"The Financials Are Precarious At Best"
Jodi Cobb of Drew Valley discusses why Brookhaven should not become its own city.
Brookhaven Patch talks about the issue of cityhood with Jodi Cobb, a Drew Valley resident who is opposed to the idea:
Patch: So tell us about some of the organizations that are opposed to Brookhaven cityhood.
Jodi: No City Brookhaven is a registered Ballot Committee with the State Ethics Commission.
I can only speak for our committee. Mrs. Mary Ellen Imlay is our Chair. She unofficially shares that duty with Co-Chair Mr. Chuck Konas. I serve as Treasurer. Our lead consultant is Mr. Scott Rials.
We are not officially affiliated with any other groups that are opposing the city, but I know there are a lot of organizations and hard-working individuals who share our goal of defeating this at the ballot box on July 31.
Patch: What are the most common questions that people have been asking you?
Jodi: Why do we need a city? How much is this going to cost me? Who started this idea? Will it help the schools? Will the major proponents of the city be running for office if the city passes?
Patch: So why should Brookhaven not become its own city?
Jodi: The financials are precarious at best. The UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVI) did their feasibility study for the potential new city using the 2011 property tax digest resulting in a surplus of $135,000, less than one-half of one percent of the total budget.
The DeKalb County 2012 property tax digest came out last week showing home values dropping 6 to 8 percent. That will certainly turn the slim surplus into a deficit.
BrookhavenYES claims we won’t need as much revenue as the study says because Dunwoody didn’t, but we don’t believe this because the area and demographics in the proposed city do not compare to Dunwoody.
There is also an element of blind faith that a great number of people aren’t willing to buy into. Most people also don’t buy into the comparison with Dunwoody.
Buford Highway is obviously not Perimeter Center; neither is Peachtree Road. Buford Highway is critical to the commercial tax base for the potential new city, yet the commercial businesses on the stretch of Buford Highway in the proposed city limits does not even begin to compare with the commercial businesses of Perimeter Center. It will be decades before any real change comes to Buford Hwy.
Peachtree Road certainly has potential for added tax revenue but that will take major investments by big developers and at what cost to controlled development.
In addition, there are height restrictions on both Buford Hwy and Peachtree, due to PDK Airport, so no high-rise office buildings or hotels like Dunwoody has. We are already seeing the Brookhaven Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) being challenged with Walgreens, Savi Market and Chase Bank. If the city needs the revenue will it be a developer “free for all” in the future, completely destroying what the local residents here worked so hard on with DeKalb County when they created the LCI?
Public safety is another issue. The CVI study budgets for only 53 police officers. That’s one officer for every 929 people. The CVI used Dunwoody, Johns Creek, and Smyrna for their examples. Dunwoody and Johns Creek have poverty rates of 4.6 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. Smyrna’s poverty rate is 13.7 percent.
The potential new city of Brookhaven will have a poverty rate of 12.25 percent, much more in line with Smyrna, yet the ratio of police budgeted for is more closely aligned with Dunwoody and Johns Creek. Further, the Bureau of Justice recommends one officer for every 559 people, which would mean the potential new city should have 88 officers, 35 more than budgeted for.
One police officer adds about $50,000 to a city’s budget Using the 2011 CVI numbers, the city could only hire 2 more police officers with its surplus of $135,000. Using the more realistic numbers from 2012 with the deficit they produce, Brookhaven will need to lay off officers before the city is even formed.
The BrookhavenYES campaign promotes the idea that Dunwoody has approximately the same number of residents as Brookhaven would have at night, but during the day that population swells to 100,000, so Dunwoody’s police force has a lot of crime to deal with, especially at the mall. But the majority of the folks going to shop, dine or work in Dunwoody are completely different from those on Buford Highway and surrounding areas.
On the other hand, Buford Highway has a very high crime rate, including drug gangs and shootings, not exactly like going to the mall. Here in Drew Valley we hear gunfire at night. Proponents of the new city say the numbers in the feasibility study are just “suggestions” for how the elected officials could make expenditures and the potential new government could spend the revenues any way they see fit. Does this mean they would have to pull funds from other departments to make up the millions of dollars needed for the city to have an adequate police force? What department has to give? Parks & Rec, Roads & Drainage, Planning & Zoning?
The promise of a property tax cut is interesting in that it is approximately $5.00 for every $100,000 of assessed value. Even taking into account the additional $10,000 in homestead exemption being promised, the total tax savings is far less than the increase in franchise fees on our GA Power and land line phone bills that will occur with a new city.
I did the math on my own house and I will save $5.18/year in property taxes but will incur an additional $74.76/year in franchise fees. I have two land lines - one personal and one business - and I work from home, so my bills may be a tad bit more than others. Nevertheless the promise of savings just doesn’t add up. These additional fees/taxes will certainly hit the business community hard as well.
Many question the wisdom of capping the millage rate in order to give voters control of their own taxes. While that may be a good idea in theory, many of these new cities are finding it is choking their ability to provide promised services now that revenues have dropped.
One other quick issue is the about the potential new city of Brookhaven not being another layer of government. Not sure about anyone else, but five more politicians making decisions and new laws sure seems like more government to me.
Patch: Every metro Atlanta community that has recently voted on the issue of incorporation has passed those referendums. Do you believe that Brookhaven voters will buck this trend?
Jodi: Yes I do, just like 85 percent of the voters did when the proposed city of South Fulton was rejected with their own referendum in 2007.
Patch: If we become a city, will you support it?
Jodi: I have been active in this community for many years, serving as president of the Drew Valley Civic Association (DVCA) for two terms; (due to personal reasons I had to retire last year after being elected for a third term). I am still a member of the DVCA’s Zoning Committee. I have also served on DeKalb County’s Community Council/District 2 for many years. I have organized candidate fairs for the DVCA during election years and a clean-up of Briarwood Park, among other things.
Obviously I care about my community. If the city referendum does pass on July 31 then I don’t see my involvement in the community changing and while I can promise I will never run for public office, I will continue to hold the politicians' feet to the fire and stand up for what I believe, always hoping to make our wonderful Atlanta neighborhoods in this area even better.