The Dunwoody Charter Commission reversed itself June 19 and recommended that city officials should not be allowed to raise the fire tax rate without a public vote if the city starts a fire department.

After about an hour of discussion, the commission voted 3-2 to recommend that the city’s charter be amended in a way that would allow the city to take over fire services from DeKalb County, but to impose a tax millage no higher than the three-year average of tax millage for fire services.

On June 5, the commission voted to ask state lawmakers to allow the city to take over the fire millage and to allow Dunwoody City Council to increase that tax rate by up to 20 percent without a public vote in order to cover costs of a new fire department.

Commissioner Beverly Wingate proposed the commission reconsider its earlier decision, saying the original vote “opened the door for the council to raise taxes without a vote of the people. That was not my intent and I think it was of the intent of this group.”

Wingate also said that Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) had told her the provision was something that state lawmakers could “gleefully veto.”

The city’s charter imposes a cap of 3.04 mills on the tax millage the city may impose without approval through a public referendum.

The members of the charter commission, meeting in a conference room crowded by an audience of about 25 residents and city officials, said their new version of the provision meant Dunwoody homeowners would not see an increase in taxes if the city starts a fire service. Some city officials have said Dunwoody should join with other north DeKalb cities to start a new department. They argue the cities could provide better fire services to residents without raising taxes.

Commissioners said the proposal means Dunwoody homeowners would not pay more in taxes to provide fire services than they do now. “The bottom line on their tax bill will not change because of this vote,” Wingate said.

The commission is reviewing the 5-year-old city’s charter and will report to state lawmakers any recommendations for changes it feels are needed.

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.