After a week of illegal robocalls and an anonymous mailer accusing the mayor and council of raising “new and higher taxes” circulated Brookhaven, the city council carefully explained its first budget and the budget process at its meeting last week.
City officials adopted a budget of $16.465 million and a property tax millage rate of 3.35 mills, and were careful to explain that the millage rate is a “placeholder” that will allow city business to proceed until DeKalb County collects exact revenue numbers, including current value of the tax digest, the DeKalb Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST) credit and other figures.
Interim Finance Director Christopher Pike presented the budget as “fluid,” and reminded the mayor and council that they “would and should revisit this budget from time to time throughout the year.”
Pike added that the city council, in adopting the budget, was “not setting your tax rates,” but “putting in a placeholder millage rate, set to the maximum allowed by the [city] charter for the time being.”
Mayor J. Max Davis acknowledged the pre-recorded telephone calls and the mailer in defending the budget.
“I know you many of you have saw or heard the robocalls and the anonymous postcard accusing us of doing all kinds of bad things,” said Davis. “But we have squeezed every penny out of every orifice to come up with this budget. It’s lean and mean –this is a very fiscally conservative budget,” he added.
Brookhaven’s budget is largely a planning document in its current form. The biggest allocation is just over $4.3 million in a contingency fund for future projects, along with a reserve fund for future police services is just over $2.6 million. Just over $4 million is allocated for city finance and administration as well as nearly $1.8 million for public works and just over $1.4 million for community development.
Revenues anticipated include $5 million in property taxes, $3.5 million for Brookhaven’s share of the HOST tax revenue, $1.8 in business licensing fees and $1.3 million in franchise fees, among several other categories. The franchise fees drew special attention as a benefit to the Brookhaven from city council member, Rebecca Williams.
“The 1.9 percent rate for in franchise fees that was in effect before we became a city will increase to 3.8 percent now that we are a city,” Williams said, “but now Brookhaven will be entitled to keep that revenue, to use in the best interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Brookhaven.”
An accounting maneuver by DeKalb County, just days before Brookhaven’s budget approval, forced the city council to reduce amount it was to receive from the county for police services. DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis removed money designated for police services and placed it in the county’s general fund, reducing the county share of expenditures on all residents of DeKalb’s nine cities, and effectively raising taxes on all city residents in DeKalb. State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) has requested a legal opinion from Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens on the legality of the move.
“This budget is a work in progress and contingent on revenue from DeKalb County, but we will only spend what we have to spend and [do so] as prudently as possible.” Davis said. “I ask for your patience,” he added. “This budget is going to change and this millage rate is going to go down. Our goal… is for Brookhaven taxpayers to pay equal or less than their previous tax rate while receiving better quality city services.”