After months of intense debate about cityhood, voters there took to the polls to settle the matter. For interested parties, that part of Election Day went late into the night, stretching into today’s early morning hours.
Proponents of cityhood beat out their counterparts by nearly 1,000 votes, with all 12 precincts reporting and after the scores of absentee ballots were tallied.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Brookhaven YES President J. Max Davis. “I never had any predictions as far as [a margin of victory]; I was just hoping we’d win.”
Davis and dozens of cityhood supporters packed area eatery Pub 71 as part of an election party and to keep tabs on the returns last night.
Midnight came and went, their side claiming victory a couple hours later by way of a 5,590 to 4,646 vote. Some as yet uncounted provisional ballots remain, their total too few to impact the outcome of the referendum, DeKalb County Board of Elections officials said.
More than 20,000 voters — about 5,000 by mail; 15,000 in person — opted to render their decisions in advance of Election Day, Board officials reported.
Cityhood supporters pointed to success in a key battleground area as possibly having swung the referendum in their favor.
“We think we won two precincts south of Peachtree Industrial [Boulevard], which is a pretty big deal,” Davis said.
The back and forth between both sides — on myriad issues ranging from an incorporated Brookhaven’s solvency to its police services — virtually lasted until the polls opened.
Yet, the cityhood debate leading up to the July 31 vote had largely been defined by dollars and cents.
The competing factions offered conflicting projections regarding the then-proposed municipality’s initial property tax haul.
According to a Carl Vinson Institute feasibility study, the proposed city expenditures for Brookhaven would be $25.1 million, with revenues expected to exceed that amount by $135,000.
Carolyn Benton of the No City Brookhaven committee questioned the viability of that report.
“The actuals in regards to 2012 property tax revenue don’t match the projections,” she said. “From Day 1, we’re starting at the cap, 3.31 mills, so we have no room for error.”
The county later issued a statement indicating that, after crunching its numbers, Brookhaven would actually start out with a deficit of $360,000. J. Max Davis of Brookhaven YES refuted those figures, asserting the new city would actually begin operations with a surplus of more than $1 million.
Moreover, property taxes make up only one quarter of all revenue the city would take in, Davis added.
“Within the Brookhaven boundaries, we have a very healthy mix of commercial and residential property,” he said. “Our commercial base makes up nearly 30 percent of Brookhaven’s total property tax base, which is greater than the roughly 21 percent commercial property tax base for the rest of unincorporated DeKalb.”
The next largest portion of revenue would come from Brookaven’s Homestead Option Sales Tax. The proposed city’s “healthy” residential component would give it a greater share of a HOST allocation than Dunwoody, Davis said.
Brookhaven’s ratio of commercial to residential property is currently 27 to 73 percent, whereas the ratio for Dunwoody — with its expansive office space sub-market — is 40 to 60, Benton noted.
“[Moreover], we’re walled in by Sandy Springs, Chamblee and Dunwoody, so we have very little room to expand or increase density to sustain us and pay for services,” she said.
For their part, Davis and company circulated eleventh hour promotional materials appealing to prospective voters to help make history.
“[July 31] is our last chance to vote for cityhood … we’ve shown you the many good reasons to vote yes,” one Brookhaven YES ad stated. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity; the issue will not appear on a ballot again.”