DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. -- In the Brookhaven area of DeKalb County, it's neighbor against neighbor.
They go to the polls in six weeks, on July 31, to decide if Brookhaven should become its own city, like nearby Dunwoody and Sandy Springs have become.
Tuesday night a big dispute broke out over whether a City of Brookhaven could "break even."
And it was one little piece of paper that ignited the big, new firestorm.
DeKalb County government faxed and e-mailed an announcement late Tuesday afternoon that said that, based on the latest property tax information, if voters decide to create a new City of Brookhaven out of DeKalb County, the new city would start off in the red -- with a deficit of $360,554.
"We've been saying from the beginning," said Mary Ellen Imlay. "There's not enough money in the [projected City of Brookhaven] budget, there's not enough commercial money, not enough residential money, and the city is not viable."
Imlay and Chuck Konas, talking with 11Alive News in Imlay's front yard with her "NoCityBrookhaven.com" yard-sign posted prominently, are helping lead the fight against creating a City of Brookhaven. They are convinced the tax base would not be big enough for the city to support itself.
But State Rep. Mike Jacobs, (R) Atlanta, told 11Alive News on Tuesday that there would be plenty of money for a City of Brookhaven to be financially healthy.
So Jacobs is not taking the county's new warning of the proposed city's red-ink seriously.
"They're basically presenting flawed information, out of context," Jacobs said.
The way Jacobs sees it, the city's initial budget would have around $25 million in total revenue, and that amount of money would be more than enough to cover the possible, tiny percentage of red ink; $360,554 is less than two percent of that $25 million.
But Jacobs does not believe there will be any red ink.
"Whether it's $24 [million] or 25 or 26 or 22 or 28, that's plenty of revenue to run a full-fledged city," Jacobs said.
But the way Chuck Konas sees it, "No fiscally-responsible businessman would ever start to take on a project with a deficit starting out from Day One."
For more information:
One of the websites FOR a City of Brookhaven:
One of the websites AGAINST a City of Brookhaven:
The news release from DeKalb County government said:
"At the direction of DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis, the DeKalb County Finance Department created an analysis of property taxes in the Brookhaven area, utilizing the 2012 Tax Digest."
According to County Spokesman Burke Brennan, Ellis asked for the analysis because he believes that an earlier analysis, initiated in 2010 (and updated twice since then) and conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, is outdated.
That earlier, CVIOG analysis showed the new City of Brookhaven starting with a slight surplus of $135,348.
"Based on the 2012 preliminary tax digest," said the County's statement on Tuesday, "the DeKalb County Finance Department has determined that the proposed city could expect to collect $6,291,026 of property tax, approximately $495,902 less than [the $6,786,928] it would collect using the 2011 preliminary tax digest, which indicates a budgetary deficit of $360,554."
Rep. Jacobs said the County is looking, incorrectly, at property taxes alone, but should, instead, look at total revenues and expenditures in order to come up with a true estimate of the City of Brookhaven's financial viability.
"The city is viable," Jacobs said. "It can be done because [the new City of Dunwoody] is spending just $20.9 Million and it's got the same population as the proposed City of Brookhaven does."
"We don't have the kind of commercial property that Perimeter Mall, for instance, gives to Dunwoody," said Imlay. "If you're cutting back before the city's even created, I think that tells you that there's no city. There's no city here."
"This [proposed City of Brookhaven] is just more government, and another layer of government that we don't need," said Konas.
Jacobs said it's obvious to him that the County does not want to lose tax revenue to another, new city, so it's presenting biased and inaccurate financial projections about the City of Brookhaven "to influence the outcome of an election, which is something that is illegal for them to do, likely, under state and federal law."
The County spokesman, Burke Brennan, told 11Alive News Tuesday that the analysis is accurate, and that CEO Ellis directed the County to compile it at the request of numerous taxpayers. Brennan said the County released the information as soon as it was available, in the interest of transparency.
"We're not taking a position on these numbers," Brennan said. "We're putting them out there for information purposes only, at taxpayers' request."