DeKalb, Brookhaven settle up

Brookhaven and DeKalb County have settled up how much the city owes for seven months of county police protection and eight months of maintaining eight parks: $3.2 million.

Under a deal that was finalized late Tuesday, Brookhaven will immediately transfer the cash in a lump sum to the county. City taxpayers won’t be hurt; the funds are available in its first-year budget. County taxpayers, who had been effectively fronting the payment under the county’s 2013 budget, will largely stop subsidizing the city.

“I think it was in everyone’s best interest to settle this,” DeKalb Chief Operating Officer Zach Williams said.

The payment is slightly less than the $3.55 million county officials thought the two sides had agreed upon earlier this year. But it is a far cry from the $500,000 Brookhaven officials floated just last month, which prompted threats of a lawsuit from the county.

Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis credited interim DeKalb CEO Lee May with focusing on a solution that both sides could live with.

“We are very happy this has been put to bed and look forward to working with DeKalb County on common issues in the future,” Davis said.

That mindset is a return to last December, when Brookhaven became Georgia’s newest city and leaders expressed optimism about hashing out a deal with DeKalb to provide services well into this year.

Such transition deals have been the norm with the region’s new cities, which gradually take on the costs of at least three services, most commonly police.

But cities and counties have often battled over just how much those services cost. Fulton County, for instance, sued Sandy Springs for $1 million to cover county-provided fire protection for about a year before the city established its own department.

Sandy Springs, which launched the cityhood movement with its 2005 incorporation, finally settled this past December and paid $500,000 for the outstanding bill.

This summer, when Brookhaven proposed paying just $500,000 for police protection — and nothing for a year of park maintenance — a similar protracted legal battle loomed.

A letter from the county attorney’s office even threatened a court fight if the “previous good faith” negotiations did not resume.

Resident opinion, especially in Brookhaven, may also have played a role. When interviewed by reporters, several city residents urged the city to make a swift deal if the county could explain the costs, mainly to clear the way for the city’s own police force.

“I think that DeKalb got too big to manage and we can do better on our own,” said Jen Heath, a technical project manager who lives in the city.

The city’s 54-member police force took over patrols on July 31. Officers have already made several high-profile arrests in the city, including two high school students charged with the armed robbery of a taxi driver Monday.

Residents in unincorporated DeKalb also stand to see a greater police presence soon. The 28 officers that had been patrolling Brookhaven will be re-assigned to other areas of the county, as will an undetermined number of officers who had been patrolling Dunwoody from the soon-to-be-closed north precinct.

Williams said the county will manage those changes within the existing budget.

Next up: county officials must sort out how much of the Brookhaven payment will go to the county’s parks department. The county expected the city to immediately take over parks and did not set aside additional funds for the eight in the city limits.

Brookhaven has plans for its parks. It is in the midst of planning a food truck celebration on Sept. 4, the day after it takes over operations, most likely at Blackburn Park on Ashford Dunwoody Road.