DeKalb and city officials unify around sales tax referendum

1:34 p.m Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 Local
DeKalb County CEO Mike Thurmond, surrounded by mayors and government officials, speaks about ballot measures to increase sales taxes and cut property taxes during a press conference at the DeKalb Roads and Drainage Division on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

City mayors and DeKalb County elected officials are uniting around sales tax proposals on this year’s ballot, saying the additional revenue is needed to pay for smoother roads, more firefighting vehicles and new police cars.

A press conference staged Wednesday was designed to answer questions about referendums that would increase DeKalb’s sales tax rate to 8 percent and reduce homeowners’ property tax bills.

If approved by voters Nov. 7, the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) would bring in about $100 million a year for transportation and public safety infrastructure. The property tax relief measure would return roughly $22 million a year from existing sales taxes to homeowners. Both measures must pass to be enacted.

RELATED: DeKalb SPLOST frequently asked questions

DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond, surrounded by eight mayors and other government officials, said the tax overhaul package would change the course of the county.

“A new day has dawned. It’s a day that focuses on cooperation, communication and transparency,” Thurmond said at the press conference at the DeKalb Roads and Drainage Division near Memorial Drive.

While local elected officials are prohibited under state law from advocating for the SPLOST, their implicit support was clear.

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said he’s never seen so much collaboration between municipal and county political leaders.

“We’re all in DeKalb County. This is our county, and we need to make sure we enhance our county as a whole,” he said.

Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson said the vote is a “historic moment” for the county and its cities.

“Let’s continue to make DeKalb County the great community that we know we want it to be,” Jackson said. “Whether you live in a city or an unincorporated area, we are one DeKalb.”

The sales tax would be distributed to cities and unincorporated areas proportionately based on population. Over the next six years, about $388 million would fund unincorporated infrastructure, while $249 would be distributed to city governments.

Meanwhile, another measure on the ballot would give homeowners a break on their property taxes.

The change to the homestead local option sales tax (HOST) would lower residents’ property bills countywide. Currently, 80 percent of HOST goes toward property tax reduction and 20 percent for government infrastructure. If approved, 100 percent of HOST would go toward property tax relief.

Early voting began Monday at the DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections Office on Memorial Drive and the Bessie Branham Recreation Center in Kirkwood. A third advance voting site will open at the Dunwoody Library on Oct. 30.

Workers said it could take 24 hours to repair.
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