As the debate over whether to form a new city of Brookhaven begins in earnest, The Crier examined recent claims by opponents in a flyer distributed by Laurenthia Mesh of Ashford Neighbors.org, an opposition group.
Claim: “Experts reported to the Senate Study Committee this week that the franchise fees outweigh the negligible property tax reduction so that means increased taxes.”
Facts: The city of Brookhaven charter would roll back the millage rate for city services from the current millage rate of 6.9 to 3.35 mills. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. That’s a tax savings of approximately $300 per $100,000 assessed value. The Franchise fee is added to utility bills, most significantly Georgia Power bills, which according to the utility would amount to 1.8 percent of the yearly power bill. The Carl Vinson Institute estimated the average fee would be less than $50.
On the face of it, the above claim is false. But there are other factors, especially the loss of the HOST (Homestead Option Sales Tax) credit on the city portion of the tax bill that would go to the city instead of individual residents. This calculation can be estimated by looking at your most recent DeKalb tax bill. The county estimates it would be an average loss of $300 per homeowner. In most cases, the tax rollback would be somewhat larger than the HOST credit.
Most calculations show that new citizens of Brookhaven will enjoy a slightly lower tax burden with a guarantee that city taxes will not be raised without voter approval. Other factors such as the assessed value, and the final budget of the new city will also determine one’s final tax liability.
Claim: “Johns Creek city says it is unable to pay for necessary infrastructure repair because its charter has a “cap” (just like the city of Brookhaven) and cannot raise taxes.”
Facts: According to Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, “Both statements are inaccurate. We have enough money to pay our bills. We now spend $1-2 million a year for roads, but ideally if we could pass a bond issue of $10-20 million and repave all the roads at one time, which would be more cost effective. The “cap” on our millage rate may need to be amended as it was mistakenly put in the charter as requiring a majority of all registered voters rather than a majority of those who go to the polls. We haven’t hit our cap and that’s not the problem.”
Claim: “Dunwoody now has a substantial crime increase of 11 percent last year and their police chief needs an additional $2,777,250.00 because they are understaffed 50 percent and exhausted.”
Facts: According to Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan, “Our crime rate in 2011 compared to 2010 was slightly down. We’ve had an uptick in property crimes. In January it was up 11 percent, and February it was up 11 percent. We’ve had a group targeting an area, breaking into cars, and this causes a spike in crime.”
Grogan said that his memo to city council at its annual retreat asked for a total budget increase of $1.85 million over five years, to add 14 positions. His goal was to increase staffing to 1.56 officers per 1,000 residents. Today, the ratio is .99/1000.
Grogan added, “The staff of the Dunwoody Police Department does an exceptional job providing police services to the citizens of Dunwoody. We have formed many important relationships with citizens and community organizations to fight crime and improve the quality of life of those who live in and visit Dunwoody.”
Claim: “City of Sandy Springs water bills almost tripled after becoming a city.”
Fact: Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos replied, “The city of Sandy Springs unfortunately has no control over the water bills. Our residents are forced to be customers of the city of Atlanta, which has been the water provider of this area from the time water lines were first installed in mid-century of the 1900s. The city of Atlanta has raised water bills three times in the last two years, and since our residents are customers of Atlanta, they are suffering from these high bills.
The city has been in court for over two years trying to get out from under this arrangement, but unfortunately the Federal Circuit court, in which we were heard last June, has still not issued a decision. We would like the opportunity to arrange for a different provider of water for Sandy Springs than the city of Atlanta. Our high water bills are merged with the sewer money Atlanta collects, and our water revenue helps pay for the Atlanta water sewer system. Yet Sandy Springs does not even use the Atlanta sewer system. We pay for sewer to Fulton County. Thus, in effect we are paying for two sewer systems, which is double taxation. This is a very sore issue between Sandy Springs and Atlanta, and has been so even before we became a city.”
Claim: “Peachtree Corners City is already in court one month after incorporating! The estimated $50,000 for the city of Ashford (Brookhaven) would quickly disappear.”
Fact: Peachtree Corners City is not a city yet. The referendum passed and city council elections have held with runoffs scheduled. A nonexistent city cannot be sued. The community of Berkley Lakes has raised a boundary issue but a lawsuit has not been filed. Even with the change in the boundary lines, the Carl Vinson Institute has estimated the new city’s surplus to be $135,000, thus making both claims wrong.