A DeKalb County commissioner singled out the city of Brookhaven to receive its federal COVID-19 relief funds later than the other 11 cities in the county because of the city’s policies on tax abatements and annexations, which was spurred by a proposed development on Dresden Drive.
The postponement to approve the city’s $6.3 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds comes after the Brookhaven Development Authority approved a tax break worth up to $13.5 million for the Dresden Village development, which DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said is an unnecessary drain on the county and school system. City officials plan to give more details about the development during an Aug. 31 town hall.
The intergovernmental agreements between the county and its 12 cities to distribute $32.5 million of its federal CARES Act funds were added to the Aug. 25 county commission agenda during the meeting. The agreements are all the same except for the amounts for each city, according to county officials.
“Brookhaven’s activities led me to decide to take more time to review the discretionary allocation of $6.3 million to Brookhaven to see if any of those funds could offset the losses that Brookhaven has visited on DeKalb,” said Rader, whose district includes parts of Brookhaven.
Rader said the commission received the final version of the agreements right before the meeting, so he and other commissioners didn’t get a chance to fully review it.
The commission unanimously passed Rader’s motion to defer the approval of 11 of the agreements to a special called meeting on Aug. 27 and defer Brookhaven’s agreement until the next commission meeting on Sept. 8.
“Who could have foreseen that Commissioner Jeff Rader would hold his own constituents hostage for political gain?” Mayor John Ernst said in a written statement Aug. 25. “Jeff Rader’s approach harkens to the days when DeKalb County was nationally known for incompetence and corruption. I thought we closed that chapter in the region’s history.”
Rader said in the commission meeting that deferring the CARES Act funds would incentivize the city to “come to the table” and discuss their tax break and annexation policies.
DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester, whose district includes parts of north Brookhaven, said in an email she does not support holding the CARES Act funding and “enthusiastically” supports the city’s allocation.
“I remain confident that the Board will approve Brookhaven’s CARES Act funding and, once again, demonstrate that the county continues to work collaboratively with cities,” Jester said.
The City Council passed a resolution on Aug. 11 to allow Ernst to complete the negotiations for the CARES Act funds with the county. Ernst said in the statement the city plans to use for “rent relief, business support, personal protective equipment for government employees and COVID-19 testing for the public.”
The development by Connolly Investment & Development and Gables Residential is planned for a 4-acre lot on Dresden Drive near Caldwell Road. As part of the project, developers plan to take out the double traffic signals on Dresden Drive as a way to improve traffic flow in the area.
The developers did not ask for a tax abatement in previous versions of the proposal. Timothy “J.R.” Connolly, CEO of Connolly, said the increased scope of the project with streetscape and traffic changes are what caused the company to request a tax abatement now.
Rader said the development only benefits the city because of those streetscape adjustments and takes property tax money away from the county and the school system. The development authority used code name “Project X” to approve the abatement, which Rader said shows the city knew the abatement was controversial.
Councilmember Madeleine Simmons and Mayor John Ernst will host a virtual town hall on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. on Zoom here and Facebook Live here to discuss the traffic changes at the development, according to a city press release.