The Dunwoody Charter Commission partially reversed itself June 19 and recommended that city officials should not be allowed to automatically raise the fire tax rate 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 Dunwoody to take over fire services from DeKalb County, but to impose a tax millage no higher than the three-year average of the county’s 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 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.”

Commissioners, meeting in a standing-room-only conference room packed with an audience of about 25 residents and city officials, said the provision as modified meant Dunwoody homeowners would not pay more in taxes for city fire services than they now pay to the county. “The bottom line is their tax bill will not change because of this vote,” Wingate said.

Some city officials have proposed that Dunwoody join with other north DeKalb cities to start a new fire department to replace the existing service from DeKalb County. They argue the cities could provide better fire services to residents without raising taxes above the tax millage DeKalb levies for the service.

But residents attending the commission meeting argued that Dunwoody voters should be the ones to decide whether to increase taxes to provide for fire services.

Merry Carmichael said the city should not provide fire services “until there has been citizen vetting, active debate, as well as a citizen vote of approval.”

“I don’t want to give up my right to vote,” she said.

Ed Palmer told the commissioners he had “become discouraged over time by what’s been going on in the city.”

“I don’t think City Council is adequately communicating with the citizens,” he said to the charter commissioners. “There are a lot of people watching you. We want you to do what’s right for the community.”

The charter commission is reviewing the city’s charter as Dunwoody approaches its fifth year as a city. It 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.