What would be the role of DeKalb County going forward if more cities are created?
That was the question asked by DeKalb legislators at a Nov. 29 meeting held by the Senate Study Committee on the Incorporation of the City of DeKalb. State Sen. Gloria Butler (D-55) chairs the committee that includes Democratic senators from DeKalb and Sen. Fran Millar (R- 40).
The meeting featured a presentation by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government on the process of creating a city. The Governmental Services and Research department of the Carl Vinson Institute has done studies on annexations and consolidations for cities in Georgia, including Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
John O’Lonney, a retired Carl Vinson Institute faculty member, said one of the issues the institute looks at when doing a study on a new city is the fiscal viability.
“We define fiscal viability as the ability to provide the same level of services that the county is already providing using the same tax and fee rates in this new area,” O’Lonney said. “If you don’t get the same level of services you’re not viable.”
O’Lonney said a new city should have a good manager and be able to provide citizens the same level of services as they are currently being provided by the county.
“We can’t guarantee that,” he said. “We can’t guarantee good management and we can’t guarantee good decision making by whoever the elected body is,” he said. “Our role is to ensure that citizens won’t see something dramatic happen in terms of tax increases or cuts in services.”
However, some citizens in unincorporated DeKalb County are concerned about a tax increase if another city is formed. Sen. Gail Davenport (D-44), who represents the southwest DeKalb County area, said south DeKalb residents have been feeling neglected and are concerned about being left with the brunt of property taxes and having to pick up the “slack.”
“Their concerns were if you keep creating all these cities then the other part of south DeKalb would not flourish and would not benefit,” she said.
O’Lonney said creating a city could have an effect on unincorporated areas because the people creating the city are pulling their taxes and fees from the county to pay for their own services.
“Sometimes that can mean they get a tax decrease, sometimes the tax increases,” he said. “It depends on the value of the properties and fees that just went away. But, they don’t have as much area or people to serve.”
Millar said the creation of new cities will cost the unincorporated areas more money if the county continues to provide services to the new cities.
“What I think happens as these cities are created is DeKalb County has lost the revenue, but they’ve kept the people on board that were doing the work before,” Millar said. “And if you don’t have to provide the services, why do you keep the people? They’ve kept the payroll up there and they haven’t eliminated staff, although they no longer provide service in that area.”
If that continues, what will be the real role of the county going forward, Millar asked.
“Because it’s not duplication of services,” he said. “If the county chooses not to eliminate the staff that used to service Dunwoody it’s going to cost more money and that’s been the problem.”