Dunwoody police ‘model,’ budget, should not be replicated

To the editor:

After hearing so much about how the proposed city of Brookhaven’s police department will be wonderful simply because it will mimic the Dunwoody police “model,” I felt it was time to look harder at the department that is to be replicated. And, quite frankly, what I have found is quite unsettling.

It seems the Dunwoody Police Department looked great on paper when the city was promoting its start-up budget, but now, just three short years later, the bare bones budget police department is beginning to see real problems due to limited staffing.

The 2012 budget report for the city of Dunwoody says, “Dunwoody faces several challenges that have a significant impact on our efforts to maintain our current service levels” and continues “…With a force of just 46 sworn officers, it is growing increasingly difficult to maintain adequate visibility and reduce crime….an aging inventory of apartments poses a significant challenge to a small police department.” This from a city whose small number of apartments pale in comparison with the dozen or more crime infested, gunshot-riddled apartments along Buford Highway in Brookhaven.

A report by Dunwoody Chief of Police Billy Grogan, presented in January 2012 includes the following: “Based on our existing staffing level, our officers are asked to be more productive and respond to more crime incidents than their counterparts in virtually all of our surrounding and similar cities.”

Chief Grogan continues “…the high workload will deteriorate staff morale, increase turnover rates, increase staff fatigue, reduce officer safety, limit work production, decrease community interaction and result in incomplete investigations.”

In conclusion, the reports describe an understaffed, overworked Dunwoody police force that is simply responding to crimes, not preventing crimes.

The current Dunwoody police model includes a force of 0.99 sworn officers per 1,000 citizens. In his report, Chief Grogan requests a “minimum staffing increase” of 16 officers, a 35 percent increase over the current police force, to provide what he believes will approach an adequate police force for the city of Dunwoody.

The Grogan report further states “an adequate staffing ratio for our department is 1.56 officers per 1,000 citizens”. In other words, the Dunwoody chief believes his police force is currently understaffed by 50 percent. Is this really the police model we want to mimic for the proposed city of Brookhaven?

The Grogan report also compares the police force of seven similar-sized cities in metro Atlanta and found the average size to be 2.06 officers for each 1,000 citizens. DeKalb County has a staff of 2.26 sworn police officers per 1,000 citizens in unincorporated DeKalb – over two times both the existing Dunwoody police force and the proposed city of Brookhaven police force.

The current budget for the police force for the proposed city of Brookhaven includes 53 officers, or 1.08 officers for each 1,000 citizens. An officer count that while very similar to the “understaffed and overworked” Dunwoody police force is nearly one-half the size of the average police force in seven similar cities in metro Atlanta and over 50 percent smaller than the current DeKalb County police force.

Whether you use the Dunwoody adequate staffing police model; or the seven-city average police model; or the DeKalb County police model, the police force for the proposed city of Brookhaven should include 76 or 102 or 111 police officers, respectively.

Clearly, based on Dunwoody’s experience, the police force for the proposed city of Brookhaven is woefully understaffed.

Unfortunately, a higher officer count requires a higher budget, which of course is more difficult to sell when you’re trying to ram through a bill through to create a new city. Using the numbers for police services and police start-up found in the Brookhaven budget, the additional 23 officers required to provide Chief Grogan’s adequate staffing ratio of 1.56 officers per 1,000 citizens (76 total officers) for the proposed city of Brookhaven police force would add $2,777,250 to a city budget that currently has less than $200,000 to spare.

While I understand the premise for the proposed city of Brookhaven is to do more with less, I for one am not comfortable risking the safety of my family to an understaffed police force model that clearly shows signs of severe stress in our “peer” city to the north.

After closer review, I believe the police force for the proposed city of Brookhaven was devised not to protect the citizens of the proposed city, but to protect the marketability of a feasibility study that contains artificially low budget numbers for critical services in the proposed city. While the current Brookhaven police budget may look good in the short run, we see from Dunwoody that it is not sustainable over the long term.

Before we are asked to vote on this issue, we must spend sufficient time to apply real life examples and resultant costs to the budget for the services that are required to serve the long-term needs of the citizens in the proposed city of Brookhaven.

