DeKalb County could take a hit—financially and territorially—from the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly.
The possible incorporation of Brookhaven and annexations by Avondale Estates, Chamblee, Decatur and Doraville—added to the failure of a bill to increase the hotel-motel tax—could combine to decrease the county’s future revenue base.
Richard Stogner, DeKalb County’s chief operating officer, said the impact of the possible incorporation and annexations will not be felt until 2013.
“Those are 2013 issues,” Stogner said. “We’ll be addressing those, whatever they are…in the 2013 budget.”
Stogner said the county could lose $25 million-$27 million in revenue in 2013 with the incorporation of Brookhaven. The effect of the possible annexations is being studied by county officials.
Hotel/motel tax increase
An item that will affect this year’s county budget is the decision by House legislators to table a bill that would have allowed the county to increase its hotel-motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent.
The bill originally passed the House with the 8 percent tax, but the Senate dropped the tax to 7 percent and sent the bill back to the House, which tabled the legislation.
The tax is already at 8 percent in Cobb, Clayton and Fulton counties as well as the city of Atlanta, according to Rep. Michele Henson (D-87).
Of the current 5 percent tax, 2 percent goes to the promotion of tourism, conventions and trade shows by contract with the DeKalb Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Following state law, the county would have allocated one-half of the amount collected above the current rate to the convention and visitors bureau and the remaining one-half would have been used for tourism product development, including capital costs and operating expenses of the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center.
“It’s a very important thing to the county at a time when our revenue is down,” Henson said of the proposed increase.
Before the bill was tabled, Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-84) said that if the General Assembly does not raise the hotel-motel tax, the funding to pay for Porter Sanford Center will have to come out of the county’s general fund.
“Porter Sanford is not generating revenue,” Abrams said. “We’re going to pay for it one way or the other.”
Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-80) said he opposed the hotel-motel tax increase because it was a “new taxing mechanism.”
“It seems …every two years we have the county government approaching the General Assembly for another means for raising taxes,” Jacobs said.
“It is not the General Assembly’s job to balance the county budget,” Jacobs said. “The county needs to get its own house in order.”
The proposed hotel-motel tax increase was “part of a pattern of the county perpetually asking us to raise taxes,” Jacobs said. “This is our way of breaking that pattern.”
The $1.2 million that the increase would have generated for the county was incorporated into the 2012 budget proposed by CEO Burrell Ellis and adopted by the Board of Commissioners.
“It is irresponsible for the CEO to predicate a budget based upon the General Assembly passing a tax increase that had not even been introduced at the time he included it in his budget,” Jacobs said.
Stogner said that “on a $559 million budget, $1 million is not going to break the bank.”
“The hotel-motel did not pass for some reason,” Stogner said. “It’s hard for me to understand because it’s basically a tax that’s 100 percent exportable”—meaning it would be paid mostly by non-residents of DeKalb.
The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted down a resolution supporting the tax increase early in March.
Doraville, Decatur, Avondale annexations
A bill passed by the General Assembly would add some pockets of unincorporated areas between Chamblee and Doraville to the city limits of Doraville—and take more money from the county.
“There are some islands between Chamblee [and] Doraville that got locked in unincorporated DeKalb between two cities,” Rep. Howard Mosby (D-90) said.
The areas are mostly commercial, according to Rep. Elena Parent (D-81).
Luke Howe, assistant to Doraville’s mayor, said the city expects to collect $450,000-$500,000 in revenue if the annexation referendum passes.
Approximately 2,000 residents would be added to Doraville, Howe said.
Howe said Doraville plans to add a police officer and dispatcher to handle the additional population.
Similar bills passed by the General Assembly addressed unincorporated pockets between the cities of Decatur and Avondale Estates.
The annexation bills are awaiting the governor’s signature.
Recorders Court fee increase
Fees for the county’s Recorders Court will increase from $5 to $25, if the bill is signed by the governor.
Ellis’ budget recommendation in December 2011 states that the increase would provide an addition $2 million in revenue.
Jacobs said he objects with the way the bill was originally written.
“It would have allowed the Board of Commissioners to set the [fees] and …the revenue could be used for whatever purpose,” Jacobs said. “But it was being pitched to us as a means for covering the costs of Recorders Court.”
Cell towers on school property
A bill, introduced by Rep. Karla Drenner (D-86) and passed by legislators, calls for a nonbinding, advisory referendum on the issue of cell towers on county school district property in DeKalb.
The referendum, which will be held later this year, will ask voters whether they support the placement of the towers on school property.
Drenner’s original bill, if passed, would have prohibited the operation of telecommunications towers on public school property in the county. That bill was held up in a House committee, even though it had the support of 16 DeKalb delegation members.
County commission, school board district maps
The General Assembly also passed a new district map for county commissioners. Because of population changes in the 2010 Census, several precincts from Commissioner Lee May’s District 5 will move to District 3, held by Commissioner Larry Johnson.
The General Assembly decided to suspend for two years the requirement to decrease the school board size. Instead, legislators redrew the school board district map to reflect population shifts.
Jacobs described the legislative session as “productive.”
“Like any legislative session, not everyone gets everything they want finished,” Jacobs said.
For Democrats in a Republican-controlled General Assembly, the session was “a struggle,” Mosby said.
“We’ve had a lot of contentiousness that I don’t think needed to happen,” Mosby said. “For the most part, we do well in DeKalb County, it’s just that when we get in [the Capitol], the Republican representation in the DeKalb delegation—two out of 19 members—can stop what the other 17 want to do. [That’s] problematic.”