The cities, which are home to 102,794 residents, or 14.9 percent of the county’s population, say the county’s 2012 millage rates have increased their property taxes from 7 percent to 15 percent while the millage rate for unincorporated DeKalb declined by double digits for police, roads and parks.
The meeting, which takes place at 8 a.m. in the Maloof Building, comes in the wake of an Aug. 10 letter signed by all nine mayors seeking an explanation for the increased millage rates and why county officials did not tell them about the changes before the taxes were adopted on July 10.
The letter over the signatures of Avondale Estates Mayor Ed Rieker, Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson, Clarkston Mayor Emanuel Ransom, Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd, Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman, Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis, Stone Mountain Mayor Patricia Wheeler, Pine Lake Mayor Kathie de Nobriga, and Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson expressed concerns over the setting of the county’s millage rates. Only the mayor of Atlanta did not sign, for the portion of Atlanta that is in DeKalb.
The mayors, who make up the DeKalb County Municipal Association, said that in 2010-2011, they agreed to a service delivery strategy – a state required plan for delivering county services to cities and for funding those services – that they believed provided fair taxation for all citizens of the county.
“The integrity of the SDS depended on a reasonable and transparent setting of the millage rates for the special tax districts,” they wrote. “DMA members have significant concerns that the recently set millage rate for the special tax districts do not appear to be consistent with the letter or spirit of the SDS.”
District 5 Commissioner Lee May, who chairs the Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee, said Tuesday that the mayors, CEO and other top county officials are invited to the special committee meeting that will take place before commission’s Aug. 28 meeting.
It was not known at press time whether Ellis would attend.
In a July 27 e-mail seeking help from Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader, Decatur’s Floyd said that the significant tax increase for the city comes in light of the fact that property values in the cities have not been decreasing and in most cases are increasing.
“We are concerned about this pattern of adjustment of the millage rate and the effect it might have on our relationship and trust with DeKalb County,” he said.
Chamblee’s Clarkson said the county did not advertise that it was raising the millage rate.
“Cities believe they should have had to advertise,” he said. “We were under the impression that the millage rate would remain the same.”
DeKalb commissioners passed a resolution on June 12 stating their intention to keep the total millage rate for unincorporated DeKalb at 21.21 mills, which is the 2011 level. It did not mention the millage rates for property owners living within the county’s cities.
The service delivery strategy under which the cities and the county operate took five years to negotiate and was approved by DeKalb in December 2010. It is effective through Oct. 31, 2016.
DeKalb’s countywide millage rates rose 10.6 percent for general operations and 6.82 percent for the hospital fund this year. The county also raised the tax for the Fire Department, which every city uses except Atlanta and Decatur, by 21.85 percent.
While the 2012 tax for the police fund dropped by 36.87 percent in unincorporated DeKalb, the police millage rates for some cities that use non-basic police services, like the helicopter and SWAT team, decreased more modestly by 1.37 percent in Clarkston, 1.96 percent in Lithonia, and by 2.76 percent in Pine Lake.
By contrast, in Chamblee, the millage rate for police services rose to 18.18 percent. In Decatur, it increased by 11.11 percent and Stone Mountain by 3.33 percent.
The millage rates for roads and parks special tax districts dropped by 36 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Only Lithonia and Pine Lake use county services for parks.
Dunwoody, which uses the least county services among the cities, had the highest county millage increase. Its rate went up 15.25 percent, followed by Doraville, which increased by 9.84 percent. Chamblee’s rate went up by 9.9 percent and Stone Mountain’s by 9.7 percent. The total tax rate for unincorporated DeKalb remained the same, while Decatur, which has its own Fire Department, had the smallest increase of 7.06 percent.
Atlanta-in-DeKalb’s millage rates increased by 7.96 percent, 8.41 percent in Avondale Estates, 8.79 percent in Clarkston, and 8.2 percent in Lithonia.
It is not clear what can be done about the tax rates this year since the tax bills have already been mailed out.
Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss said in the future the cities will be more involved in monitoring the county budget process.
Chamblee’s Clarkson said the increased millage rates will cause a “double whammy” for the cities because the differential between the millage rates for residents of cities and unincorporated DeKalb is a component in the formula used by the state to distribute revenue from Homestead Option Sales Tax for public works projects.
He said the millage increases in the cities will cause more HOST money to stay in the county.
“This leads us to believe the county knew what they were doing,” he said.