Jim Eyre

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Seven reasons to support a city of Brookhaven

To the editor:

When I identify myself as proponent of a city of Brookhaven, I’m often asked why someone should support the formation of the municipality. Although I can’t suggest why someone else should support this effort, I can relate why I support the initiative to form a city of Brookhaven.

The study authored by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government presents data. Each of us will draw our conclusions by viewing that data through a prism of our own experience and bias.

These are my reasons:

Better representation. No elected local officials now live within the footprint of the proposed city of Brookhaven. A new city would require a councilperson to live in his/her voting district.

Increased voting power. Today, I am 1 of 160,000 constituents of my county commissioner. A new city would have a ratio of one elected official for every 10,000 voters. A 16-fold improvement.

Parks maintenance. Blackburn and Murphey Candler are beautiful properties with not enough money in the county budget to keep them clean and safe. The proposed new city budget could increase investment in our parks by 300 percent.

Improved services. Services today are delivered by hard-working, dedicated county employees. A new city of Brookhaven will have services delivered by a combination of employees and outsourcing companies. Outsourcing encourages competition and innovative approaches to new and imaginative service delivery. As a small example, Dunwoody residents on vacation can have the police do security checks on their homes.

Decreased tax burden. As property values decline, millage rates tend to increase to make up the deficit. A new city charter would place a ceiling of 3.35 mills on the tax burden. A referendum would be required to go past that ceiling. The process encourages more efficient government and gives me a voice in governing.

Community. It’s become increasingly difficult to identify with a county government nearly 10 miles away. A smaller municipal footprint has the potential to re-establish the feeling of community and energy we once had in north DeKalb.

Code enforcement. Having a local elected official living within the district he or she represents will improve the awareness of a need for zoning, planning, and enforcement in his/her neighborhood.

In summary, the city of Brookhaven has the potential to lower my tax burden while improving the efficiency and delivery of services I receive.

Stan Segal

Stan Segal is a member of BrookhavenYES, an organization promoting creation of the new city

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Cityhood opposition seeks to limit your right to vote

To the editor:

The citizens of north DeKalb are now called upon to decide two important questions.

One question we must answer– should the citizens of North DeKalb choose to pursue the path of cityhoood? The second and perhaps more fundamental question–should the citizens of north DeKalb be allowed to vote on whether or not to become the new city of Brookhaven?

The opposition is not arguing against cityhood. The opposition is arguing against your right to vote on cityhood. Some of these people use the fear of change, distortion of facts and conjecture in an attempt to persuade citizens that neglected parks, county inefficiencies, lack of transparency in county government and a lack of localized care and control of north DeKalb are acceptable and that there are no alternatives.

Others hope that you will only listen to their interpretation of facts and neither read the study nor seek other inputs or clarity.

At every turn, the opposition seeks to limit your right to vote on the question of cityhood. This seems to follow in the steps of DeKalb County not allowing citizens to have a vote in recent tax increases, despite fiscal mismanagement.

Those of us in favor of cityhood desire and will continue to fight for the right of each north DeKalb citizen to vote on the question of cityhood. In fact, the charter for the proposed city of Brookhaven is written on the premise of the right to vote. Specifically, property tax increases are subject to your vote and approval or disapproval.

The facts of the Carl Vinson Institute study are open for all. The facts are substantiated.

Our choice for cityhood rests with us, the citizens of north DeKalb.

Davis Mills

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What’s not to like about cityhood?

To the editor:

Before committing to support a city of Brookhaven and joining BrookhavenYES, I learned as much as possible about the potential new city. The more I learned, the more I asked, “What’s not to like?” A city of Brookhaven offers:

1. Lower property taxes and a millage rate cap that can only be increased by a vote of the people built right into the legislation;

2. A parks budget that almost triples the current parks budget and will mean better-equipped, well-maintained parks;

3. A grassroots, local government with the best interests of the Brookhaven area at heart;

4. Local government representation by members of our community with a convenient, nearby location in the Brookhaven area;

5. Improved code enforcement so our community remains on par with other nearby cities like Sandy Springs and Dunwoody;

6. Local police with greater familiarity with our streets, our addresses and our issues.

To top it all off, approximately 85 percent or more of our tax dollars will continue to go to DeKalb County.

I know some people have expressed that they feel rushed in their decision, but speaking for myself, I can’t wait!

