If the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners votes Feb. 22 to close the Tobie Grant Recreation Center, residents say a lifeline for the Scottdale community will be cut.
“The library, the recreation center, the park and the pool have been an oasis of hope and guidance for all ages,” said Tobie Grant supporter Mary Joyce Robinson.
Tobie Grant is one of five recreation centers to be axed as part of the 2011 county budget proposed by DeKalb’s Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis. The other recreation centers include Briarwood Recreation Center in Brookhaven; N.H. Scott in South DeKalb, Mason Mill in Decatur, and Lucious Sanders in Lithonia.
Ellis hopes to save the county nearly $1 million by closing the recreation centers along with cutting funding to the University of Georgia’s extension program for DeKalb. Other major cuts include $1.4 million for the Grady Memorial Hospital fund; $872,000 for a satellite tax commission office; and a $500,000 county golf course subsidy.
The proposed $563 million budget contains a property tax increase of 2.32-mill, or 12 percent.
Robinson told the board of commissioners that closing Tobie Grant would be a tragedy and a sign of poor civic responsibility.
“Tobie Grant Recreation Center is a historical landmark that has made DeKalb County dynamic,” Robinson said. “It is the lifeline for all generations in Scottdale and DeKalb County.”
Robinson, 62, was a Miss Tobie Grant beauty pageant winner at the age of 10. She credits her experiences at the recreation center with motivating her to attend college. Robinson earned a master’s degree from Jacksonville State University and a doctorate of education degree from Vanderbilt University.
“In this dismal economical time, the money should be spent on things that would guarantee us all a safe and prosperous future,” Robinson said.
Other than people supporting Tobie Grant, only two people spoke out against the budget during a board of commissioners meeting last week.
DeKalb resident Joe Arrington, a fixture at government meetings, said he was concerned with the budget’s anticipated revenue.
“I don’t think you’re going to receive the revenue that’s anticipated,” Arrington said. “We haven’t received the anticipated revenue for the last two years.”
Arrington urged the commissioners to hold back expenditures to make ends meet.
Jeff Wiggs, president of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police, said he was concerned about the impact of the economy on crime.
“There’s going to be more foreclosures,” Wiggs said. “We have more to come. We haven’t seen the bottom of this yet. The economy is not going to jump back and relieve itself this year or next.”
Wiggins said vacant houses breed crime and the police department is already spread thin.
Wiggins also criticized a proposal by Ellis to give a one-time $250 bonus for master police officers who have been at the top of their pay range for a year or more.
Since the police department has a young force, there are not many officers who would benefit from that bonus, Wiggins said, calling the proposal a “shell game.”
According to Burke Brennan, the county’s chief communications officer, the police department has 512 master police officers. The department has approximately 1,100 sworn police officers and 500 support staff employees, the county’s website states.
Ellis’ bonus for master police officers would cost the county $128,000.
Commissioner Lee May, who is the chairman of the board’s finance, audit and budget committee, said he was disappointed in the public’s input at the first of two budget hearings before the full board of commissioners. The final hearing will be on Feb. 22, shortly before the board votes on the budget.
But by time of the second hearing, the decisions about the budget will already have been made, May said.
In addition to the public hearings, residents have had at least a dozen opportunities to attend various budget workshops and town hall meetings all over DeKalb.
Reviewing and approving the budget is the commissioners’ top job, May said.
Whether it’s repaving a road, fixing potholes, or adding police presence, it all goes back to the county’s budget, May said.
“This really lays the foundation for the direction of our government,” May said.