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"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.

bhavenliving May 15, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Amen Marty! I would also gladly pay extra taxes to improve the community. (although, with a new city, we would pay less for better services) It may not be improved overnight but at least by incorporating, we are taking immediate action, which is much more than DeKalb County can say. SOCIOLOGY 101 - by enforcing code violations, improving our parks, and maintaining our roads, we become less of a target for criminals because it will be visibly obvious that we take pride in our community and won't put up with their criminal activities. We must reinvest in our backyards - both literally and figuratively- to make this happen! I don't think that anyone can argue that our ties with DeKalb County is not a win-win relationship. We support their bottom line but they don't support us and haven't for some time. If you are like me, instead of just living with the facts, I would rather challenge the status quo. If it is broken - fix it! We have been patient enough with DeKalb County, it is time to take action and I believe that a City of Brookhaven is the only way to do so.
Bob Roche May 15, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Dunwoody, Milton, John's Creek are very different examples than the proposed city of Brookhaven. All three have a much higher per capita income, a pool of professionals from which to choose elected officials, and, at least in Dunwoody's case, a strong, longstanding homeowners group and civic organizations. Apart from the financial questions, there are other important issues. Another layer of government means another layer of politics. As a former State House candidate and Doraville City Councilman, I can speak from experience. We have all seen ugly political campaigns, and a handful of people can easily drive out good people and dominate a city's politics. Also, it is much cheaper to influence a city council than a county commission. Developers would much rather work with a compliant city council than a county commission responsible for 800,000 citizens.
Bob Roche May 15, 2012 at 01:50 AM
I understand the frustration with the level of police coverage in the county, but here in Doraville we have the opposite problem. The police department has been allowed to grow far beyond the needs of a city our size (and many of our police operate outside our city limits), yet the majority of our elected officials refuses to even consider reducing it to an appropriate size. (In fact, the City Council recently reduced the hours at the library while hiring more police staff.) Don't get me wrong, we have great people working for the police department, but please be aware another layer of government means another layer of ambitious government officials looking to build their own empires. There is always the risk of runaway spending which negates even the best financial projections. The question remains, why the rush? If it is a good idea now, it will still be a good idea next year when people have had the opportunity to gather more facts, discuss the pros and cons, and arrive at a rational decision. After all, it took years to create Dunwoody - they didn't rush into cityhood, and they did it right!
Kim Gokce May 15, 2012 at 02:08 AM
We have to get over our Buford Hwy myths and phobias. The corridor certainly is home to more crime reports than Silver Lake but what is the _RATE_ of crime per capita? Buford Hwy in the proposed Brookhaven incorporation area is of a population density many, many times higher than Peachtree, Johnson Ferry, Ashford Dunwoody, etc. So while our North Precinct officers prefer to work Buford Hwy it isn't because there are horrible criminals over-running the area, it is because that is where people live. Take a look at the map of the proposed council seats - it was nearly impossible to draw because the overwhelming weight of the populations centers along Buford. Now back to the YES! or NO! debate ... thank you.
