An estimated 250 residents packed the Cross Keys High School cafeteria last Thursday for a town hall meeting sponsored by “Brookhaven Yes,” the group supporting the formation of a new city. Representatives from five of Georgia’s cities—Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Decatur— were there to share their experiences and answer questions. Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis told the crowd, “We truly believe cities are the way to go,” explaining that counties get too big and are not able to provide the local services that people want.
Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said that under his new city, police services had improved dramatically. “Today our vehicles arrive at a call about six minutes faster than under Fulton County for the same amount of money that we were paying to the county.”
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan added that police service was better in Dunwoody as well, “We send our police out to every call. We have a small area so all of our officers stay within our boundaries and get to know Dunwoody.”
Mayor Davis later added, “We never saw a policeman in our neighborhood. Now we know his name.”
Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos, who led a 29-year effort to incorporate the city touted the benefits of local control, and described how keeping tax money local helped the city improve parks, roads, police and fire services and control zoning. Asked whether cities provide another layer of government, Galambos said, “There is not a duplication of services. We provide more efficient services,” explaining that forming public-private partnerships has proven to be a cost-saving way to deliver services.
Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson added, “A city is not another layer of government. Basically, if you form a city those services you get from the county will continue but some of the others will be provided by the city.”
Asked about a recent report from DeKalb County that the new city would start off with a deficit, “Brookhaven Yes” president, J. Max Davis said it was false. “They took just the information from the property tax digest. When you have a city it’s not just property taxes, but you have business licenses and building permits and the county only focused on property taxes.”
Davis added that with this year’s increase in sales tax collections, Brookhaven would actually start off with a $1.1 million surplus.
Asked whether Brookhaven would have a large enough commercial tax base to support a city, Dunwoody’s finance chief, Chris Pike explained that a city’s revenue comes from a wide variety of sources and even with a large commercial property like Dunwoody’s Perimeter Mall, “All revenue sources don’t stay local,” he said, adding that sales taxes are redistributed to cities based on population. Pike concluded, “Brookhaven has sufficient commercial areas to support itself.”
Davis added that Brookhaven’s property tax base is 28 percent commercial, higher than DeKalb’s 21 percent. Johns Creek Mayor Bodker noted that his city’s commercial base is only 15 percent but that taxes have not gone up since the city was formed, while at the same time, taxes in unincorporated Fulton County have doubled.