If the measure passes, Brookhaven will officially become a 12-square-mile city of about 49,000 effective this December. It would be DeKalb’s largest city.
Advocates say the residents of a new city between Buckhead and Chamblee would pay fewer taxes for better services, but opponents say the city would add another layer of government that would end up costing residents more than they currently think.
No one except those within the proposed city limits has a say in whether it is created.
DeKalb officials estimate that the county would lose $23 million annually if Brookhaven becomes a city.
CEO Burrell Ellis said he had two words for the proposed city: “Peachtree Corners.”
Peachtree Corners, the sixth new city created in metro Atlanta since 2005, recently presented its first proposed city budget of nearly $3 million, more than three times larger than what residents were told to expect when incorporation was on the table.
House Bill 636, which passed last March, authorized the referendum on a city of Brookhaven. State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta), who also helped spearhead the city of Dunwoody, was one of the architects of the new city in the Legislature. He was joined by Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) and state Sen. Fran Millar (R-Chamblee/Doraville).
The march to cityhood has pitted neighbor against neighbor and city advocates against the county CEO.
The grass-roots volunteers behind www.brookhavenyes.org battle Ellis on every county press release in a number-slinging war over how much revenue the city will cost and how much it could cost to run it.
Jacobs says that property taxes would be lower. Supporters cite research by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia that showed the city would be viable.
Between the 2008 incorporation of Dunwoody as a city, the proposed expansion of Chamblee, and the possibility of a new city of Brookhaven, DeKalb is beginning to deal with the prospects of reduced revenues to maintain its current size.
To recover the lost tax revenue, the county could raise the property millage rate, currently at 21.21 mills, to between 23.19 mills and 23.63 mills. That would mean increasing the property tax by 9.3 percent to 11.4 percent, depending on the size of the tax digest, which declined 9 percent this year because of the impact of foreclosed properties.
On April 19, Ellis ordered 21 department heads to stop filling vacant positions and to trim spending by 2 percent to 5 percent between now and 2013. His directive applies only to 390 of the 656 vacant positions that are tax-funded and report to him.
He told department heads the Brookhaven and Chamblee efforts to annex unincorporated areas could have substantial impact on the 2012 and 2013 budgets.
Ellis also believes cityhood would be more costly for Brookhaven residents.
“It will cost more to operate their city than they project. They’ll have higher taxes and they will cut out revenue for the people who don’t have a vote,” Ellis said this week.
“We’re not anti-city, but we do believe that the Georgia law that allowed for the creation of cities is bad public policy,” Ellis said. “People outside the boundaries don’t have a say, and that’s fundamentally unfair.”
The proposed city is bounded by the Fulton County line to the west, city of Dunwoody to the north, city of Chamblee to the east, and a portion of I-85 to the south.
Annexations approved by the General Assembly in March are under way for not only for Chamblee, but also for Doraville, Decatur and Avondale Estates.
On March 27, the governor signed into law HB 1006 that calls for a November referendum to approve a Chamblee annexation that would add the southern half of PDK Airport to the city, which already contains the other half. The annexation also would extend the city’s border southeast along Clairmont Road to I-85. It has been estimated that DeKalb will lose $2 million to $3 million in tax revenues from this annexation.
This would be the second large annexation for Chamblee in two years. In 2010, voters approved annexation of the Huntley Hills area that added about 6,000 people and about 1.5 square miles on Jan. 1, 2011.
Chamblee, which has about 16,000 residents now, will add about 11,300 residents and about 2.5 square miles if the referendum passes in November. Some of the area to be annexed was originally included in the proposed boundaries for Brookhaven.
Decatur resident Elrado Ramsay, a financial analyst and frequent commentator on community issues, blames county leaders for its population exodus. In a May 10 letter to CrossRoadsNews, he wrote:
“DeKalb County got slack and lazy. Its politicians became presumptuous. It had too many political and financial scandals. It took no opportunity to define a strategy that could improve the lives of all its people. … As long as DeKalb County continues to be second-rate in its capacity to show all its citizens the way to prosperity, and is not a place of high performance leadership and initiatives, more enclaves are going to peel off to do their own thing.”