Kim Gokce May 15, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Jodi: Never say never! :)
Kim Gokce May 15, 2012 at 02:27 AM
One last attempt at getting the post right ... Sorry about that! I want folks who truly care about their community, incorporated or not, to follow the DeKalb Co review of a sustainable neighborhoods initiative. The Buford corridor, roughly approximated by the Cross Keys HS attendance area (wow!?), is on the short list of communities that will be considered for investment. This is a no-brainer and of great benefit to our community and to the County. Cross Keys/Buford Hwy is one of the great assets of north DeKalb and is long overdue for major investment. If you agree, please check out: http://championnewspaper.com/news/articles/1649emory-university-to-focus-on-renewing-two-communities1649.html and let you elected official know you care about this deeply ... and here is my letter of support: http://www.crosskeysfoundation.org/images/20120512-supportcpacsletterofintent.pdf
Jeff Kellar May 15, 2012 at 04:03 AM
I do not understand how a financial surplus of over $1 million, that was allocated to parks, could possibly suggest a "precarious" financial condition. See UGA feasibility study at http://www.brookhavenyes.org/brookhaven_finalstudy.pdf for the FACTS. The $1 million surplus btw, was AFTER the millage rate cap of 3.35 (down from 6.39), and AFTER the properties east of Clairmont Road were removed from the proposed city boundaries – see Appendix H on page 55 for Parks Data, and the Supplemental Analysis on page 66 for the removal of properties east of Clairmont Road. Rather, Dekalb's 2010 budget deficit of $84 million might be considered as "precarious"; as would its 2011 bond rating decrease to junk bond status; as would its 26% property tax increase during 2011 - the largest tax increase in Georgia history. Who do you trust more to spend your tax dollars - yourself and your neighbors, or the politicians and bureaucrats in Decatur? Vote YES on July 31, and go to http://www.brookhavenyes.org/study.php for the FACTS.
Jeff Kellar May 15, 2012 at 04:19 AM
For the record, Dunwoody's 2012 tax base is only $22 million, see http://www.dunwoodyga.gov/2012%20Approved%20Budget%20-%20Downloadable.pdf for details. The tax base of the proposed city of Brookhaven is $28 million before the millage rate cap, and $25 million after the cap. Learn the FACTS at http://www.brookhavenyes.org/study.php
HDM May 15, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Exactly right Mitchell, Brookhaven incorporation will remove a bit of power from DeKalb's wasteful, bloated and downright crooked bureaucracy.
HDM May 15, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Sure, like the County has "tried" to plunder our area for years and years to fund south DeKalb.
Joe May 15, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Dean, the phrase "wasteful, bloated and downright crooked bureaucracy" applies to many/most/all governmental entities. The new City, if it happens, will be the same, eventually if not initially. To think that we are going to have a frugal, trim, and openly transparent and honest bureaucracy in Brookhaven is naive, in my view.
Joe May 15, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Nobody knows. In order to do that math, you divide crimes by the number of people. We got the crime number. But the number of people living along Buford Highway? Unknowable. I will tell you there a a hell of a lot few voters and citizens on Buford than there are people.
HDM May 15, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Joe, we have a much better chance at good governance with a Sandy Springs/Dunwoody type of government than we do with an unfettered DeKalb County.
Joe May 15, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Exactly. It is not a guaranteed; it is a chance. A chance that can go either way. And based upon a quick look around, it's not a matter of "If", it's a matter of when.
HDM May 15, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Brookhaven won't be worse than DeKalb County, the worse bloated, inefficient government in the area, citizens here are envious of what Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and the other new northside cities have accomplished...we want that. Vote YES.
Mitchell Thomas May 15, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I think it would be very interesting to see the details of every: Director Assistant Director Deputy Director Senior Manager And all paid positions for every job that supports unincorportaed Dekalb. Police/Fire/Planning/Code Enforcement/Saniatation/Public Works and so on! I think we shall then see just how expensive and bloated Dekabl is; and, how much of our tax money is being used to support these very high paid positions. Just like ashford neighbors breaks down the new city costs - lets really see what we are paying and to whom. Open Records Law anyone! Are we really getting what we pay for. Also one thing i notice here on many of these posts is that people seem to think this is Elena and her people against Jacobs and his people. What it really should be is what is in the best interest of the Community. I am an Independant.
HamBurger May 15, 2012 at 05:25 PM
If you feel as many do that you do not want the Brookhaven area to become a city and would like to express your opinion with a yard sign or a bumper sticker, just let these folks know. http://nocitybrookhaven.com/yardsign_sticker.html
HDM May 15, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Similarly, if you'd like to show your support for Brookhaven Incorporation visit this site: http://www.brookhavenyes.org//contact.php
Jeff Kellar May 15, 2012 at 07:25 PM
if you'd like a yard sign to show your support for Brookhaven Incorporation, go to http://www.brookhavenyes.org//contact.php
Mark Graffagnino May 16, 2012 at 12:47 AM
And especially if your neighborhood needs a pawn shop. "LESS Zoning, LESS Code Enforcement. NO new city, PawnShopsYES."