Linley Jones

Linley Jones is a member of BrookhavenYES, an organization promoting creation of the new city.

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Year after year, Brookhaven tax revenues spent elsewhere

To the editor:

I’ve lived in Brookhaven for 34 years. Our subdivision is called Brookhaven Heights. It’s the one behind Cherokee Plaza shopping center. I think it’s the best place to live in Atlanta. Our neighbors are friendly, helpful and involved.

During these 34 years, hundreds of new homes have been built here. Some sold for a million dollars. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue have been generated in this neighborhood.

Hardly any of this money has come back here to improve anything. A couple of years ago, the county repaved some roads, but not all. They also started our long-sought traffic-calming measures, but stopped long before completion.

Brookhaven tax money is being spent somewhere other than Brookhaven, and I will now tell you where.

The other day I was in Tucker. I like Tucker; I used to live there and built houses there. Construction has just finished on a beautiful new, state-of-the-art high school with a beautiful new, football practice facility. Also, down the street a piece, on LaVista Road, is a beautiful new library.

I know of at least three other high schools built in DeKalb in the last few years: Miller Grove, Arabia Mountain and Martin Luther King. All are state-of-the-art (including athletic facilities) and sit on approximately 100 acres. Each. Our school is Cross Keys. Probably 60-75 years old. These old buildings are well past their functional lives and damn well near the end of their physical lives!

Our little library is on life support; closed half of the time. There are very few sidewalks in our neighborhood.

There are many other neighborhoods in Brookhaven. The same things that have happened in Brookhaven Heights have happened in those neighborhoods as well. New homes and more tax revenue, but very little coming back.

I understand that schools and libraries will still be controlled by the county. But the point I want to make here is – the county commissioners have, through the years, chosen to spend tax money generated in Brookhaven somewhere else in the county and it’s time for that to stop!

Also, I was vice president of our neighborhood association for a few years. In that time, many builders in our neighborhood were asking for variances and zoning changes. I had to go to Decatur to express our thoughts and concerns. When our city of Brookhaven becomes a reality, we can go just down the street to these meetings.

None of our county commissioners live in the proposed city of Brookhaven. After incorporation, our city councilmen will be our neighbors.

For at least 10 years, I’ve wanted self-government for Brookhaven and now we have a wonderful opportunity to accomplish that. I can’t wait to vote!

Dan Darrington

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For or against cityhood, make your voice heard

To the editor:

The upcoming decision on a potential city of Brookhaven, either way, will have momentous consequences. Such a decision involves some 12 square miles of valuable land, up to $20 million of property and sales tax revenue and the quality of life of over 45,000 people.

Many of the people I’ve spoken with on this topic have implied that this is not so much a vote for the city of Brookhaven as against several DeKalb County commissioners. I’ve lived in DeKalb County for 59 years and for 47 of those years life was relatively tranquil. These last two years have witnessed both commissioners and their associates repeatedly accused of “not walking their talk.” Statutes have been ignored and responsiveness to the electorate subordinated to personal agendas.

The basic decision of cityhood has to be decided by the voters before any “nuts and bolts” decisions can be processed. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government has completed a study on Brookhaven’s potential which indicates that cityhood is a viable option. If we did get extra time to study the situation further, how would we specifically spend it?

Speaking only as a private citizen, I believe that “there is no stopping an idea whose time has come.” We need to make our voices heard in July on this issue–again, either way. Only then can we proceed, with all the responsibilities that such a decision will entail.

All free societies have only one ultimate weapon for change. It isn’t ballots or even bullets. It’s the sound of human voices raised in protest.

Tom Reilly

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Cityhood is not a sideshow, it’s a victory

To the editor:

The cityhood referendum bill was passed today out of the House Governmental Affairs Committee and your paper chose the headline detailing a sideshow to today’s historic vote.

This vote was a huge victory for supporters of a new city, which is still likely be called Brookhaven after inevitable changes are made in the state Senate. Regardless, the new city has no chance of being called “Ashford” when the final vote is taken.

What is important is that the first stone in the foundation of a new, locally controlled municipality was set in place today. This first real victory brings the citizens of Brookhaven closer to having their final say on the upcoming cityhood referendum this July 31st.

J. Max Davis

J. Max Davis is president of BrookhavenYES, an organization promoting creation of the new city.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.