Several DeKalb cities saw changes to their charter, thanks to bills passed under the Gold Dome this year.
Photo: Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres

Here’s how state legislation impacted DeKalb’s cities this year

Property taxes, mayoral term limits and a restructured ethics board.

While this year’s 40-day state legislative session made headlines for some major new laws and fiery debates, it also saw the passage of some notable local bills that only affect DeKalb County and its cities. A few of the bills will result in referendums on the ballot this November.

The bills that passed already had the support of the cities they affect, but had to go through the state Legislature since they could alter the cities’ charters.

Here is the breakdown of the bills that passed and affect DeKalb’s residents:

  • Senate Bill 7Perhaps the most divisive DeKalb-specific bill restructured the county’s ethics board. The bill was essential to getting the board back in operation after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled most of the members had to be appointed by public officials, not private entities. But the legislation goes further than just fixing the appointment process; it no longer requires the board to hire an ethics officer, and suggests county employees go through human resources before filing an ethics complaint, a move critics say could keep people from coming forward.
  • House Bill 645 and 647: These laws puts referendums on the ballot allowing Brookhaven residents to vote on an increased homestead exemption on their property taxes. If the ballot question passes, the exemptions for Brookhaven homeowners would double over five years, from $20,000 to $40,000. The exemption for seniors and people with disabilities, covered under the second bill, would increase nearly sixfold, from $34,000 to $200,000.
  • HB 272 and 273: These apply to Chamblee, and are similar to the homestead exemption bills for Brookhaven. It lets residents vote on ballot questions that, if passed, would raise the exemption from $30,000 to $50,000. The second bill would give a 100 percent city tax exemption to Chamblee homeowners who are disabled or older than 64.
  • HB 563Under this new law, Stonecrest is allowed to impose an excise tax up to 8 percent on hotels and motels in the city. Stonecrest can use some of the funds to promote tourism, conventions and trade shows.
  • SB 230: Creates the Tucker Public Facilities Authority to provide and oversee public buildings and services.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, was the lead supporter of the new Board of Ethics legislation. (Photo: Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

And here are some of the notable bills that did not make it through this year, but stay alive for the remainder of the session in 2020:

  • Cityhood movementsEfforts to turn portions of unincorporated DeKalb into the cities of Vista Grove and Greenhaven failed once again this year. A bill to create Vista Grove was initially filed by Lawrenceville Rep. Timothy Barr, but he later removed his name from the legislation. Lithonia Rep. Vernon Jones has since signed on to the Vista Grove bill, keeping it alive until at least next year. Notably, for the first time in five years, a bill was not filed in support of Greenhaven, which would be a large city in South DeKalb.
  • HB 695: The effort to increase the term limit for the mayor of Brookhaven did not pass this year. The legislation aimed to extend the term limit for Brookhaven’s mayor from two consecutive four-year terms to three. The bill passed the House, but the Senate amended the bill, and the House did not have time to take up the new version. The provisions in the bill were endorsed by the City Council and initially proposed by a group of Brookhaven citizens who reviewed the city’s charter.
  • HB 680: Jones filed a bill that would require charter review commissions for all 12 DeKalb cities, as well as Atlanta. Jones was the only sponsor and the bill was never voted on.
  • HB 679This bill would make several edits to Stonecrest’s charter, including raising the mayor’s salary, allowing the city to impose a hotel/motel tax, and redefining the Stonecrest Community Improvement District. It was also solely sponsored by Rep. Jones. The tax provision went into law as part of HB 563.
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