At a called meeting June 30, the Chamblee City Council unanimously approved a millage rate of 6.4, the same rate as the previous year. Mayor Eric Clarkson said he would have preferred a millage rate decrease, but with the 2013 annexation of Dresden East Civic Association (DECA) neighborhoods, the need for service in that area limited a millage rate decrease.
Chamblee uses a fiscal year that matches the calendar year. This makes setting a millage rate somewhat difficult, as the city staff has to foresee to some degree what home values will be months in advance.
“The city has always been very fiscally responsible and very conservative in how it forecasts,” Clarkson said. “When the council sets the budget for the first of the year, they have to anticipate what the tax digest will be, which is the largest revenue for the city.”
Clarkson said that during the recession the millage rate ramped up from four or five mills to around its current rate. During that time there was also talk of changing the fiscal system to align more with when property taxes come due in the fall. But, he said, it has always proved too expensive to make the change.
“For that year you make the switched budget, you have to make two budgets and then you’d be audited twice,” Clarkson said. “The cost of the outside auditor and the cost to do two budgets would be too high. We are not unique in this.”
He further said the millage rate could have decreased if the Century Center commercial properties had been annexed into Chamblee as was originally intended during the 2013 annex referendum.
In 2013, the Georgia General Assembly passed a referendum allowing parts of DeKalb County that bordered then-Chamblee to be annexed into the city. The Chamblee referendum passed with a 61 percent margin. As part of the annexation, Century Center–a clutch of commercial businesses to the south of DeKalb Peachtree Airport and, at the time, slightly east of Brookhaven–would be absorbed into Chamblee. However, after the General Assembly bill was passed but before the referendum occurred on Nov. 5, Brookhaven voted to annex the Century Center area after Highwoods Properties, the firm owning the office buildings in the area, elected to join Brookhaven.
On April 29, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed bills introduced by area legislators that aimed to fix the boundaries to be consistent with the Chamblee referendum, citing pending litigation with the Highwoods properties.
“I am very disappointed that we could not include the Century Center [area] into our budget this year,” Clarkson said. “Our staff is doing everything they can to not raise the millage rate, but I have to believe we would have been able to significantly lower our millage rate if we had not gone through with that annexation.”
Clarkson said the annexation went forward with the expectation that revenue from the Century Center would help pay for the upkeep of newly annexed neighborhoods.
“Commercial pays for services,” Clarkson said. “We welcomed all of these folks into our city without their commercial property taxes. So, here we sit. DeKalb County has ignored that area for a number of years, and they need a lot of services.”
He said Chamblee has an obligation to treat all of its residents equally, but without the Century Center revenue, the budget is tighter than it would have been.
This article originally appeared in The Champion Newspaper.