Mitchell Thomas May 16, 2012 at 01:17 AM
http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/dekalb-top-brass-reviewing-policies-after-rash-off/nN62r/
Mitchell Thomas May 16, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Great place we enjoy! And send our tax dollars! Still waiting on the job description and salaries of all unincorporated delakb "employees"! You can't even make this stuff up it is so ridiculous! Lock your doors Brookhaven we need serious help!
mcatl May 16, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Get the skewed lies more like it!
Greg Trinkle May 18, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Kim, I respect your point. There is obviously in the proposed city an area that has a higher crime rate. I live in Drew Valley and my Neighborhood is affected by this area. Lets say the city passes, the point being, I really like my neighborhood. I love walking all through it (And Ashford Park makes my route). I see many joggers, bikers, People walking their dogs, mothers with strollers, etc. That will not change if/when the day the city gets formed. Buta 1 or 2 years down the line, what happens if the police force loses control of this area? I realize that my neighborhood could easily be overrun and no longer a safe area to be outside. Will the Neighborhoods areas of Brookhaven/Murphy Candler (By far the biggest registered voting blocks in the new city) be willing to vote (Give up their tax decrease) more taxes to fix a crime problem that does not exist in their neighborhood? Same for transferring budgets from Parks to Police or vice versa? For the services the new city will provide, will I not be trading a Dekalb Politician that lives in Decatur for a city politician that lives in an neighborhood that does not border this "Higher crime area"?
Greg Trinkle May 18, 2012 at 12:51 PM
While I plan to vote no, if the city does come to pass ( And I suspect the voting blocks in Murphy Candler/Brookhave will prevail), I would love to see a city for the "Services contracted out to the private service" make sure none of the elected city officials are the benefactors of these contracts.
Jim Eyre May 18, 2012 at 06:03 PM
it appears there is corruption at ALL levels and locations of government... http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/dunwoody-city-attorney-under-1438091.html
Jim Eyre May 18, 2012 at 06:07 PM
you're line of commentary is getting very tiring...ALL DeKalb positions are public record and easily found in DeKalb records if only you take the time to provide for yourself rather demanding others to do the same.
Kim Gokce May 20, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Greg:Your particular concern about public safety priorities of a new city I also share about ALL priorities. Because I have painfully watched the rejection and dedicated neglect of our Buford Hwy schools as a consequence of a very political education system, I fear the same is possible in other areas of civic and public priorities. This already happens in the existing political infrastructure and I see little to expect change to that calculus with a city government. The change to the proposed city districts (reduced and removing at large seats) and understanding the mayoral voting policy somewhat ameliorated my concerns (mayor breaks ties only). In speaking with Rep Jacobs on this subject, he was optimistic that the DVCA/APCA district and the HillsDale/Pine Hills area would produce the leadership on "Buford Hwy" issues in a four district model. My remaining concern is that the mayor position will perennially be a district one seat due to the voting turnout among higher demos there. He is more optimistic than I that our districts will find balance in our common interest - history has been very different. I hope to be proved incorrect.
HamBurger May 20, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Mr. Kim, your concerns are well founded. Folks on the southern end of the city will have very little to say in the overall direction of the city. Buford highway will be the new city’s play toy for legislative experimentation to the point that other areas out of the city will be more attractive for business. The golden potential on Buford Highway will be lost on the new city. Please pass the yellow mustard!
Kim Gokce May 20, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Well, as a practical matter, our districts will have 50% of the voice on all votes in city counci of the proposed city. If anything, our vice is amplified versus two other districts. Those two districts have more voters, ours have more people - thus the amplified representation.

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