It was neighbor against neighbor on Jan. 31 when DeKalb residents voiced their views to state lawmakers about a proposed city of Brookhaven.
“There’s no reason whatsoever that we shouldn’t be able to do what Dunwoody has done,” said Rep. Mike Jacobs, who authored House Bill 636 that calls for a referendum on Brookhaven’s cityhood. “It is a city of roughly the same population. It is a city located in the same county.”
Last year, the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute released a study showing that the proposed 12-square mile city would be financially feasible. If it incorporates, Brookhaven would have 49,000 residents and would be the state’s 16th largest city.
Jacobs said residents supporting the proposed Brookhaven feel they would be better represented by a city government.
“This is about your neighbors making decisions about your local government services,” Jacobs said. “I am today to put forward a bill in this General Assembly to give you the opportunity to vote whether or not you want that.”
Rep. Elena Parent said the cityhood of Brookhaven is a controversial topic, but many of her constituents “feel that this is being rushed and they would just like it to slow down.”
“Most of my constituents that are in the Brookhaven map are not ready to vote on it this summer,” Parent said. “I’ve got people who are ‘yes’ and I’ve got people who are ‘no.’ I’m talking to you about the prevailing sentiment which is ‘let’s just chill out a little bit.’”
Instead, Parent said that many of her constituents want to know what problems would be solved by incorporation.
“The vast majority don’t seem to have a problem with the services they currently receive from DeKalb,” Parent said. “They want to know what the effect is going to be on the rest of the county. They want to know if the county is going to have to raise taxes.”
DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who sponsored a resolution asking for a comprehensive study of impact incorporation on the unincorporated areas, said more time is needed before making a decision on Brookhaven.
“I’m not against new cities,” Rader said. “I’m not against the existing cities. We need to look carefully and make a good decision. We need to look before we leap.”
CEO Burrell Ellis said the process of incorporation has shortcomings that need to be addressed.
“We’ve looked at the feasibility of cost on those 49,000 citizens within these proposed boundaries, but we haven’t looked at the full impact of all of the decisions we’re making on the 735,000 citizens who live throughout DeKalb County,” Ellis said.
Another problem with the process is the estimate of the finances needed to run the proposed city, said DeKalb resident Jim Eyre.
“The two-year-old budget snapshot used for the proposed city of Brookhaven does not take into account the reality of today’s skyrocketing cost of public works,” Eyre said. “The feasibility study does not accurately reflect the true costs to maintain the older infrastructure in Brookhaven.”
The proposed budget of Brookhaven would put the city on “perilous financial footing from day one,” Eyre said.
Supporting the movement for a new city, Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis said his three-year-old city is “very comfortable in what we have done.”
“We became a city primarily to represent ourselves,” Davis said. “DeKalb county commissioners represent 140,000 people. [Dunwoody’s] council people represent 15,000. Your neighbor is actually your representative.”
Many supporters asked the committee members to allow the Brookhaven community to vote.
“I’m just here to say ‘please give us the right to vote,’” said Jeff Keller, board member of Citizens for North DeKalb, a group pushing for Brookhaven’s cityhood. Let the political process ride its course. When you vote for HB 636, you’re simply voting on voting.”
Resident J. Max Davis said, “If you vote ‘no,’ we don’t get a say. Voting ‘no’ on this bill will deny us that right.”
Jacobs said if Brookhaven residents vote to incorporate, they would not “stop being citizens of DeKalb County.”
“At the end of the day, 88 percent of our tax dollars will continue to go to DeKalb County government and the DeKalb County government will continue to provide … certain services,” Jacobs said. “We’re not breaking away from DeKalb County. We’re still a part of DeKalb County, but we’re choosing for our truly local services…administered at a more local level.”
Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell), a member of the governmental affairs committee, said she wished the decision to allow residents of Brookhaven to incorporate “would go through the normal process of going through the delegation so that people who don’t live in DeKalb don’t have to hear your business.”
“I don’t live in DeKalb County but I feel I know more of your business than any other county,” Morgan said.