern Fayette attendance areas. Even the Welcome Center staff has been known to perpetuate a poor perception of some of our schools in their comments to visitors.

Until Fayette County truly embraces its diversity and promotes equity in its schools in both word and action, we will attract fewer and fewer young families. And once young families are gone, the whole community declines. Even Peachtree City.

ginga1414
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Some More Thoughts, Ben

My husband and I moved to Fayette County when our children were small (6 and 3 yrs. old). We move here because of the schools. Nothing new there.

When we moved to Fayette County our income was about normal for young couples at the time. However, at that time there was plenty of rural land in the county. Therefore the prices were lower and young couples could afford to live here.

At that time young couples wanted to raise their children in a less urban atmosphere. They wanted them to have plenty room to run and play. Over the years. all of that has changed.

Our children are now grown with young families of their own.

I have had the opportunity, over the last couple of years, to speak to our children's friends who have moved away from Fayette County. I was told by every last one of those young couples (15 couples) that they did not want to raise their children here because of the changes that have taken place since they grew up.

Another point they all made was that raising a family in Fayette County had been a dream for them but they chose to move to a "more rural" place.

I think the fact that those young folks had good memories of growing up in Fayette County and wanting to raise their children here says a lot. It also says a lot when those young people chose to move away because of the changes that have taken place since they were children.

My generation came to Fayette County seeking a less urban atmosphere and good schools. My children's generation are moving from Fayette County because of pretty much the same reasons.

All my life, I've heard that the only sure thing is "change." Oh, how true.

Perhaps our Fayette Vision folks will take into consideration that all young families don't want to raise children with the fast pace that comes with development. Development is development, and that means that whether it is industrial or housing the atmosphere of a community will change.

My husband and I were honored to be chosen to participate in a similar study about the vision of Fayette County a while back. The result of that study was the concept that "the rural characteristics of Fayette County should be preserved." Some few "rural characteristics" have been preserved. However, the land immediately around those "rural characteristics" has been paved over and built up. Therefore, the land is increasingly becoming priced at a premium. If acreage is there, young folks can't afford it. That means builders and developers will build smaller homes on less land and our once rural county will become increasingly urban.

Maybe the Fayette Vision folks should take into consideration that all of us old people will die off pretty soon, leaving depreciated old homes to be bought by young folks.

Husband and Fat...
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Amen Ginga

We moved to FC and PTC because of the rural feel and PTC was not like every other suburban town around metro Atlanta. If we wanted development and traffic, we would have moved to the north side, closer to more stores, restaurants, and TRAFFIC.

We also moved here because the schools are good and like Mr. Morgan stated, we felt the snob appeal of PTC would keep our property values on the rise long term.

I am not against change, but I want the slow growth promised by our leaders who I think buckled under the economic pressures and we are about to see drastic changes by business people who are looking after their business growth and livelihood. These committee members will also be the first to know about the plans which will only line their pockets and not look out for those like you and I who prefer being off the beaten path.

Our leaders got greedy during the good times and overbuilt. Build it and they will come turned out to be a disaster with regards to the school on Sandy Creek Rd.

Just wait until this time next year when the studios are running and out of town people working at the facility overwhelm what we grew to like about FC

moelarrycurly
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Ben Nelms

I would like to add a few things here. What I never hear in conversations about the decline in the school population here are 2 facts.

There was a huge population of illegal immigrants in this county for years. They came, they took low paying or under the table jobs and were used to build the homes and buildings and roads and just about everything in Georgia. For almost a decade. They either brought with them or had them come later, wives and girlfriends and children, lots of children. Their children were in our schools to be educated. Then, the crackdown on employment verification came in. E-verify and other programs. The population of many, many illegals packed up and left our state. Their children left, too. Thus, school enrollments went down.

In 2008, Clayton County lost it's school accreditation. A wave of their population either moved to Fayette or just brought their children over here to a school system that was much better and took away the fear of any child graduating with a diploma that would not allow them to move on to any further advanced education. Many rented homes or apartments in our county for a year or two until the Clayton schools were re-accredited or their children graduated here. Or, just drove them back and forth from Clayton.

Many of us saw the Clayton license plate vehicles sitting at our bus stops in our subdivisions, waiting to pick up their children when the bus brought them home. Again, a segment of our schools that I never hear mentioned when people talk about the declining enrollments.

My point is, yes, we have seen a smaller number of children in our schools. Those 2 facts above are reasons that I would say have never been factored in properly in enrollment discussions.

Also, with the economy in a downturn for the young lives of those just starting out and the tough time with keeping jobs and even seeing steady raises once a year, I would just bet many in their twenties and early thirties have not even considered starting or growing their families. The outlook has not been good for them, and they are trying to get themselves established before they take on the added responsibility of children and a mortgage.

I would encourage those in FCBOE administration and the planners add to the dialogue about these events that have had an impact on our enrollments here, too.

Great column. Thank you.

Robert W. Morgan
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Sure Ben, mighty fine thoughts. Where the heck do we put them?

Just to be clear, affordable housing for young families is priced below $200,000, in some cases as low as $150,000 if you want the mortgage, tax, insurance and utilities to be below or near $1,000 per month. Many young families don't like the choices in that price range so they move to places like Woodstock and get a cluster home from a tract builder or they take the plunge and pay $1200-1500 per month to live in Senoia or Sharpsburg. Notice I have not mentioned anyplace in Fayette County yet. So Ben, your central point is correct, but where in Fayette?

Every single time someone comes forward with any residential project the knee-jerk reaction from the boo birds and the Nimbys is "too much density". And the politicians seldom waste any time countering those arguments because they are driven by their supporters who like it or not are biased and prejudiced racially and economically. We are perceived as snobs in Fayette County and especially PTC because we really are snobs. Note that the only way Wieland and Scarborough pulled off that huge annexation in northwest PTC was to tout retirement housing and no kids added to the schools.

The only ray of hope is that the banks will begin to release the last of their foreclosed inventory of houses during the next 2 years when the feds are artificially keeping the interest rates low. After that, the price of admission to Fayette County is likely over $2,000 per month. So, young families who want to be in the Fayette school system - find yourself an old or foreclosed house and get it now. Put in your granite and such when you can afford it. Nobody is going to give it to you unless the banks are in a fix and upgrade mode.

By the way, this is nothing new. John DeCotis explained all this to the school board 10-12 years ago before they went ahead and built those empty schools. Led by developer's wife Terri Smith and uber liberal Janet Smola, they reasoned we needed more schools because, well no real factual reason - just because.

Sure, the Visioning survey may highlight this problem and maybe a few of our leaders will actually take it seriously, but when you have the mayor of PTC and even some councilpeople saying "Oh well, the population is getting older so let's cut back on recreation" I mean we actually elect people like this? What do you expect?

Looking down the road, after 8 years of Hillary as President, Vanessa, then Kim as mayor, Brown replacing Westmoreland and David Barlow as County Commission Chair (are you depressed yet?)---the 450% increase in seniors takes us to the point that almost 50% of our population is over 65 and many of those (perhaps most) are exempt from paying school tax. What then? Logically one might conclude that with half the number of students in school, the school portion of our property taxes would be cut in half as well. If that's true, the tax bills would be downright reasonable, but anyone who believes that is possible is delusional.

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