On Dec. 30, Brookhaven City Council got called back for one last meeting in 2021 to clean up the language of the recently passed ordinance.

The council approved the ordinance creating the city’s Special Service District on Dec. 14.  But City Attorney Chris Balch found some issues with its language that could result in legal challenges.

A Special Service District is a tax district in which certain property owners pay more in property taxes to help fund improvements in their area.

First, the language had to change so the city wasn’t setting distinctions between apartments.

“The problem we have in Brookhaven is a legacy one brought over from pre-incorporation days. We have a number of parcels and other projects in the city that are designed for multi-use, and it is not possible to segregate or to remove the apartment pieces,” Balch said.

The Georgia Constitution requires similarly utilized properties be taxed and evaluated similarly.

“This would create the potential that the special service district will be subject to legal challenge because we were treating some apartments as though they were attached based on where they were located versus other apartments not being taxed,” he said.

Taxpayers in the special service district were defined as any property within city limits that is not homesteaded, so it is not an owner-occupied, single-family dwelling, Balch said.

The map used in the original ordinance was removed, with language stating the special service district is contiguous with the city’s borders.

Emergency powers granted to assure Brookhaven has COVID testing site

At the meeting, the City Council also approved an amendment to the public health emergency declaration to give the mayor, city manager and city attorney the authority to take action to keep a COVID-19 testing site in the city.

The declaration allows the city to take temporary control of a property for a testing site. Balch described it much like using temporary construction easements to fix a sinkhole.

“The authority to compel a private property owner to allow the public use of their property would be a short-term fix, not being a long-term or permanent taking of a property. But because we would be compelling the use of private property for public purposes, they would require compensation,” he said.

The current testing site in Brookhaven at Northeast Plaza on Buford Highway has been overwhelmed multiple times in the past few days, City Manager Christian Sigman said.

Mayor John Ernst gave Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Gebbia one last opportunity to make a motion, letting him move to adjourn the meeting. Gebbia, a founding member of the council, did not seek reelection this year.

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Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.