DeKalb District Attorney Robert James told county commissioners on Feb. 2 that his proposed 2012 budget is “unacceptable.”
“Frankly, I’m struggling to understand why it looks the way it looks,” James said. “It’s completely unacceptable and it’s not workable.”
In 2011, the district attorney’s office had a budget of $10.6 million, but spent $11.2 million. James requested $12.8 million for 2012, but DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ proposed budget allocates $10.1 million for the district attorney.
Ellis has proposed a $547.3 million budget, which is 1.2 percent higher than last year’s.
“We went over budget not because I was having a party, or throwing a ticker-tape parade or doing anything qualitatively different than I do every year protecting the citizens of DeKalb County,” James said. “We went over budget because we didn’t have enough money.
“How do I go over budget one year by hundreds of thousands of dollars…and I get less money in the recommendation the next year?” James said.
The effect of the proposed budget decrease would be no additional staff in recorder’s court, no drug court attorney, no part-time salaries and no budget for needed furniture, James said.
He said the cuts would also take away funds used to supplement the attorney salaries that the county pay scale caps at approximately $90,000. The proposed budget has $410,000 less in salaries than spent in 2011 and $1.9 million less than James asked for.
“In a DA’s office I’m not prosecuting DUIs and shoplifting and simple batteries,” James said. “I’m going after the Mexican mafia. I’m going after a drug gang in south DeKalb that has 16 members. I’m going after a pill mill that spans six different counties. I cannot take someone…that has virtually no experience handling these types of cases, pay them $91,000 and expect for them to do this.”
James said his office has received one million pages of discovery related to a pending indictment involving former DeKalb school officials.
“I have two attorneys working that case,” James said. “But these two attorneys are also working every public integrity case that I have in this county,” including grand jury investigations of the county’s watershed management department and the school CRCT cheating scandal.
“I’ve got to pay them,” James said. “I can’t pay them $90K. They’d probably laugh and go elsewhere.”
DeKalb Solicitor General Sherry Boston, who just completed her first year on the job, said she ran her office just as she ran private practice and as she handles her home finances.
“Don’t spend what you don’t have and you have to save money for a rainy day,” Boston said. “I am proud of the fact that we came in at 94 percent of our budget in 2011. We ran a very frugal office in 2011.”
Boston’s staff recycles paper clips, uses the backs of old business cards instead of Post-It notes, and uses duct tape to hold together carts and boxes to prolong their usefulness.
“And we are still using software that was released in 1998 that is no longer being supported by the county’s [information systems] department,” Boston said.
“We were very specific about not spending money when we didn’t have the money,” Boston said. “When you talk to me about decreasing my funds it means that I am letting people go.”
Cutting her budget by 5 percent, or $272,000, would cut the recently created pre-trial diversion program and four staff positions, or the special victims unit and three positions.
“These reductions will not only lessen our ability to prosecute crimes, they will also adversely affect the amount of revenue that we can return to the county,” Boston said.
A 10 percent cut would eliminate all diversion programs and the relatively new community prosecutor position.
“With these cuts, crime prevention and intervention go by the wayside and our prosecution becomes reactive and the bare minimum,” Boston said.
The finance committee of the Board of Commissioners is holding meetings each week until commissioners vote to adopt a 2012 budget on Feb. 28.