Scores of Brookhaven residents gathered at Oglethorpe University July 9 at a forum hosted by Reporter Newspapers to listen to arguments for and against creating a new city.
The event highlighted just how controversial the topic is in the Brookhaven community. Conversations at times sparked outbursts from the crowd, which seemed divided between people on both sides of the issue.
Voters will be asked to decide in a July 31 referendum whether to approve a new city in the area of unincorporated DeKalb County bounded by Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Chamblee and a portion of I-85.
The forum included a panel of proponents and opponents of creating a city of Brookhaven.
The panelists speaking in favor of the new city were: J. Max Davis and Glianny Fagundo of Brookhaven YES and Stan Segal, a Hampton Hall resident. The speakers opposed to the creation of the city were: Jodi Cobb and Chuck Konas of No City Brookhaven, and Jim Eyre of the Ashford Park Civic Association.
One of the biggest arguments presented for the city is that it will bring government closer to the people. Panelists were asked to talk about representation in a city council district of about 10,000 residents versus a county commission district of more than 100,000 residents.
Konas said smaller government doesn’t guarantee better representation. “You can’t necessarily convince the majority – just because you want something, you may or may not get what you want,” he said.
Cobb said with any government, the key is being active. “We have a lot of attention from our [DeKalb County] commissioners because we ask for it. When we call for them, they come,” Cobb said. “Participation is what you make it. Whether it’s 10,000 or 100,000, it’s about getting in front of your representatives and speaking to them.”
But Davis said it’s much easier for voters to express themselves at the ballot box when there is a smaller government. He said Dunwoody voters sent a message to the city council by voting down a parks bond referendum last year.
“That’s the difference. DeKalb County is just too big. They can’t be attentive to all our issues,” Davis said.
Segal said he wants his representatives to live in his community and understand the issues that affect him.
“I have a strong belief in local governments,” he said. “I want my elected official sitting in traffic with me.”
Panelists also debated the merits of the Brookhaven feasibility study conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. The study used tax projections and data from similar cities to determine that a city of Brookhaven would be able to operate without raising taxes above what DeKalb County currently collects.
Davis said the city charter includes a millage cap intended to keep taxes low.
“The point of the millage cap is to let you folks know we can provide better services … for the same or less,” Davis said. “All the new cities in the metro area have stayed at the same millage rate they had when they started.”
Opponents criticized the study for not using the most recent tax data.
Eyre said that of about $9 million of the $24 million Brookhaven residents currently pay to DeKalb County for services would have to be used to pay for the cost of setting up the new city government.
“From the start, one-third of our money … will go toward setting up a new government,” Eyre said. “That layer of city government doesn’t come free.”
Davis told the audience that with a city, they would be able to keep more of their tax dollars local and have more control over their services.
“The opposition folks want you to continue to trust DeKalb County,” Davis said. “We think you folks will do a better job. We trust you, our neighbors.”
But Cobb said regardless of all the numbers and ideas that are being thrown around, it’s important to remember that the vote is simply about whether or not to create a city – a decision that cannot be undone.
“It’s a risk, y’all,” Cobb said. “It’s going to be a $25 million gamble.”