DeKalb residents will be paying more in county taxes.
A 4.35-mill increase became official after several months of wrangling by the county’s Board of Commissioners and CEO Burrell Ellis’ administration. The increase means the owner of an average home valued at $155,700 would pay $672 in county property taxes.
The increase passed 4-3 with commissioners Elaine Boyer, Lee May and Sharon Barnes Sutton voting against it.
“I don’t want a property tax increase,” said Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who voted for the increase. “We do not take this responsibility lightly, but I think this is the fiscally responsible thing to do to move DeKalb County forward.
“We have to be able to keep our county fiscally sound and stable so we can get ready for the next generation,” Commissioner Larry Johnson said.
“We are not out of the water yet,” Johnson said. “I’m still not totally happy with the budget but this is the hand we had.”
Before the budget was passed residents had the opportunity to speak about the increase.
“I am certainly against any tax increase for this county,” said resident Jerry Myer Jackson. “Are you out of your mind? Every Republican in this country realizes that the citizens cannot afford a tax increase.”
Ruby Boseman Davis said she opposed a tax increase until the county performs a financial audit.
“What about our budget?” Davis asked. “Are you giving any consideration about our budgets? We don’t have the money for this budget or the large tax increase.”
South DeKalb resident Anne Randolph said her neighbors could not afford a tax increase.
“The south DeKalb community has been hit hardest with foreclosures, unemployment and high crime,” Randolph said. “When we walk out of our doors, many of our communities look like ghost towns. How can you think in terms of asking for an increase on homes we cannot even sell or secure loans on?
“Our communities are so cheap now they are being sold to the highest bidders for pennies,” Randolph said.
There were several residents who said a tax increase is needed for the county’s stability.
“We know we are going to have to raise some taxes,” said Charles Peagler. “You can’t balance this budget with cuts. You can’t cut your way out of this budget. Taxes are going to have to be raised.”
Kenneth Taylor said he believes the county’s financial burden needed to be shared by taxpayers.
“I am willing to pay the extra $90 or $100 a year if it means it will help in getting our county on sound financial footing,” Taylor said. “This does not mean however I endorse throwing good money after bad. The bottom line is we need better management, better fiscal management and better resource management.”
To make the budget process more manageable, Ellis and the board have agreed that the fiscal year be changed from a calendar year to a July to June year. Currently, the CEO’s proposed budget is presented to the board in December and the board adopts a budget in February. After the tax digest is released by the tax commissioner in June, the board sets a final millage rate in July.
“Because of this recession and the changes …on an almost monthly basis in terms of our revenue resources, it’s just extended the budget process out almost into a yearlong process,” Ellis said. “I think we need to consolidate the millage setting with the adoption of the budget.”
Ellis said the tax increase is necessary to provide for the “essential services of our citizens”–public safety, criminal justice and infrastructure needs.
“We’ve got a considerable decline in our revenues as a result of the drop in our tax digest,” Ellis said. “Our property values have fallen significantly because of the recession, because of the impact of foreclosures in our county.
“I’ve always said that we need to rein in our spending before we raise taxes. But we’ve done that. We’ve done a good job of that by reducing government and consolidating departments and becoming extraordinarily efficient.”