Delivering on the Promise of Brookhaven
We’ve accomplished a lot together to make Brookhaven better, including building world-class parks, increasing our greenspaces, paving most of our roads and ensuring efficient City services – all while reducing taxes.
HERE ARE SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR PROGRESS:
Mayor Ernst was elected in 2015 with a promise to curb development and allow smart growth that fits the character of our neighborhoods and within our established infrastructure to preserve our quality of life.
Denied (or had withdrawn) 6 rezoning requests to stop 1,460 multi-family housing units (apartments) across the city
Issued 2 6-month moratoriums on rezoning requests (2016 for zoning code rewrite & 2018 for Buford Highway overlay)
Revised zoning code to curb density, increase greenspaces, and affordable housing requirements
Created an Affordable Housing Commission
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s dedication to lower density and smart growth.
Immediately after being elected, Mayor Ernst led the city council in instituting a 6-month moratorium on high density development to allow for a character area study driven by citizen input. This addendum to the comprehensive plan would drive the multi-year zoning code re-write. He instituted another moratorium in 2018, ensuring development along Buford Highway would follow community guidelines for increased greenspace and affordability and implemented the Buford Highway Overlay.
During his term, thousands of apartments have been requested by developers — city council has only approved 137 net new apartments mainly along corridors where infrastructure can support development such as Buford Highway and Clairmont Road, including 77 for an assisted living facility. 1,465 requested apartments have either been rejected or withdrawn mostly along busy Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive.He rejected a poorly conceived development at the MARTA Brookhaven-Oglethorpe station which did not make the necessary traffic or sewer improvements.
The Overlay and the zoning code re-write initiated by Mayor Ernst focused on livability, affordability, and connectivity. When Brookhaven lost in the Georgia Supreme court to deny the development at the former Hastings nursery, it became clear developers would be able to build what was approved by DeKalb County in 2005 along Peachtree Road. Mayor Ernst had the foresight to implement smart development with the overlay re-write. Density was curbed indirectly with tough greenspace requirements, increased setbacks near residential properties, unit size minimums and 10% affordable units, and requiring paths and sidewalks where necessary.
He stood up to powerful interests such as Children’s Healthcare, negotiating a community investment agreement providing $46 million in benefits to the community. The previous administration could only manage $342,500. Traffic will be improved when CHOA pays $12 million for I-85 bridge improvements (no funding provided by Brookhaven). Sewer lines will be upgraded for the entire area by CHOA. CHOA has paid $11 million towards the construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway as well as a path to it from their campus for the residents of Brookhaven.
He also held fast to the city’s commitment to affordable housing and refused to incentivize affordable housing unless it provided real affordability to Buford Highway residents rather than using the Atlanta average for the Bramblewood development. The mayor has focused his efforts to ensure re-zonings were not approved without substantial investments in the community such as usable neighborhood parks, intersection improvements to improve traffic, sewer infrastructure (sewers are controlled by DeKalb County) and affordability.
Mayor Ernst’s governance philosophy is to do the most with the least possible and work for creative ways to pay for badly needed infrastructure improvements, afford greenspace and streamline city services. Currently, Brookhaven’s millage rate is 2.74 for all city services, and is the lowest in DeKalb County for full- service cities. Millage rate for just police alone for unincorporated DeKalb is 4.77; more than double our entire City rate.
Lowest property tax rate in DeKalb County
Triple-A bond ratings from both rating agencies; one of only 5 cities in GA to receive this rating
Met and exceeded appropriate budgetary reserves for the first time in the city’s history; currently 35% of budget in reserves
New city website allows you to easily view the city’s financial records & submit open records requests
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s record of fiscal responsibility.
When Mayor Ernst took office in 2015, the city budget was in disarray. He worked to restructure and reorganized the city to provide more effective and efficient city services while improving the City’s communication with residents. The City received a Certificate in Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association in 2018 for its new budgeting efforts.
Furthermore, when he was elected, the City’s reserve funds were at 8.5%. During his term, he has been able to meet and exceed appropriate budgetary reserves for the first time in the City’s history; currently 35% of budget in reserves. In 2018, the City received a double Triple-A bond ratings from both rating agencies; one of only 5 cities in GA to receive this rating.
