Deal reached between cities and county on DeKalb sales tax hike


A proposed sales tax increase in DeKalb likely will appear on November’s ballot after city and county officials negotiated a tentative deal on fire protection and the duration of the tax.

The tax hike, from 7 percent to 8 percent, would raise about $100 million a year for long-overdue road repairs, fire station remodeling, police equipment and park maintenance.

Clapping and cheers erupted from behind closed doors after two hours of negotiations Wednesday between local government leaders in a conference room at the county’s headquarters in Decatur.

Afterward, DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond and mayors said they were unified in supporting the county government’s first special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).

“It’s never happened before, where city and county leaders came together and said, ‘We’re going to work together to improve the quality of countywide service,’” Thurmond said. “It’s historic.”

Before the deal, county commissioners had threatened a possible property tax increase next year if the cities didn’t agree to contribute some of their portion of sales tax money to the DeKalb Fire Department, which serves the county and all of its cities except Atlanta and Decatur.

The mayors agreed to contribute small amounts toward the $56 million it would cost to replace seven fire stations, repair 20 stations, build three new stations, replace portable radios, deploy quick response units and plan or a public safety training center. Each city will decide its level of fire funding, if any, based on its local need for additional fire services, such as upgraded stations or rapid response vehicles. The county will pay for most of the fire station costs.

The improvements are designed to move DeKalb closer to becoming a Class-1 fire department, a designation for the quickest-responding and best-performing departments in the nation, resulting in lower fire insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses, Thurmond said.

Thurmond also consented to the mayors’ request for the sales tax to last six years instead of five, providing another year of tax revenue. In exchange, the mayors will support the sales tax and advocate for the Georgia General Assembly to lift a restriction, in the sixth year, on how its proceeds can be spent.

state law passed this year limits DeKalb’s sales tax spending to transportation, public safety and maintenance. But Thurmond said the county has other infrastructure needs, such as renovations of the Bobby Burgess Building on Memorial Drive, consolidation of courts in Decatur and court parking.

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said negotiations worked out well for the cities.

“We came in wanting a six-year SPLOST based on 2016 population numbers, and that’s been accomplished,” Shortal said. “You can do a lot more with a six-year plan.”

City councils for all of the 12 cities participating in the DeKalb sales tax must approve agreements with the county extending the sales tax to a sixth year, according to state law. Those votes are planned for this month.

Over the next five years, the sales tax would bring in about $291 for unincorporated DeKalb and $186 million for cities, distributed proportionately based on population.

Up next, the DeKalb Commission will vote on a project list for the county’s spending. That list hasn’t been finalized, but it could include $143 million to repave 318 miles of broken-down roads, as well as funding for sidewalks, bridges, trails, traffic signals, public safety and recreational facilities maintenance.

Then commissioners will vote by the end of this month to put the referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot. The sales tax increase would take effect next year.

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