There will not be a tax increase in DeKalb County—at least not now.
DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 on Feb. 22 to reject the proposed $563 million budget of the county’s chief executive officer, which called for a property tax increase of 2.32 mills, or 12 percent.
Instead, the board substituted its own zero-increase budget while stating that it will continue to review the budget and amend it if necessary before it is implemented in two months.
Most county department will have to cut their budgets by 8.9 percent. The cuts for the sheriff’s office and police, fire and rescue departments will be 4.46 percent each.
County officials said the board’s vote will force the county to shut down the police helicopter, eliminate 80 police and fire recruits, and 800 positions throughout the county.
Eddie O’Brien, chief of the county’s fire department, said that the budget would force the cutting of at least 125 positions.
“Our whole service model will have to change,” O’Brien said.
The budget cuts the position of director of public safety held by William Miller, who said all public safety departments will suffer without his position.
“I can truthfully say that DeKalb County public safety officers respond in a more coordinated fashion and a more efficient fashion since I’ve been here,” Miller said.
Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Rader voted against the budget.
“Going across the board, we’re really cutting fat, muscle and bone with same knife,” Rader said. “It is not responsible for us to that.”
In addition to eliminating the proposed tax increase, the commission’s budget continues to fund the five recreation centers, the University of Georgia’s extension program for DeKalb and partially funds the tax commissioner’s satellite offices—all of which were threatened by the county administration’s proposed budget.
A resolution associated with the commission’s budget also calls for the privatization of the county’s emergency medical services.
In DeKalb County, because of cross-training, paramedics are firefighters who provide emergency medical services, so a cut in paramedics is essentially a cut in firemen, O’Brien said.
Miller, whose own job may be in danger, spoke out against a proposal to privatizing the EMS.
“When you privatize ambulance services, you get what you pay for,” Miller said. “Raise my taxes.”
The budget passed by the board is $33.64 million less than the one proposed by CEO Burrell Ellis.
During an impromptu press conference before the board’s vote, Ellis said the “draconian cuts…will have the impact of shutting down the people’s government.”
“We’ve cut our spending more than $109 million since I’ve become CEO,” Ellis said. “I think we’ve done more than any local government in the Atlanta metro region.”
But a tax increase is still needed, Ellis said.
“There’ll be no way that we can continue to deliver those services at the same level as we have in the past without some adjustment in our millage,” Ellis said.
During the public comments time before the budget was passed, many county employees and residents begged the commission to not make deep cuts even if it meant raising taxes.
Christine Truett, who was representing the Scottdale community, urged the council to save the Tobie Grant Recreation Center.
“Why would you put a price tag on the children’s future?” Truett asked
Michael Brooks, a county employee with the roads and drainage division, said his division could not be cut any further.
“It was our department that cleared the ice,” Brooks said, adding that about 90 people were lost after early retirement.
With the division’s current staffing, many workers have to fill in staffing gaps. Brooks, who has an office job, said he often has to put on boots and help his co-workers.
Brett Langston, a captain with DeKalb’s fire department said public safety should be the county’s top priority.
“You cut the police and fire and you endanger the lives of the citizens and the firefighters and police officers on the front line.”
Nancy Funny-Lawrence, manager of code enforcement for DeKalb, echoed Miller’s sentiments.
“Send my bill tomorrow and I will pay,” Funny-Lawrence said. The code enforcement division has made extreme cuts and struggles to keep up with its workload as foreclosures and code violations increase, she said.
Dale Phillips, the director of the county’s human development department, said his department has already suffered serious cuts. The proposed budget would force his department to cut 12,000 home delivered meals and 5,000 senior trips for dialysis care this year, he said.
“This is balancing the budget on the backs of seniors,” Phillips said.
Commissioner Lee May said the administration still needs to look at ways to provide services more efficiently.
“I don’t think you want us to put more money into a bag with holes in it,” May said.
The commission will still look at the budget and will make changes as necessary, he said.
“This is not the end of the budget process,” May said.