The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted to slash hundreds of county government jobs this month, overriding CEO Burrell Ellis’ veto of the cuts several weeks ago.
But the board also voted to allow the county to fill nearly 220 new positions that the county’s administration said are critical to maintaining adequate services to taxpayers.
About 600 jobs were cut from the county total. More than 800 employees left this year through an early retirement program the board approved to slash more than $50 million from the county’s budget as it struggled with declining revenues. Commissioners also vowed not to raise taxes.
The jobs the board approved to refill at its July 13 meeting include 23 jobs in the finance department, 10 in the planning and development department, 41 jobs in the sanitation department and 50 jobs in watershed management. Commissioner Jeff Rader said Ellis’ office had given the board enough information to justify the job refills – an issue that had been a point of contention over the last several months.
The board also approved 27 positions in the police department, including nine in its crime scene unit.
“The failure to refill positions within this unit would likely lead to the remaining crime scene investigators resigning due to work overload,” a departmental memo to commissioners said. “The potential exists for criminal cases to be dismissed if evidence is not properly collected, analyzed and stored.”
Many county departments were hit hard and lost significant institutional knowledge through the early retirement program. Rader said Ellis’ office pressured the board to approve the program too quickly, which allowed it to drain departments the board didn’t necessarily want to cut.
“I now regret voting for the early retirement program in the form that it was given to us,” he said.
In its quest to slash cuts, the board spared jobs deemed necessary in public safety and the courts, county officials said.
The cuts are part of a larger board effort to right-size the county government after nearly a decade of uninterrupted expansion. Earlier this year, the county commissioned a staffing report from Georgia State University that said the government was too large – much larger than nearby peer counties, including Cobb and Gwinnett. The report recommended the board slash more than 900 jobs, startling several commissioners.
Rader said he expected it will take the county two years to reorganize. Had the board not approved cuts, commissioners said the board would likely have to pursue additional layoffs in the future.
Although more than 800 took early retirement, Ellis and his staff sought to keep control of the vacant positions while the board worked to abolish them.