As the Board of Commissioners nears the July 12 deadline for officially adopting the 2012 millage rate, county department heads are pushing for the restoration their budgets.
Recorder’s Court Judge Nelly Withers asked commissioners on June 16 to restore the cuts from her budget so she can unfreeze eight positions, including a deputy judge and an associate judge.
“We can’t continue to proceed without a full staff,” Withers said. “We’re not asking for people we don’t need. We are asking for people that we actually need on the floor.”
The Recorder’s Court, which has 31 fulltime employees and 17 temporary workers, cannot afford to have anyone vacate a job or go on an extended leave for any reason, Withers said.
“If that happens to us right now, we’re in a lot of trouble,” Withers said. “We want our money back.”
After a recommendation by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, the board voted on June 14 to advertise a millage rate increase of up to 4.5 mills. Ellis’ latest budget proposal requires a 4.35-mill increase, but the 4.5 mills allow the commissioners flexibility.
Based on a 4.5-mill increase, a home valued at $155,700 would have $672 in county property taxes.
In February, the Board of Commission rejected Ellis’ proposed $563 million budget containing a property tax increase of 2.32 mills, or 12 percent. Instead, the commissioners passed a zero-tax-increase budget that was $33.64 million less than Ellis’ proposal.
That move mandated an 8.9 percent cut from most departmental budgets. The budget of the fire rescue department was cut by 29.41 percent, while the sheriff’s office and police department were cut by 4.46 percent. The human resource department’s budget was cut by 25 percent.
A midyear review of the county’s police and court services shows that they are outspending their budgets to the tune of $6.83 million, according to Richard Stogner, the county’s chief operating officer.
If the trends continue, the Sheriff’s Office will have a $2.1 million deficit while the Superior Court and State Court will each have a $1.1 million deficit. Other department shortfalls include: district attorney’s office, $870,000; juvenile court, $700,000; Superior Court clerk’s office, $400,000; public defender’s office, $200,000; solicitor’s office, $140,000; and magistrate’s court, $80,000.
In a letter to commissioners on June 14, Superior Court Chief Judge Mark Anthony Scott wrote that if the board fails to restore the budget cuts, it “will send the court into a state of disarray with respect to future calendar calls and the overall administration of justice.”
Scott wrote that the ongoing budget debate is “detracting from staff esprit de corps, creating concerns about future courthouse safety and diminishing our ability to predict and schedule our workloads.”
In a June 7 letter, Claudia Saari, of the public defender’s office, wrote that the office could not meet its constitutionally mandated responsibilities with a $640,000 budget reduction.
“If this money is not restored to our budget, we are faced with firing six attorneys or furloughing all employees for 19 days,” Saari wrote. “Either option will result in the shutdown of the justice system in DeKalb County…and opens the county to possible liability.”
Several other county operations are projected to exceed their budgets by a total of $3.78 million, including the information systems department with a deficit of $917,000; and the roads and drainage department, impacted by January’s ice storm, with an overrun of $840,000.
There are three scheduled public hearings on the tax increase: two on July 5 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and one on July 12, the county’s deadline for adopting millage rates.