If the city of Brookhaven becomes a reality, DeKalb officials agree it will mean big changes for the county.

On the last day of the Legislative session March 29, the state House of Representatives voted to approve a bill creating a charter for a city of Brookhaven in north DeKalb County. The bill does not establish the city, but calls for a July referendum for residents in the boundaries of the proposed municipality to vote on whether or not they want to form a city.

County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who represents a portion of the area that would be included in the city, said the Brookhaven community is a substantial commercial base for the county that would be lost if the area incorporates. He said the county would have to make cuts to absorb the loss of revenue.

Rader said proponents of the new city have miscalculated “the increasingly tenuous capacity we will have to offer non-basic services.”

“If our tax base continues to be eroded in this way, we may reach point where services like police helicopters, more specialized areas of investigation, and the emergency management program would potentially have to be cut back or ended. There would be less in mutual aid we would be able to offer,” Rader said.

County Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who also represents a portion of the proposed city, said now that the Legislature has approved the Brookhaven bill, CEO Burrell Ellis should be working on how to handle the possible changes for the county.

“He has not made the first attempt to start reorganizing the government if we do in fact lose an additional 50,000 people for services,” Boyer said.

Key dates for the city proposal

A bill to create a new city called Brookhaven passed the Georgia Legislature in the final hours of its 2012 session.

The bill calls for a referendum on July 31, the date of Georgia’s primary election, on whether to create the new city. Voters able to cast ballots on the referendum must live within the proposed boundaries of the new city.

If the voters approve the creation of the city, the mayor and members of City Council will be elected during the regular election on Nov. 6.

The new city would officially open for business on Dec. 17.

If Brookhaven becomes a city, it will take over many of the basic services the county now provides to that area.

“There are specific departments that are going to be affected and those are the ones (Ellis) needs to be working on first,” Boyer said.

Because of the way the county government is structured, those changes must come from the CEO.

“The board [of commissioners] just approves or disapproves. His lack of action is going to cause more and more problems the longer it goes,” Boyer said. “It’s like burying your head in the sand.”

The two commissioners have been on opposite ends of the issue.

Rader has been critical of the Legislature’s process for creating new cities. Earlier in the year, he unsuccessfully proposed putting a moratorium on creating new cities until the effect on DeKalb County could be studied further.

“You’re drawing your line around the high value commercial properties within a community and taking them from the broader county tax base,” Rader said.

The process of creating cities has become a partisan one. Almost all Democrats voted against the Brookhaven bill, while the Republican majority in both houses voted for it as well as other recently created cities like Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Johns Creek.

Boyer, the lone Republican on the DeKalb commission, has supported allowing a vote of Brookhaven residents over whether to create a new city.

“I think the creation of a city was anticipated and expected and I support the right of citizens to vote on whether they would like to do that or not,” Boyer said.

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