County property taxes may go up 2.32 mills, or $264 a year for an average $190,000 house, in 2011 if a proposal by DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis is accepted by the board of commissioners.
Ellis said the proposed $563 million budget is lean and responsible.
“It addresses those rising costs that cannot be ignored, forces county government to be more efficient, positions us for a robust recovery, and protects our most vulnerable citizens,” Ellis said during his budget presentation to the county’s Board of Commissioners on Dec. 15.
“Realistically, there is no way to wrestle either a federal deficit or a local revenue reduction without both cutting spending and raising revenue,” Ellis said.
“We live in a time of limited and sometimes dwindling resources,” Ellis recently told members of the county’s chamber of commerce. “The resources that were once paid for with your federal tax dollars can no longer be anticipated on to protect and preserve your quality of life and basic human necessities here at home.”
Ellis said the county’s revenue declined by $91 million during the past two years. “That’s a lot of money, forcing severe spending cuts in virtually every category,” he said.
The budget has an estimated $39 million in increased costs, including $17 million for pension contributions; $2.3 million for a new tax commissioner system; $10 million to fund holiday pay; $4 million in higher health insurance costs; $5.1 million to redeploy police officers; $627,000 to staff new facilities.
Under the proposal, there would be no furlough days next year and all standard holidays would be funded. It also has a $500 supplement for the 633 employees making $35,000 or less to help offset increased pension contributions and health insurance costs. The county has about 7,200 employees.
The budget also includes a one-time $250 bonus for master police officers who have been at the top of their pay range for a year or more.
“The master police officers constitute the cutting edge of the police department’s effort to prevent and reduce crime and promote the safety and security of our citizens,” Ellis said.
Top performing employees in every county department will be eligible for a $600 incentive in recognition of innovation and outstanding customer service.
In addition to the tax increase, the county is dealing with its budget issues by restructuring its operations, eliminating some non-essential services, downsizing and reprioritizing.
As part of the restructure of government in 2010, 830 employees took early retirement and 456 positions were eliminated.
Next year, Ellis said the county administration would pursue outsourcing of services such as facilities maintenance, recreation services, road maintenance, animal control, fleet inventory, payroll processing, senior services, false alarms administration, meter reading and information systems support.
The budget contains $12 million in reserves, but that amount should really be about $45 million, what it takes to keep the county running for a month, Ellis said.
“It’s like living paycheck to paycheck,” Ellis said. “If we were to have some catastrophic event…we could not be prepared to make quick and fast adjustments with an underfunded reserve account.”
The county will also be implementing several new non-tax revenue sources recommended by the county’s Revenue Enhancement Commission. The Board of Commissioners is already considering increasing retail liquor store and general business license fees and the occupational tax/business license fee.
Ellis said that the proposed budget was the result of collaboration between the county’s administration and commission, for the first time in the county’s history. The administration provided copies of departmental budget submissions to the board at the same time they were received by the finance department and integrated commission staff directly into all budget reviews and discussions, Ellis said.