To the editor:
After spending way too much time studying the revenue and expenditure estimates for the proposed city of Brookhaven prepared by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government (the feasibility study), I still cannot figure out how I will be paying less taxes in a proposed city of Brookhaven than I am currently paying in unincorporated DeKalb County.
As I compare what I am currently paying as a homeowner in unincorporated DeKalb County with the proposed revenue (taxes) found in the feasibility study, I find a glaring discrepancy in two major sources of revenue – Homestead Option Sales Taxes (HOST) and Franchise Fees. Together, these two items account for almost 30 percent of the projected revenue for the proposed city of Brookhaven.
The HOST is a countywide sales tax that is used by DeKalb for capital improvements and to pad the general fund. For tax year 2011, DeKalb allocated 20 percent of the HOST funds to capital improvements with the balance deposited in the general fund. However, DeKalb also committed sufficient HOST moneys in the 2011 budget to provide a 46 percent tax credit for a number of items, including those taxes paid for the “city” services line items, found on the tax bill of homeowners in unincorporated DeKalb County.
Therefore, with a 46 percent tax refund from HOST funds, the “face” tax rate of 6.39 mills for city services in unincorporated DeKalb County becomes an “actual” tax rate paid by homeowners that is 2.94 mils lower or 3.58 mils.
Personally, the 46 percent refund of HOST taxes generated a savings of $250.77 for me in tax year 2011. You can find the value of your savings that will be lost with the current budget for the proposed city of Brookhaven by adding the amount for the line items labeled “Unic Taxdist” and “Police Servc” found in the Host Credit column (second from the right) on your property tax bill.
While there is a credit in the revenue column of the feasibility study for the full value of the HOST funds, there is no corresponding debit in the expense column of the budget for the proposed city of Brookhaven to provide the 2.94 mils tax credit currently available to me in unincorporated DeKalb County. To put it another way, Rep. Mike Jacobs and the committee gladly accepted all HOST funds for the proposed city of Brookhaven but chose to not return any HOST funds to homeowners to equalize taxes paid, as is currently the policy in unincorporated DeKalb County.
The second revenue category I find troubling is the franchise fees – taxes paid to utility companies so they can pay the city to rent space in our public rights of way for their utility lines. Yes, that’s correct; we are paying utility companies to pay the city to use space in our own road rights of way.
Using the explanation of franchise fees found on the committee’s website, it appears that one-half of the electric franchise fee ($1,203,360) and all the phone franchise fee ($149,040) revenue are new costs to me in a proposed city of Brookhaven. These additional charges for homeowners in the proposed city of Brookhaven total $1,352,400 or $72 per household. While this amount may seem insignificant, it equates to an additional 0.74 mils that I will be paying in taxes that I am not currently paying in unincorporated DeKalb County.
Adding the 2.94 mils in lost HOST tax credit and the additional 0.74 mills in franchise taxes I will pay to the proposed city of Brookhaven, the 6.39 mills property tax rate proposed by Rep. Jacobs and the committee in their feasibility study jumps an astounding 58 percent to 10.07 mills. This, of course, allowed them to present a budget with a false surplus to better sell the idea of a proposed city of Brookhaven.
Clearly, when the feasibility study prepared by Rep. Jacobs and the committee is studied, it becomes apparent that their battle cry of “we can do more with less” is truly “we can do more with more…much more.”
The bottom line is that until the budget for the proposed city of Brookhaven contains a property tax rate of 2.71 mills or less, Rep. Jacobs and the committee’s promise that I will pay no more taxes in the proposed city of Brookhaven than I am currently paying in unincorporated DeKalb County just doesn’t add up.