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Posted by on March 11, 2010.

Should Brookhaven be a city?

Since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005, new cities have sprouted across north metro Atlanta. Should Brookhaven join the rush to incorporate?

We posed that question and a few related ones to Dist. 2 DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader and to Dist. 80 Rep. Mike Jacobs, who represent the area.

 

Here are their responses.

Jeff Rader

Q. Now that Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Johns Creek and Milton have incorporated as cities, should Brookhaven do the same?

A. No. First, Brookhaven would likely not have the tax base sufficient to support the existing level of service at the existing millage. Both John’s Creek and Milton provide a much lower level of service and have been beset by budget challenges after incorporation. Sandy Springs has a stronger tax base than any of the three mentioned.

Second, DeKalb provides good value for money in service provision to Brookhaven. When Dunwoody was incorporated, the police force was not scaled back, but instead redeployed. Brookhaven already has a substantial parks system including Murphy Candler and Blackburn parks, but if taken over by a city, the parks would be a significant regional destination potentially supported only by city taxpayers.

Q. What, if anything, would Brookhaven be able to do as a city that it cannot do as an unincorporated area of DeKalb County?

A. Not much. DeKalb already provides city-like services, plus Brookhaven residents already have access to adjacent cities without the incremental cost. Zoning is locally controlled in that the DeKalb County Organizational Act (Charter) requires that re-zonings be approved by commissioners elected where the re-zoning is proposed.

Q. Would Brookhaven residents get their tax money’s worth in services from a new city of Brookhaven?

A. Brookhaven residents would need to pay for the overhead of a local government, in addition to continuing to pay for county services like the courts, district attorney and jail. City administration, public facilities and service delivery would have to be spread over a relatively small tax base. 24-hour local police and fire services are very expensive to provide at a small scale, so the cost could be high.

Rep. Mike Jacobs

Q. Now that Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Johns Creek and Milton have incorporated as cities, should Brookhaven do the same?

A. Whether Brookhaven should follow suit and form a city like other communities in north Fulton and north DeKalb is up to the community.

I would be one of the primary decision makers as to the formation of a new city, and what I would need to see is a community organization pushing for it. That is the way Dunwoody ultimately became a city; citizens pushed for it. “Citizens for Dunwoody” was the group that led the charge. They also funded the feasibility study that is required in order to assess the impact on taxpayers and determine whether a new city would be economically viable.

Q. What, if anything, would Brookhaven be able to do as a city that it cannot do as an unincorporated area of DeKalb County?

A. The main reason that citizens form new cities is to secure local community control over planning, zoning, and land use, rather than having these neighborhood issues decided from downtown Decatur, and to gain local control over services such as police, fire protection, and parks and recreation. The elected officials who serve on a city council are more likely to be responsive to you than a county commissioner because they would live in or near your neighborhood, rather than representing one-fifth or one-half of the entire county.

Q. Would Brookhaven residents get their tax money’s worth in services from a new city of Brookhaven?

A. A well-run city could provide services more efficiently and responsively than DeKalb County. Over time, the property tax burden in a city could become less than in the county as a whole. That has been true in the past, and may still be true, when you compare the city of Chamblee to DeKalb County.

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