The new DeKalb County budget brings a change for taxpayers in Dunwoody, Brookhaven and other DeKalb cities: a tax increase.

The budget DeKalb County Commissioners approved 4-2 on Feb. 27 calls for small millage increases in the cities operating within the county. The increase – 10.8 percent in both Brookhaven and Dunwoody and 21.5 percent in Chamblee – was imposed to balance amounts paid for certain county services by city residents.

The increase follows millage cuts in 2014 for Brookhaven and Dunwoody residents, county officials say. Overall, over the two-year period, the county millage in the two towns has dropped by 7.5 percent, according to the county. Chamblee residents received an overall 1.8 percent increase over the two years.

“Over the two-year period, it’s just about a net wash,” Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May said during a public meeting in Brookhaven last month. “It’s something I’m not happy with, but it’s the reality of what we’re having to deal with.”

In Dunwoody and Brookhaven, residents paid 16.25 mills in county taxes in 2013, according to the county’s budget documents. The amount dropped to 13.57 mills in 2014, but is increasing to 15.03 mills in 2015, the budget says. In Chamblee, the millage dropped to 12.36 mills in 2014 from 14.76 mills in 2013, but then increased to 15.02 mills in 2015.

Commissioner Nancy Jester, who represents the northern end of the county, told members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association on March 1 that she and fellow Commissioner Kathie Gannon voted against the budget. “I argued heavily against this…,” Jester said. “Overall I don’t like the budget. … It’s absurd because it is growing in areas where it should have been shrinking. We are not outsourcing the things we should outsource.”

The changes in the millages levied against city residents were required because of the way the county organizes its budget, county Assistant Finance Director J. Jay Vinicki said. The county collects taxes for seven separate “funds” within the budget, including funds for general county services, police, fire, Grady Hospital and bonds.

A mill is one-tenth of a cent. Taxes are computed by multiplying a property’s assessed value by the millage. In DeKalb, raising the tax rate 1 mill produces about $30 in tax on a $200,000 house, Vinicki said.

The county provides different services within city boundaries than it does to areas that are not within cities, so the amount charged varies. Dunwoody and Brookhaven, for instance, pay for their own police departments, so residents are not charged the county millage for police.

Vinicki said the millage had to be adjusted in 2014 and 2015 because of changes made four years ago. At that time, the county had to adjust the millage in certain funds in order to keep the overall county millage at 21.21 mills for residents outside cities. The adjustments made this year and last bring the separate funds closer to where they’re supposed to be, he said. The idea is to try to make each fund stand on its own, Vinicki said.

“It’s actually a planned thing,” he said. “We’re trying to get to millage rate stability.”

DeKalb’s $1.27 billion budget keeps the tax rate in areas of the county not located within cities at 21.21 mills, county officials said. The rate has remained the same since 2011, county officials said in a press release.

In the new budget, according to a county press release, DeKalb officials created 41 new customer service jobs in the water billing department; plan to spend $1.5 million to improve the county purchasing department and $827,000 to improve the county permitting process; and add $5 million for road resurfacing.

–Ellen Eldridge contributed to this report.

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.