DeKalb County will have to raise taxes and eliminate more than 700 jobs to balance a $582.7 million budget in 2010 – a $23 million cut from this year’s budget, county CEO Burrell Ellis said this month.
Ellis released details of the budget Dec. 15. He proposes an 11 percent property tax increase and the elimination of about 760 jobs, many of which have been empty for months. At least 400 other employees will be offered early retirement.
“The members of our administration have worked long and hard to develop this budget, and we present it with the anticipation of constructive engagement around the priorities for DeKalb’s future,” Ellis said.
There are several reasons for the tax increase and cutbacks, all related to a recessionary economy. The county expects a decrease in property tax digest values, sales tax revenue and hotel/motel taxes, fines and forfeitures. The county could lose up to $18 million per year after the city of Dunwoody incorporated last year, taking taxes and fee dollars with it.
Without the tax increase, the county would have a $552.3 million budget, a total that would have resulted in far more serious cuts, Ellis said – about $83 million in total cuts. The budget will require a 1.86 mill increase. (One mill is equal to one dollar taxed on every $1,000 of assessed property value.) The increase brings the total millage rate to 18.72.
The majority of the millage increase will go toward preserving the number of county police officers. A third of it will cover other recommended personnel expenses, according to a county budget summary. The county also plans to allow employees younger than 50 years old – the minimum retirement age – to take early retirement provided they have worked for the county for at least 25 years.
Sales tax revenue also has decreased in the last year, according to county data. Tax collection is expected to fall to $89 million in 2009, down from about $95.3 million in 2008. The county projects it will collect $88.3 million in 2010.
The workforce reduction will require a reorganization of county departments. Ellis said the county could outsource all or some of the Department of Planning and Development’s duties for a savings of more than $1.5 million yearly.
But the county commission is also contemplating its own cuts, which will be influenced by the recommendation of Georgia State University. The commission voted Nov. 10 to pay the university more than $48,000 to conduct a staffing analysis that will help commissioners reorganize and trim county departments in the forthcoming budget season. According to a university proposal submitted to the board, Georgia State’s analysis will recommend different staff reduction and streamlining plans and assess the risk of each. The study will be conducted by the university’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.
The county employs about 8,000 people, and the proposal would be focused on 10 county departments (or about 5,000 people), the proposal said. Those departments are watershed management, planning and development, public works, economic development, finance, police services, fire and rescue, parks and recreation, information systems and geographical information systems. Of those departments, police services is the largest, employing 1,518 people.
The university plans to survey or interview top county officials to help guide reduction recommendations, and the analysis will also compare DeKalb to similar county government systems. Positions will be ranked depending on how deeply their elimination could affect county services, the proposal said.
Among other Ellis recommendations:
• An increase to Fire/EMS fees to maintain the number of employees in those departments
• The suspension of the routine vehicle replacement program in 2010
• $1.1 million for technology improvements to Recorders Court to improve citation processing and facilitate the move to electronic processing
• $225,000 for county arts centers
• The creation of the Office of Inspector General, which would report to an independent Board of Transparency & Accountability. The office would include four employees.