DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis claimed the proposed city of Brookhaven would create higher taxes for both Brookhaven residents and those in unincorporated DeKalb, as well as forcing a potential reduction in county services.
“It’s the worst of both worlds,” Ellis said in an interview with The Crier. “We will see a rise in taxes and a strain on unincorporated DeKalb.”
Ellis points out that the proposed city of Brookhaven has a smaller commercial base than Dunwoody and that Town Brookhaven, which was given a ten-year tax abatement by the county will not contribute to property taxes for some time.
“It just doesn’t make sense for the residents of Brookhaven because of the potential for more taxes, reduced services and they don’t have the commercial base,” said Ellis.
The feasibility study for a city of Brookhaven, conducted by University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute (CIV) concluded that a city was viable, producing estimated revenues of $28.5 million. With estimated expenditures of $25.0 million, the city could produce a surplus of $3.4 million that could be used for a property tax rollback for to pay for enhanced services.
The county questions those numbers, saying that the CIV overestimated potential revenues and did not properly calculate the Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) credit properly. An analysis by Chief Financial Officer Joel Gottlieb estimates that a Brookhaven homeowner with a home assessed at $300,000 would pay $323 more in property taxes because the HOST credit is only calculated on county, not municipal taxes. Gottlieb said that Brookhaven taxpayers will have to pay more or the reserves will have to be used for a property tax rollback, putting the viability of the city in question.
State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-north DeKalb) has said that the millage rate could be adjusted to account for changes in the HOST credits.
“The county assumes incorrectly that a city of Brookhaven would use the entire millage cap of 6.39 mills. The city of Brookhaven will not need that full amount and besides it will receive an equalization payment of HOST funds that reduces property taxes. In the end, the taxpayers benefit.”
What mostly concerns the county is the lost revenue from a city of Brookhaven. CEO Ellis estimates the county would suffer a $20 million loss, even though 60 percent of Brookhaven residents’ taxes would continue to pay for county operations, hospitals and fire department.
“We still have fixed costs,” said Ellis. “We still run elections, the libraries, the criminal justice system. It will have a real impact and in all likelihood, we’ll have to reduce services like libraries and the courts.”.
DeKalb County commissioner Elaine Boyer said the county needs to change the way it does business and quit complaining.
“Since Dunwoody left, nothing has changed. We don’t reduce staff. There’s been no change in service delivery. If you know you are going to lose income, you have to change,” Boyer told The Crier.
Ellis says that since he has been CEO, he has reduced the budget by 20 percent and downsized by 700 positions. The county got good news last week that the rating agencies, Standard and Poor and Moody’s restored the county’s long-term water and sewer bond rating to A+, which will save the county millions as it sells over a billion dollars in sewer bonds in the next few weeks. Still, with record foreclosures and a declining tax base in South DeKalb, tax revenues continue to decline and efforts to rebuild a reserve are in doubt.