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Posted by on December 29, 2011.

Legislators prepare for busy 2012 session

DeKalb County legislators will be busy when they return to the Gold Dome on Jan. 9 for the start of the General Assembly.

Big statewide issues, like the budget, transportation and jobs, will take up much of lawmakers’ time. But legislators plan to discuss several things that could affect DeKalb County residents more directly.

Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-DeKalb, introduced legislation during the 2011 session to create a city of Brookhaven. This year, legislators are expected to vote on the bill.

“I think the city of Brookhaven proposal stands a high chance of passage,” Jacobs said.

A nonprofit group called Citizens for North DeKalb raised $27,000 to fund a feasibility study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. The report concluded that a city would be feasible at that location and would likely be able to operate at the current property tax level with a surplus.

Some residents and DeKalb County officials say creating a city would be harmful to the county.

Jacobs said there will likely be much discussion about the Brookhaven bill, and “like any other bill in the General Assembly, it very well could take until the last day of the session.”

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said he too feels the Brookhaven cityhood bill will be approved.

“The only question is where will the borders be, but I think that will happen,” Millar said.

If the bill is approved by the Legislature, the issue of Brookhaven’s cityhood could be put before voters in 2012.

Millar said the DeKalb County delegation may take up the way the county is governed. DeKalb County is run by an elected Chief Executive Officer. Millar said some legislators would prefer to see the county operated by a professional county manager appointed by the County Commission.

“Obviously what we have in DeKalb County is not working very well between CEO [Burrell Ellis] and the commissioners,” Millar said. “I do think in DeKalb we have a crisis brewing. I think our CEO in DeKalb County has disregarded the will of the commission and continues to spend. Perhaps he’s visited Washington too many times and it’s affected him.”

Millar said a big focus for legislators statewide will be transportation.

“The elephant in the room is, ‘are we actually going to do something with regional transportation governance?’” Millar said.

A special purpose local option sales tax for regional transportation initiatives, commonly referred to as T-SPLOST, is scheduled to go before voters in July.

Jacobs said he was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to serve on a transportation task force “that is intended to come up with a piece of legislation that will place transit across the metro Atlanta region under one umbrella for the purposes of planning and delivering transit projects and making transit across the region operate seamlessly.”

“Coupled with that I would anticipate there would be some revisions to the MARTA act, which is the enabling legislation that created and governs MARTA,” Jacobs said.

Millar said education will be a top priority as well.

“We’re doing a year-and-a-half study commission on how we fund public education K-12,” Millar said. “We’ve got some legislation prepared to change the funding formula as well as do away with some of the restrictions. The bottom line is to give local systems more flexibility as long as they get results.”

As it has been for the past several years, the budget will likely dominate much of the legislature’s time. Georgia is a balanced budget state, meaning that law makers are left with tough decisions when revenues are low and the budget must be cut.

Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Buckhead, said there has been a slight uptick in state revenue over the past year, however most of the funds will likely go toward replenishing the state’s reserve funds.

“I think the biggest focus has been over the last three or four years is the economy, both the impact on state revenue and more importantly, its impact on jobs in Georgia,” Lindsey said. “That’s still going to be a tight issue that we’ll be dealing with from budget standpoint.”