Mayor Ernst established a grants program to seek additional revenue sources from federal, state and regional agencies as well as private-public partnerships. To date, the City of Brookhaven has been awarded more than $30 million in grants to address road improvements, stormwater infrastructure improvements and purchases of greenspace and to build our Peachtree Creek Greenway.
Additional budgetary items of note:
- Head count for all budgets approved under Mayor Ernst’s administration has stayed consistent at 132.
- Tourist expenditures (magazine advertisements, event sponsorship, Explore Brookhaven logo, etc) are done by the Convention and Visitors bureau (CVB), a separate entity NOT funded with property taxes but through the state-established hotel motel tax that is required by every city in Georgia. Each hotel in Brookhaven collects an 8% hotel motel tax. 3.5% goes to the CVB to pay for marketing such as this, 3% goes directly to the city general fund for tax relief, and the remaining 1.5% helps fund the Peachtree Creek Greenway. We are required by state law to give the 3.5% to the CVB for tourism marketing. If Brookhaven didn’t collect this tax from visitors, $1.5 million a year would be gone and we would have to make it up by raising property taxes.
- The overall 2020 budget proposed sees an 11% reduction in general fund expenditures.
- $375,000 was not the actual cost of the new Skyland Park restroom, but the initial opinion of probable cost. The actual cost was $230,000 at Skyland Park that was paid for by DeKalb County Schools, in a land deal Mayor Ernst negotiated which donated city land for a new school to address overcrowding in our schools and the school system paid for Brookhaven’s Skyland Park (with 2 dog parks, walking paths and sport facilities) and additional funding for Brookhaven’s Ashford Forest Preserve purchase (33 acres of greenspace near PDK airport). For all other city parks restroom facilities, the citizen oversight committee is looking to value engineer to drive costs down further while maintaining sustainability and continuity.
- The millage rate is the lowest in the county and homeowners will receive a city tax cut if citizens vote on the doubling of the homestead exemption on the November 5th ballot; 86% of qualifying seniors and the disabled will not pay city property taxes.
Before Mayor John Ernst’s tenure, Brookhaven’s roads had not been re-paved in over twenty years. Currently, the City is ahead of its paving schedule; paving over 22% of the entire street system. He has taken the politics out of paving; ensuring a system to replace the most damaged roads first rather than by district. This method is more expedient and saves taxpayers’ dollars.
Paved more than 13 miles of our most vulnerable roads
Key intersection traffic improvements, including Ashford Dunwoody/Johnson Ferry, West Nancy Creek/Ashford Dunwoody, and Briarwood/North Druid Hills.
More than 4 major intersection improvements planned for 2020
Greenspace & Trees Preservation
Tree preservation is important for our environment and our quality of life. Mayor Ernst has demonstrated his commitment to protecting our tree canopy in the following ways:
Increased greenspace by more than 55 acres
Increased our tree canopy by approximately 2%
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s greenspace acquisition and tree preservation.
By acquiring 4 new parks and purchasing over 55 acres of greenspace in a fiscally responsible manner, the City of Brookhaven has saved more trees and help preserve our environment. Acquiring land for public use is an effective way to ensure our tree canopy remains robust.
After years of stalls, Mayor Ernst was able to acquire the land and find matching federal, regional and private-public partnerships to not only plan the Peachtree Creek Greenway but to build the 1st mile of this pathway that will allow residents and visitors to walk and bike on a 3 mile path that will connect to other regional multi-use nature paths, such as the Atlanta Beltline and PATH 400.
Recently, City Council approved a TreesAtlanta “Front Yard Tree” program so property owners can have TreesAtlanta plant high quality, native trees in their front yard at little or no cost to residents.
