As it faces the specter of budget shortfalls and staff reductions next year, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners is looking to Georgia State University for advice.
The board voted Nov. 10 to pay the university more than $48,000 to conduct a staffing analysis that will help commissioners reorganize and trim county departments in the forthcoming budget season.
County CEO Burrell Ellis must present a proposed 2010 budget before the commissioners by Dec. 15, and several county officials said they expect the county will need to cut between $40 million and $60 million from the budget. Word of layoffs has spread since the county’s finance director, Mike Bell, told commissioners in September that the county may need to lay off as many as 500 employees – a total Ellis disputes.
“It’s a tough period,” Commissioner Lee May said. “There are some tough decisions that are going to have to be made. … We’re going to have to change the way we do business.”
But before they settle on how precisely to do that, he said, they’re turning to Georgia State first. According to a university proposal submitted to the board, Georgia State’s analysis will recommend different staff reduction and streamlining plans and assess the risk of each. The study will be conducted by the university’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
The study will take about eight weeks to complete, May said, and will likely result in cuts to service and staff, though commissioners did not speculate where those cuts would be focused. But the university’s proposal included a timeline thats ends with a recommendation to the board in March.
The county employs about 8,000 people, and the proposal would be focused on 10 county departments (or about 5,000 people), the proposal said. Those departments are watershed management, planning and development, public works, economic development, finance, police services, fire and rescue, parks and recreation, information systems and geographical information systems. Of those departments, police services is the largest, employing 1,518 people.
The university plans to survey or interview top county officials to help guide reduction recommendations. The analysis will also compare DeKalb with similar county government systems. Positions will be ranked depending on how deeply their elimination could affect county services, the proposal said.
The analysis will help commissioners pinpoint more precisely where to cut without disrupting those services, May said. But it also allows county officials to distance themselves from the cuts and lean on an outside, independent recommendation when voting on layoffs – often a volatile issue among county employees.
“We do have to brace ourselves for what’s coming up,” Commissioner Connie Stokes said.