Initial numbers from DeKalb County’s tax digest suggest that Brookhaven may be on better financial footing than officials originally predicted.
The tax digest is the value of all the taxable property in DeKalb County. The tax digest must be set before the millage, or tax rate, can be approved.
According to the DeKalb digest, the total net assessed value of property in Brookhaven is about $2 billion.
“I think it was a little higher than they estimated, but we shouldn’t be surprised, that was just an estimate,” said Brookhaven Finance Director Bonnie Kline.
However, Kline said that number is likely to go down over the next few weeks as people appeal their property appraisals. “Most people don’t appeal to make it higher. It’s generally lower,” Kline said.
If Brookhaven City Council approved the tentative millage of 3.35, the city would stand to take in about $6.6 million in ad valorem taxes.
The council will hold three public hearings and then vote to set the millage in time to send it to DeKalb County by July. The city has scheduled public hearings for 7 p.m., June 17; 10:30 a.m., June 20; and 6:30 p.m., June 20. The hearings will be held at the Brookhaven Municipal Court, 2 Corporate Blvd., Suite 125, in Brookhaven. “We value the public’s input and want to hear from both residential and commercial property owners,” Mayor J. Max Davis said.
The council is scheduled to vote on the final millage rate at 1:30 p.m., July 8.
Kline said the city’s tax rate could go down. “That 3.35 has not been voted on or approved as a millage rate. It’s just the maximum that was approved in the (city’s) charter,” Kline said.
She said council members have expressed interest in lowering the millage, if possible.
“That’s going to be the mayor and council’s call on the level of service for next year,” Kline said. “Every dollar the budget increases, we can do more. But the council’s not out to do that. They’re very conservative and they’re not going to do that just to build up a cushion or reserve. They live here and pay taxes, too.”
Councilman Jim Eyre said he would like to lower the millage, if possible.
“We’re maxed out and that is not somewhere in my mind that we need to be. Hopefully we can reduce that number for our homeowners,” Eyre said. “I’d like to get the homeowners’ tax burden down as low as we can while also providing a fiscally conservative operating budget for the city. It looks like it’s working in our favor.”
On July 9, DeKalb County will approve the county tax rate and then disperse the Homestead Option Sales Tax, or HOST money to cities, including Brookhaven. Kline said the city doesn’t know what portion of the sales tax revenue it will receive.
“We’ve got $1.5 million in the budget, but we don’t know,” Kline said. “We kind of based it on what similar-sized cities have been receiving, but even that can change year to year.”
In March, the council approved a $16.465 million annual budget. The council will finalize the budget once exact revenue figures are available.
Kline said the challenge with all the uncertainty surrounding Brookhaven’s budget is that as a new city, there is no past data to rely upon.
“This is uncharted territory, when you start with last year’s digest at $0 and this year’s at almost $2 billion,” Kline said. “We’re starting with zero. It’s been a challenge.”
But after reviewing the preliminary digest numbers, Kline said she is hopeful that Brookhaven will be on solid financial footing.
“I think we’re cautiously optimistic,” Kline said.