The numbers are in: DeKalb County department heads want $44 million more in 2013 than they received this year.
The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners got an early look at the county’s 2013 budget requests Oct. 5. The budget requests from the county’s various departments total $601 million, up $44 million from the current county budget of $557 million.
The board also learned that the county’s finance team has estimated that the county will have approximately $17.6 million left in its tax fund, if current spending projections hold up until the end of the year.
But commissioners were concerned about a five-year trend of budget increases, particularly for some of the county’s constitutional officers.
“We need to look at the constitutional officers, because when the budget passes, they do what they want to do anyway,” Commissioner Stan Watson said.
According to county documents, during the past five years, juvenile court’s budget has increased 63 percent; clerk of superior court, 14 percent; and solicitor general, 16 percent.
Constitutional officers need to be “true partners” throughout the budget process, Commissioner Lee May said.
Commissioner Jeff Rader suggested that the county engage experts who could review the service delivery strategies of constitutional officers and make recommendations to the county administration and the board of commissioners on “how we can squeeze economies” from their budgets.
“If we don’t have a documented argument against their budget, we’re hard-pressed to reduce them beyond what they’re willing to accept. What I would like to to see is that we develop a capacity on the county’s side to be able to expertly review their budget.”
Rader said he does not question the elected officials ability to perform their jobs.
“The truth is that they run for election based upon expansion [of] excellent service delivery,” Rader said. “They say… ‘We’re going to improve customer service.’ We on the other hand have to pay for the services.”
“I don’t disagree that they all think that they are doing a good job,” he said. “But if we need to extract budget savings from those constitutional officers, we can’t just cut them across the board. We can’t do in an arbitrary fashion because they have constitutional responsibilities to maintain a specific level of service.
“I think it’s really important for us to be able to say not ‘here’s how you do your job’ but instead ‘you could, using these assumptions, do your job in a more cost effective way and…we’re going to give you enough money to do it in the way that we consider to be the minimum necessary [way] sufficient to discharge your constitutional responsibilities,’” Rader said.
“We need to have a defense if we cut their budget,” Rader said. Otherwise, “Any budget cuts they make are strictly voluntary.”
Richard Stogner, the county’s chief operating officer, said that all county departments and offices, including those run by constitutional officers, have been directed to cut their budgets.
“The direction to the departments in preparing their budgets was that they should expect to shoot for 3 to 5 percent below” their 2012 budgets, Stogner said.