Four years ago, with input from concerned citizens, the City of Brookhaven updated our tree ordinance, which has grown our tree canopy from 50% to 53.6% from 2012- 2016. However, there is more work to be done. Since 2018, Mayor John Ernst has been working with key stakeholders and the Brookhaven Tree Conservancy to evaluate and craft a new ordinance to make improvements while protecting property rights. Simply amending the current code leaves Brookhaven vulnerable to lawsuits and would not being fully integrated into other ordinances, such as stormwater and zoning. We are working towards a stronger tree ordinance that will stand up in court and will take into account:
- saving high quality, old growth trees with new tools (such as a tree matrix),
- securing a sustainable tree footprint (our environment and trees are healthy when trees are group together),
- creating more effective deterrents for illegal tree cutting or developers just paying into the tree fund instead of preserving viable trees, and
- developing a community education program.
These strategies have yet to be implemented in Georgia (and most likely the country) and could be a model for municipal tree ordinances nationwide. In order to make lasting, impactful change, these revisions cannot be taken lightly, quickly, or without vigorous public debate.
Police & Safety
Brookhaven is the safest city in DeKalb County and one of the top ten safest in Georgia. We can all agree that our police force is the finest in the metro Atlanta. Average response times for high priority calls is at 3 minutes, 29 seconds. Before Mayor Ernst’s tenure, Brookhaven struggled to maintain a fully staffed police force. Now, Brookhaven has a waiting list of 200 officers wanting to join our force.
#1 safest city in DeKalb County; top 10 in Georgia
Building new police HQ; fully funded by DeKalb County SPLOST proceeds
Launched license plate reader (LPR) pilot program to detect and deter crime
Launched Brookhaven Connect to easily report code violations & Brookhaven Alert to receive immediate emergency alerts
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s work with police and public safety.
In addition, under Mayor John Ernst’s administration, our police department has implemented the following innovative programs:
- License Plate Reader (LPR) pilot program: 44 LPRs installed across the City have resulted in 53 arrests and 25 recovered stolen vehicles within the first six months of installation in 2019.
- Established the Brookhaven Police Department’s “Operation Plugged In” program, a police/community video partnership that operates on a voluntary basis with homeowners, neighborhoods and business owners who own private video security systems that record public areas such as roads, parking lots and sidewalks.
- Developed the Police Citizen’s Academy program to create responsible, well-informed citizens in both English and Spanish-speaking communities about the Brookhaven Police Department’s methods and goals.
- Acquired state-of-the-art FARO Crime-Scene 3D Imaging – a camera system, which provides high-resolution digital evidence collection abilities for Detectives and Crime-Scene Investigators.
Using additional revenue from Emory Healthcare and the Atlanta Hawks new health and training campus at Executive Park, the City was able to the purchase of the former QT site on Buford Highway at North Cliff Valley Way, and through an agreement with the DeKalb County Fire and Rescue Department, to post three ambulances there. This ambulance station will improve emergency medical services response times within Brookhaven.
Realizing the need for Brookhaven governance to encompass all facets of sustainability, Mayor Ernst called for the Sustainable Brookhaven initiative adopted by Council in 2019. This strategy sets policies, actions and decision with an eye to ensuring fiscal, environmental and civic sustainability is considered in all functions of City operations, policies and decisions. Check out the full plan here.
Working to ensure Brookhaven remains a haven for all residents, Mayor John Ernst established an Affordable Housing Commission in 2017. Since that time, recommendations from the Commission have been folded into the City’s ordinances, initiatives, and policies, including the inclusion of work-force housing requirement in the City’s new zoning code and offering our police force a housing credit for residing within the City limits.
Mayor Ernst also held fast to the city’s commitment to affordable housing and refused to incentivize affordable housing unless it provides real affordability to Buford Highway residents rather than using the Atlanta average for the Bramblewood development which was denied.
Furthermore, his call for doubling of homestead exemption for seniors and the disabled is to systematically and permanently provide tax cuts to seniors on fixed incomes and vulnerable populations to help them stay in their homes.
Stormwater Infrastructure Improvements
Mayor John Ernst’s first act as Mayor was to call for an inventory and assessment of the City’s stormwater infrastructure system.
Improved stormwater infrastructure across the city to stop flooding & prevent erosion
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s stormwater and infrastructure improvements.
By state law, cities are only required to inspect its stormwater infrastructure every five years; cities are not required to make any improvements.
