The feasibility study for the proposed City of Brookhaven, performed by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia (CVI), has been released. Click here to read the report and executive summary.
The CVI study estimates that the proposed city’s annual revenues would be approximately $28.5 million and expenditures would be approximately $25.1 million, leaving a surplus of $3.4 million.
At 49,188 residents, the proposed City of Brookhaven would supplant Dunwoody as both the largest city in DeKalb County and 16th largest in the State of Georgia.
CVI also performed the feasibility study for the City of Dunwoody. A review of CVI’s track record with Dunwoody helps to show that their revenue and expenditure estimates are realistic and conservative. For example, in 2006 (a boom economy), CVI estimated that Dunwoody’s revenues would be $18,777,904. In its first full fiscal year in 2009 (after the economy tanked), Dunwoody’s actual revenues turned out to be $18,394,942, or two percent less than CVI estimated.
In the same study, CVI also predicted that Dunwoody’s total operating expenditures would be $15,571,573. In 2009, Dunwoody’s actual operating expenditures were $13,823,811, or eleven percent less than CVI estimated.
With a $3.4 million surplus, incorporating the City of Brookhaven is likely to result in a property tax cut.
To understand why this is the case, it is important to understand how the Special Services Tax District works. The Special Services Tax District is a line-item on your property tax bill that is used to pay for police, parks and recreation, roads and drainage, and planning, zoning, and land use. That is, it funds all of the local government services that a city could provide.
In 2011, the Special Services Tax District was bifurcated into two line-items, one for police and one for everything else. In 2010, the county charged a millage rate of 3.5 mills for the Special Services Tax District. In 2011, between the two line-items, the county increased that millage rate to 6.39 mills, a tax hike of 82 percent.
The millage rate is the factor by which the assessed value of your property is multiplied in order to arrive at the amount of property taxes that you pay.
If a city is incorporated, the new city does not add new taxes to your property tax bill to pay for police, parks and recreation, roads and drainage, and planning, zoning, and land use. Instead, the Special Services Tax District (all 6.39 mills of it) goes away completely and a new city tax takes its place.
Here’s the key: The proposed City of Brookhaven does not need 6.39 mills – or anything close to it – in order to provide a high level of service in the areas of police, parks and recreation, roads and drainage, and planning, zoning, and land use.
House Bill 636, the proposed charter for a City of Brookhaven, contains a millage cap that would prevent the city council from raising the city millage rate above a certain point without your vote in a citywide referendum. This is a benefit that does not exist in unincorporated DeKalb County.
Dunwoody was the first city to show that it is possible for a city to provide better services than DeKalb County at a lower cost. Brookhaven would be the second.
The trend toward lower taxes in DeKalb cities than in the unincorporated areas probably will not stop there. The cities of Chamblee and Decatur are on the verge of having lower overall millage rates than unincorporated DeKalb. Taxes in DeKalb are headed higher, while cities are holding the line and even cutting taxes. This is what Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd meant when he recently said on a local Decatur blog: “The contention that living in unincorporated DeKalb County offers less taxes is quickly dissolving.”
As a reminder, I am hosting two town hall meetings about the City of Brookhaven proposal:
Tuesday, November 15
Cross Keys High School
1626 North Druid Hills Road
Thursday, November 17
Montgomery Elementary School
3995 Ashford Dunwoody Road
The presentation in both of these meetings will be identical. If one of them presents a schedule conflict, I hope you will be able to attend the other one.