The 2012 budget proposed by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis has problems. That’s what commissioners said during a county finance meeting on Jan. 12.
The budget is overly optimistic in its assumption of how much revenue the county will bring in, and it fails to forecast future economic events, including the effect of the possible incorporation of Brookhaven, according to findings of the Board of Commissioners’ finance committee.
“We have a lot of challenges regarding the CEO’s proposed budget,” said Commissioner Lee May, chairman of the finance committee. “This is not gloom and doom, but we have some real issues we have to address for the future of this county.”
Ellis’ proposed $547.3 million budget, which is 1.2 percent higher than the 2011 budget, contains no tax increase and no county employee furlough days. The proposal also includes funding for all county holidays, a lower-cost healthcare option for county employees and implementation of a recently announced home-buying initiative and jobs stimulus program tied to a billion-dollar water-sewer improvement plan.
The proposal, which predicts a 5 percent drop in income from county property taxes, is “overly optimistic,” May said. “We have to err on the side of caution in this tax digest.”
Commissioner Jeff Rader said he has concerns about how the county controls its spending.
“How can we enforce whatever budgetary commitment we make?” Rader said. “There should be some means of enforcing the budget that is adopted or the budget is meaningless.”
“Financial control is key and critical,” May said. “We need to work with the administration and the administration needs to work with us.”
As a rule, the Board of Commissioners adopts a budget early in the year and later makes mid-year adjustments. Making those mid-year adjustments can be a problem when there is a budget crunch, said Commissioner Elaine Boyer.
“No one ever slows down,” Boyer said about department heads spending money. “It’s much harder at mid-year.”
May said commissioners must decide on the best time to adjust the budget.
“Do you make the adjustments in the revenue now or do wait until mid-year to make the adjustments…knowing that it just exacerbates the problem to make the adjustments mid-year?” May asked.
May said that one of the problems with the budget is that it does not address the Brookhaven cityhood movement.
“There’s a real concern about the …potential incorporation of Brookhaven,” May said. “You have to plan for the worse.
“We see the incorporation of Brookhaven occurring,” May said. “It’s not going to happen in 2012, but it may happen in 2013 or 2014. How is the administration preparing for that?”
May said he believes the county is in a good position when comparing revenue versus expenditures, but he added that there are “some real concerns” when looking at the day-to-day operations.
“I haven’t seen anything to come out of this administration to show a change in how we operate on a daily basis,” May said. “Over [Ellis’] tenure, his resolution to our problems in this county has been, year after, year after year, a tax increase.
“Of course, this is an election year for the CEO, so he’s not going to propose that,” May said. “My concern is for 2013 after his re-election.”
The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to adopt a budget by its Feb. 28 meeting.