To the editor:
House Bill 636, the charter bill to create a city of Brookhaven, has made its way through the Georgia General Assembly. As the rhetoric on both sides of the issue heats up, we continue to hear claims of tax increases and tax reductions.
Voters will have many subjective issues to consider before voting in a July referendum, but the arithmetic of this item should be straightforward (if not simple) and incontrovertible.
I’ve attempted to analyze the effect of proposed changes to property tax and utility bills for homeowners in the new city of Brookhaven. I encourage everyone to compare the changes to their current 2011 DeKalb County property tax bill and utility bills. I’m not an expert. I did the arithmetic.
Only two line items on the tax bill are affected: the line for Unincorporated Tax District and the line item for Police Services. The sum of these two line items represent 9 percent of the total tax. The remaining 91 percent of the bill are taxes paid to DeKalb County schools, county taxes and fees, and state taxes and fees. The city charter for Brookhaven only addresses the 9 percent of the homeowner’s bill used to fund municipal services.
It’s important to note that any future change, up or down, to the assessed value of a home, millage rate changes voted by the county or the school board and fees can all affect the total bill. History can be analyzed, the future can only be predicted.
I examined a 2011 property tax bill for a homeowner in unincorporated DeKalb. The gross tax for the above two line items was $918.62, which was reduced by a $63.90 credit for Homestead Exemption and further reduced by a $393.17 credit for HOST. The homeowner paid the net amount of $461.55 to DeKalb County to provide municipal services.
If the city of Brookhaven had operated in 2011 at the maximum tax rate allowed under the proposed charter (3.35 mils), the homeowner’s gross property tax would have been $481.60 and then be reduced by $67.00 for the homestead exemption, with no credit received for HOST. The maximum net tax the homeowner would have paid is $414.60, a reduction of $46.95.
If the city had operated in 2011 at a tax rate comparable to Dunwoody, the net tax due would have been $393.05, a reduction of $68.50.
As franchise fees are dealt with differently in cities and counties, homeowners might also have seen a change in their utility bills. Franchise fees for natural gas and cable would not have been affected.
For a homeowner with a telephone bill of $420 per year and a power bill of $1,500 per year, the franchise fees would have increased their utilities by $42.60 per year, offsetting, but not eliminating, some of the tax benefits of a new city.
Under both scenarios, the city of Brookhaven would have decreased or held steady the financial burden on homeowners.
Any claims of increased tax burden can only be attributed to the positive effect of increased property values, or the negative effect of the county and/or school board increasing the millage rate.
Groups or individuals suggesting otherwise should be challenged to prove their claims.
Let’s put this issue to rest and begin the process of building a better city of Brookhaven.
Stan Segal was a member of the board of Citizens for North DeKalb, which backed a study of the feasibility of creating the new city of Brookhaven, and is a former board member of BrookhavenYES, an organization that promotes creation of the new city.