Mayor John Ernst took the lead to not only inspect but to fast track stormwater infrastructure improvement and maintenance projects to prevent flooding and erosion happening across the City. As of September 30, 2019, 134 (83 percent) of the 162 high priority stormwater structures were completed, and 70 (80 percent) of the 88 high priority conveyances were completed. The City of Brookhaven is on track to ensure more improvement and maintenance projects are scheduled and earmarked over the next couple of years.
Mayor Ernst is most proud of the major improvements and acquisitions of Brookhaven’s Parks system. In record time, the City has been able to acquire 4 new parks & enhance all 18 City parks with new facilities & features, including two new dog parks at the new Skyland Park & created Brookhaven Dog Park, the largest dog park inside the perimeter.
Acquired 4 new parks & enhanced all 18 City parks with new facilities & features
Included 2 new dog parks at the new Skyland Park & created Brookhaven Dog Park, the largest dog park inside the perimeter
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s plans for our parks.
The Mayor also led the city to partner with the DeKalb County School District and the Ashford Park Elementary School Foundation to install the City’s first turf field at Ashford Park Elementary School, which will be available for public use.
Transit & Traffic Improvements
There are many challenges with growth throughout the metro area that affect us in Brookhaven. Mayor Ernst has led the top-end perimeter mayors in tackling traffic and transit issues and we are ahead of the rest of the region with ATL (transit authority) in planning and implementing transit along I-285.
The Mayor has fast-tracked traffic intersection improvements across the city and has been able to complete four projects at some of the busiest intersections in the city, including Ashford Dunwoody/Johnson Ferry, West Nancy Creek/Ashford Dunwoody, and Briarwood/North Druid Hills. More than 4 major intersection improvements are planned for 2020.
Installed more than 13,900 feet of sidewalks
Created Traffic Calming Measures Program to reduce cut-through traffic
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s transit and traffic improvements.
The Mayor will also continue implementing projects laid out in various transit studies such as the Bike-Ped Plan, Ashford-Dunwoody Corridor Plan and the North Druid Hills Traffic Study to improve the efficiency of our intersections and connectivity.
Lastly, he implemented a traffic calming measure program so neighborhoods can reduce commuter cut-through traffic and reduce speeds on residential roads. Learn more about the program here.
New Property Tax Cuts
Vote for NEW Property Tax Cuts for Seniors & Homeowners on November 5
You will vote on November 5th to double Brookhaven’s homestead exception. Increasing the homestead exemption results in lowering homeowners’ property taxes. For senior citizens and those with disabilities who qualify, the savings could zero out any city property taxes. This would be the first increase in property tax relief for Brookhaven since it became a city in 2012. If passed, the changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Learn more about Mayor Ernst’s new property tax cuts.
The value of your property for purposes of city taxes is frozen at the time of incorporation or at the time you homesteaded. You pay the same amount of city taxes based off that value year over year. City taxes are only 6.8% of your bill. A person living in Brookhaven with a $551,000 value but has lived here since the incorporation when the house was valued at $402,000 pays taxes based off the $402,000 value. Therefore, when the homestead doubles, they would be getting approx. 21% decrease in their city taxes. With the new homestead exemption(s), your city bill will be lower in real dollars next year. 86% of seniors and the disabled who qualify will not pay any city taxes.
Why not just decrease the millage rate?
The millage rate can be adjusted year after year at the discretion of Council whereas doubling the homestead exemption is systematic, permanent tax relief for homeowners. Furthermore, decreasing the millage rate would discount taxes for commercial properties, ultimately putting more tax burden on homeowners. Moving forward, now that proper reserves are established, it will be up to the council whether to lower the millage rate or apply any surpluses to council priorities such intersection improvements for traffic mitigation or additional storm-water improvement projects.
Let’s build on our successes and continue addressing our challenges to fully realize Brookhaven’s vision as a haven of greenspaces nestled inside our urban landscape, a city of thought leaders, and a community with character.
ON NOVEMBER 5TH, I ASK FOR YOUR VOTE TO CONTINUE WORKING TOGETHER TO:
Achieve balanced growth
Maintain our Triple-A bond rating
Realize a walkable, bike-able community
Provide efficient city services
Implement traffic calming measures
Preserve our community’s character
Keep taxes low