DeKalb County taxpayers are facing a possible $93 property tax increase if DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ recently proposed tax increase is approved by the Board of Commissioners.
Based on a recommendation by Ellis, the board voted on June 14 to advertise a millage rate increase of up to 4.5 mills. Although Ellis’ latest budget proposal requires a 4.35-mill increase, the 4.5 mills would give the commissioners flexibility if they decided the amount was needed in the county’s final budget. Based on a 4.5-mill increase, an average home valued at $155,700 would pay $672 in county property taxes.
Ellis said the increase is needed to offset the county’s first quarter budget overruns and lower-than-expected property values. According to the county’s tax digest, property values in DeKalb decreased 13.4 percent in 2011. In unincorporated areas the decline was 18 percent.
Ellis said his goal was to present a sustainable budget for public safety, the criminal justice system and the funding of infrastructure. He also wanted to take action to restore the county’s credit rating, which has declined in the past few months.
The proposal contained a recommendation to close five recreation centers, close the tax commissioner’s satellite offices and eliminate funding for the cooperative extension service. All of these proposals, made in the CEO’s original 2011 budget, were rejected by the Board of Commissioners earlier this year. Now they are on the table again.
These cuts would save the county $469,000.
Ellis also recommended eliminating three paid holidays for county employees, which would save $1.8 million, and abolishing 250 vacant positions at a savings next year of $12.5 million.
According to Ellis’ proposal, the county’s administration is already implementing several cost-saving initiatives, including plans to outsource animal control services and emergency transport services. The county is also considering operating its tennis centers and golf course without current subsidies.
Commissioner Lee May, chairman of the board’s finance committee, said he was not expecting a proposal for a 4.35 mill increase. In December 2010, Ellis’ original budget proposal included a 2.32-mill increase to cover a $33.6 million budget gap. The anticipated deficit is now $55.6 million.
“That’s a huge increase,” May said.
May said Ellis’ approach to closing the budgetary gap flawed.
“His approach has been …we’re going to close this gap by raising taxes,” May said. “My personal approach to this is …let’s look at where we can become more efficient, let’s look at where we can reduce service levels and reduce staffing levels first without shutting our government down. And then let’s see where that gap is.”
Three public hearings on the tax increase are planned: two on July 5 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and one on July 12, the county’s deadline for adopting millage rates.